For Superfan Luke Ratliff, Alabama Basketball Just Means More
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — You have probably seen him on your television set as the frontman of “Crimson Chaos,” the University of Alabama’s official student section during basketball games, leading chants and trying to rattle opposing players.
You have also probably seen him on Twitter, trolling and crawling underneath the skin of fans of opposing teams.
Luke Ratliff, 22, a junior majoring in public relations at the Capstone, is leading a revolution.
A revolution that hopes to see Coleman Coliseum as one of the nation’s most electric atmospheres in all of college basketball.
Ratliff is not your normal Crimson Tide fan.
No, he is Alabama basketball’s superfan.
"He's great," first-year Alabama coach Nate Oats said.
Growing up in the hoops-crazed state of North Carolina, Ratliff found it hard to watch college basketball games that did not involve schools affiliated with the Atlantic Coastal Conference. It was even harder to watch games involving the Crimson Tide.
“We only got three UA games a year where I am from on TV,” Ratliff said. “The Kentucky game was always on CBS. We got the Auburn game in Tuscaloosa and we got an SEC tournament game on Raycom that morning before they switched to an ACC tournament game that night.
“So, I found myself going to ESPN.com looking up box scores.”
When the SEC Network launched, that changed everything for Ratliff and his new found obsession.
“The inception of the SEC Network was so big,” Ratliff said. “You got to see so much more. I remember watching the Trevor Releford buzzer beater against Georgia and the Tony Mitchell alley-oop against Arkansas. It became bigger to me when I could actually see it. That was my connection right there.”
His interest in Alabama altogether started, thanks to Crimson Tide alumni who were neighbors that lived on the same street with him in his hometown of Wadesboro. As he got older, Ratliff wanted something new and fresh. When it came time to figuring out what his next steps after high school were, he decided to take a chance and make the 500 mile move to Tuscaloosa.
“I was always interested in the university,” Ratliff said. “They [neighbors] had influence on us, especially during football season. Ever since I was a kid we would watch UA football games. When I applied and got accepted, I said, you know what, this is it, so here I am.”
Ratliff’s rise to stardom amongst other Crimson Tide fans began during his freshman year, when Alabama faced Auburn inside Coleman Coliseum in the 2017-2018 campaign.
At that time, the in-state rival Tigers were in the midst of a federal investigation into a pay for play scandal that rocked all of college basketball.
Fittingly, Ratliff wore a FBI jacket to the arena that night, pulling off his best Bert Macklin from Parks and Rec impression.
The Crimson Tide defeated, the then No. 17 ranked Tigers that night, 76-71, and it was officially Ratliff’s coming out party as a fan favorite.
“They let me go on the court for the Full Moon shoot for the moon challenge and I pray no one lost their job over that,” Ratliff said. “It was a big hit. I had people courtside wanting me to sit with them close to the Auburn bench. I am not most proud of it, but the fact is it happened.”
While Ratliff might not call that his brightest moment, he has a lot to be proud of in terms of rallying students to fill the seats of Coleman Coliseum and growing the game of basketball in Tuscaloosa since then.
After that night, Ratliff would eventually join the Crimson Chaos leadership team, and become the president of the organization within the following year, having his hand in the marketing and promotional schedule for the basketball program.
Ratliff’s main platform is social media, primarily Twitter, where he can be found with the username of @fluffopotamus88, a nickname given to him in high school. The premise of his tweets are simple — come to the games, be as loud as you can while you are there, and no matter what, support Alabama, win or lose.
His work, along with the others who make up the Crimson Chaos, is coming to fruition.
So far this season, the group is averaging over 2,000 students at every home conference game. Ratliff says the foundation has been laid, but there is still work to do in becoming one of the most feared environments for opposing teams.
“It is tough,” Ratliff said. “As a student section, we are not in a traditional location in the arena and the arena can create tough sightlines if you are not close to the court. The Crimson Standard is going to fix it all, but it is not ideal right now.
