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Crimson...with envy. WSJ can write, and he got it right.
on August 8, 2004
As a writer myself, I admit I was a bit concerned when I first met Warren St. John in the RV lot before one of the games he tells about in this book. Concerned on two accounts.
First worry: He seemed to be a nice enough fellow, but he did work for the NY Times. That's the way he was invariably introduced to everyone in the lot, sort of like politely pointing out a slightly addled third cousin at a family reunion. I assumed he would come at us serious college football fans (read: "crazy as a loon") from the usual perspective. You know: rubes bearing rolls of toilet paper and a Tide detergent box impaled on a "plumber's friend." screaming crimson-tinged obscenities at anyone ignorant enough to root for anybody else.
Either that or, coming from where he did, he would miss the whole point, that these folks may act a bit peculiar when they pull their RVs into the Law Library lot on Wednesday before a Saturday game, but they are mostly salt-of-the-earth types, people you are proud to have in your army, just like millions of other folks who color their lives in pursuit of pastimes or allegiances that seem absolutely goofy to most of the rest of us right-thinking intellectuals. Certainly no different from rabid Red Sox or Cubs fans, the Dawg Pound in Cleveland or the crazies who show up for Raider games. Just different in the color of our face-paint and the poetry of our cheers. Our poison just happens to be 18-year-old young men on a college football field who proudly sweat and bleed while wearing our school colors. Not pro football, international soccer or widget collecting.
But then, it turns out that St. John is one of us. He understands. And yet he is a good enough reporter to tell the truth about us, warts and all, and do it in an informative and entertaining way.
There's the rub. As a writer, I'm damned envious. Man, this guy can put us right in the middle of a tailgate party, a fourth-and-goal with the clock running down, or a scholarly dissertation on the nature of fandom in ancient Rome as it applies to college sports and make it all read like a lazy conversation over a Coors Light at a bar on the Tuscaloosa strip. St. John had me hooked right up front when he described Bear Bryant's "old growth stature." Bingo! That's a goodie!
This, by the way, is not a college football book. No more than HUCK FINN is a book about a raft. This is a very funny, sometimes serious, often moving, and an always entertaining (and sometimes astonishing) examination of a phenomenon that surprisingly few have really tried to dissect before. I hope it helps others see why we do the things we do in the name of our beloved Crimson Tide, or whoever "our team" happens to be. Or gives us better insight into the psyches of the fans of the Red Sox, Cubs, Browns, and Raiders. Maybe even a glimpse into the thought processes of those poor, misguided souls who pull for the Tennessee Vols or Auburn Tigers.
No. Belay that. That would be asking too much of any book or writer.
Thanks, Warren. You took the ball over the top, into the end zone, and we're huggin' and high-fivin' and lettin' loose a rousing rendition of Rammer Jammer that they'll hear all the way to wherever we tee up the ball next.