As with so many grand ideas in college, this one was hatched in a bar. Late on a Saturday night, the two students were celebrating an Oregon victory with friends when the chant broke out:
“We want Bama! We want Bama!’
A few days later, Grant Otter and Harrison Tingler had a table set up on the Oregon campus. T-shirts — light green with bright yellow block lettering — were going for $10 each. And they were going fast.
“It was only three words,” Otter says of the business venture, which was a brief hit 14 months ago, “but everyone understood what it meant.”
Maybe that’s because in the past few years, it seems almost everyone in college football has chanted it. Or put it on a poster. Or like Otter and his friend, on a T-shirt. They did it last season, when they were seniors. But as the inaugural College Football Playoff nears, everyone still wants Bama.
Earlier this month, in the waning moments of the Big Ten championship, Ohio State fans chanted the phrase. Shortly after winning the ACC championship that same day, Florida State players said they, you guessed it, wanted Bama.
“I want to play them real bad, and I look forward to that game,” said Jameis Winston, the Seminoles’ quarterback. “It’s amazing.”
No, what’s amazing is the context. Florida State had just notched its 29th consecutive victory, and is the defending national champion. The Seminoles beat an SEC team last year in the BCS title game — and, well, Alabama safety Landon Collins might have the proper reaction.
“I always laugh at that stuff,” says Collins, a junior All-American — but he understands what it means.
“I guess because of the history that’s been here,” he adds, “I guess because Bama’s been the top team all the time, people just want to beat ‘em.”
Alabama, which faces Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, is the No. 1 seed in the Playoff. But there’s no sense that any team is an overwhelming favorite (No. 2 Oregon plays No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl in the other semifinal, also on Thursday). The message in the phrase is about much more than this season’s results, or what happens in the next couple of weeks.
The Crimson Tide has won three of the past five national championships. Under Nick Saban, Alabama has become the standard by which college football measures itself.
Sure, Missouri fans chanted “We want Bama!” after beating Arkansas to clinch the SEC East title and a meeting with the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship (which Alabama won 42-13). And last month, Kansas students chanted it while tearing down a goal post after beating Iowa State.
The Jayhawks finished 3-9. You have to figure they didn’t really want Bama; clearly, the phrase has outgrown its original meaning.
“Wherever you are in the country, you know what Alabama is as a football team, and what they do,” says Eric
Simons, the author of “The Secret Lives of Sports Fans: The Science of Sports Obsession.” “Whether you are in Oregon or Columbus or in the South, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same touchstone when it comes to Alabama. Regardless of where you are, it means sort of the same thing.”
Simons is a science journalist, the editorial director of the California-based magazine “Bay Nature.” His foray into anthropology of sports fans was largely an introspective study; he billed the book as “a scientific investigation into the curious nature of my annual spring hockey tantrums.” Simons is also a lifelong fan of Cal’s Golden Bears, and describes himself as a typical irrational fan.
As someone who grew up on the West coast, he understands the perspective of Oregon fans such as those who bought Otter’s T-shirts, who believe the Ducks play good football, too — and want people everywhere to know it. As a phenomenon, Simons says, “We want Bama” is symbolic of beating your chest, seeking prestige and recognition.
“It’s kind of what we do in all sorts of things, from sports to politics to just about everything else,” Simons says.
“You want to find the one that everyone acknowledges is the best — and then you want to go beat them.”
That last part has been easier said than done — see Alabama’s 84-10 record beginning in 2008, Saban’s second season at the school (beginning in 2009, with that first national title, it’s 72-8). When it comes to “We want Bama,” the best response might have come last season from a Crimson Tide fan. Alabama had just beaten LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Near the goal line, standing along the fencing, he held a hand-lettered poster: “Y’ALL Don’t WANT BAMA”.
Or in other words, as Simons deciphers the message: “‘Our group is successful. You should be part of our group. You should want to be part of our group.’ ”
To read the entire article, go to: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2014/12/27/sugar-bowl-we-want-bama-alabama-crimson-tide-ohio-state-oregon-florida-state-college-football-playoff/20941873/