"Coleman Coliseum is great when it is full, 14-15 thousand people are there, it is one of the best in the country. Earlier this year when we played Auburn and two years ago when we played Oklahoma, those were the two best basketball environments I have ever been apart of.”
That comment from Ratliff says a lot, coming from a guy who grew up going to the Dean Smith Center and having also attended games at Rupp Arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium, and every SEC arena outside of only three schools.
Even Oats is grateful for Ratliff’s hard work in creating electricity for his squad night in and night out.
“We will be in shootaround for a six o’clock game and it is 12 or 1 and he is already in there setting up," Oats said. "I think he might be setting up the day before sometimes. Yeah, he is great and then he stays for a long time after the game. Then, you see him on the road, he was at the Auburn game and I saw him up at Vanderbilt. I do not know if he misses a road game.
"He is dedicated. It is great when you have someone as dedicated as him, rallying the troops, so I think he has done a great job this year.”
In fact, since Ratliff has arrived on campus almost three years ago, he has been at every home game except one — Nov. 17, 2017 against Alabama A&M, when guard John Petty, Jr. set the school record for made three-pointers in a game with 10.
But to understand why Ratliff puts an immense amount of time and effort into building the brand of Alabama basketball, you have to understand what Alabama basketball did for him.
During that aforementioned freshman year of his, Ratliff battled things most first-year college students experience and are maybe scared or hesitant to admit — anxiety, homesickness, panic attacks, and other mental health issues.
Ratliff spent almost two months of that basketball season living in his car. He struggled to go to class on a consistent basis, shutting off the outside world except for Alabama basketball.
“I had a really tough living situation,” Ratliff said. “So I slept in my car. I did not want to be anywhere else. I did not want to go to my room or do anything. I just shut down. I needed something I could look forward to and basketball was that release for me. I could get away. It meant so much to me.
"Inside Coleman, it is easy for people to see me as the big, happy go-lucky guy and online, I am the real funny guy. On the outside, I deal with bad anxiety and there was a point in the last year or so, I had panic attacks 2-3 times a week just being out and doing normal stuff.”
Ratliff calls Coleman Coliseum his “sanctuary” and a place where he feels most comfortable. His increased role with Crimson Chaos over the last two years has given him a new outlook on life.
“It gave me something to work for, instead of working towards,” Ratliff said. “I know I have two nights of the week to look forward to. It is like a reward to me. Whenever there were times where I could not go anywhere and feel safe, Alabama basketball was always there for me. ”
His presence on social media, jeering opposing fans while defending the Crimson Tide have turned Ratliff into an icon, to the point where his name is synonymous with the program.
“It means a lot, it really does,” Ratliff said. “I am very grateful and humble that people just know my name. I am normally a guy who shys away from the spotlight, that sounds weird because I am up there going crazy in front of thousands of people twice a week. But if it means people look at me and say, 'That's the basketball guy,' then that is alright with me."
Ratliff's level of celebrity has grown to where even opposing coaches know who he is. A run in with LSU coach Will Wade highlights the many memorable moments he has after games.
"It always gets me when coaches know who I am," Ratliff said. "Last year, Will Wade came up to me and he knew who I was, he told me he had seen me at games before, he even did his research on where I went to high school.
"He approached me and told me he was a fan of mine and appreciated what I was doing for basketball in the SEC. I never expected this. It was pretty cool."
Georgia Tech's Josh Pastner, Auburn's Bruce Pearl, and Kansas State's Bruce Weber, among others are some of the other coaches Ratliff has had pleasant exchanges with this season.
When Ratliff travels to road games, he makes an effort to say hello and show appreciation to every Crimson Tide fan he comes across in opposing venues. But on Jan. 22, during Alabama's 77-62 win at Vanderbilt it was different.
A teenage Crimson Tide fan came up to Ratliff, asking for his autograph.
Ratliff declined to give the kid his signature, but opted for a photo instead. The moment made him realize that, while his legend is continuing to grow, he would rather be known as just an average guy.
"Let's take a step back here," Ratliff said. "I'm not that big of a deal. I am no celebrity. I am just a kid. I am just a guy who really likes Alabama basketball."