Remembering 'Fluffopotamus': How Alabama basketball superfan Luke Ratliff's legacy lives

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

Crimson Chaos president Blake Bullock was still in Tampa for the SEC Tournament when news broke of LSU firing coach Will Wade for cause on Saturday.

One of Bullock’s friends immediately looked in his phone for the photo of late Alabama basketball superfan Luke Ratliff in an FBI jacket to tweet.

Others did, too. The first report of the Wade news emerged on Twitter at 1:31 p.m. By 1:34, multiple tweets had been sent with the same photo of Ratliff, who led the Crimson Chaos basketball student support group.

“That’s kind of funny that that is where people’s minds go as soon as they see that news,” Bullock said.

Almost a year has passed since Ratliff died on April 2, 2021 at 23 from complications related to COVID-19. Still, what Ratliff represented endures.

As the Crimson Tide prepares to play in the NCAA Tournament this week for the second consecutive year, Ratliff's legacy lives through those who knew him best and loved him most; or those who didn’t know him as well but whom he still made smile.

The response to the Wade news on Saturday is just the most recent example.

“It kind of makes him here again,” said his mother, Pam Ratliff. “It gives me a little peace.”

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Pam said her son would have been ecstatic to see the firing of Wade, who had been under investigation by the FBI during his time at LSU. “He despised that man.” So, the pictures of Luke in that jacket filling social media Saturday fit.

The signature piece in his trolling arsenal made its debut against Auburn during the 2017-18 season.

With the Tigers one of the programs involved in corruption in college basketball that warranted a federal investigation in 2017, Luke decided to break out the FBI jacket at the Auburn game in Tuscaloosa. He was also selected to take part in the “Shoot for the Moon” contest on the court.

That night, Fluffopotamus officially arrived in Tuscaloosa. (That was Ratliff's nickname on social media.)

“That was definitely his coming out party,” Bullock said.

Alabama guard Kira Lewis Jr. (2) exchanges high fives with fans including Luke Ratliff after leading the team in scoring with 20 points in the win over Arizona in Coleman Coliseum Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. The Crimson Tide defeated the Wildcats 76-73. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Leading the way for others

That Auburn game was the first time Bullock learned of Luke. Bullock, who was attending the game as a senior in high school, thought Luke looked like he was having a great time.

Meanwhile, Pam was a bit stunned as the Fluff persona grew.

“I see him doing all that,” Pam said, “and I’m like, ‘Whose child is this?’”

She described him as the shy kid growing up. The shyest of her three kids, actually. And yet when he stepped in front of that student section, Luke was anything but shy.

Bullock, who went on to become close friends with Luke, can relate.

“He was a quiet guy,” Bullock said. “It’s funny, because I think I am too.”

Luke showed his successor as Crimson Chaos president that quiet guys can be loud, too.

“It’s like a switch flips when you get in there and the game gets started,” Bullock said.

Bullock said he doesn’t try to fill Luke’s shoes exactly. He can’t, nor should he be expected to, because there was only one Fluff. Bullock has to lead in the way that best suits him. However, he’s done his best to maintain Luke’s routine.

Step 1: Arrive an hour before the Crimson Chaos doors open. Those doors open an hour and 45 minutes before tipoff.

Step 2: Set up the newspapers, used during the opposing team’s intros.

Step 3: Thirty minutes before tipoff, run through the motions. To Luke, that meant getting up in front of the student section. He would thank them for being there, ask who the first-timers were, then go through the cheers and how they respond to different circumstances such as an airball.

Bullock also has two plaid jackets like the ones Luke became famous for wearing. One was presented to him from UA before the first home game of the season, a tradition that is expected to continue for future Crimson Chaos presidents.

The University of Alabama honored the memory of super fan Luke Ratliff, known as Fluffopotamus, before the game against Louisiana Tech in Coleman Coliseum Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. Blake Bullock, the new president of Crimson Chaos, hugs Pam Ratliff, Luke's mother, after he was given a plaid jacket like the one worn by Luke. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

'Just trying to keep pieces of him'

Pam also got her own plaid jacket that looks like her son’s original. For another tribute to Luke, she tweets the video of Bishop T.D. Jakes bellowing “Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!” every game day like Luke used to do.

“I’m just trying to keep pieces of him,” Pam said.

His brother, Noah, is too.

Noah, 19, talks to Luke every day. When he gets home from school, he stands in front of his brother's picture and tells him about his day.

Luke’s true legacy lives in these moments. He’s known by many for his basketball passion and fun at games, but those closest to him remember him most for how he loved. Particularly the way in which he loved Noah, who has autism.

Luke would travel back home to North Carolina when Noah had a doctor’s visit, because Luke’s presence helped calm his younger brother. Luke spoke gently and explained things to Noah.

“He had the biggest heart,” Pam said. “He did. He had the biggest heart. And his little brother is really missing him.”

Noah still associates trips to Tuscaloosa as going to see Luke. In her own way, Pam does too. It’s the place her son loved and never wanted to leave.

“I feel closer to my child there,” Pam said. “I think just being somewhere that he loved so much is easier for me. A place I know he was happy. “

They traveled to Tuscaloosa for three games during the regular season, including the last home game against Texas A&M.

Pam, wearing a white hard hat with the script A and her plaid jacket, went over to Crimson Chaos in the stands after the game. She wanted to make sure to talk to Bullock and the group and tell them Luke would approve of the job they’ve done.

“I’ve been proud of them,” Pam said. “They’re up, they’re on their feet and they’re loud. They’re doing what he would be doing if he was here.”

Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly.