Sunday, February 20, 2011
Ghosts of the Orange Bowl: The Yamma Yamma Man
Jim Fleming, wearing the striped jacket, helps the cheerleaders fire up the Orange Bowl crowd in 1968. Fleming was more well known among Hurricane fans as "The Yamma Yamma Man"
Jim Fleming was the college student who never grew up. He was a cheerleader for the University of Miami while he was a student from 1964 to 1968. He had a rough, loud and booming voice who could incite any crowd into pandamonium. But when he graduated from college, it seemed he never left. Fleming was so popular among Canes fans and UM students, he became an institution on the Orange Bowl sidelines and was brought back to help lead the cheers for close to four decades. But few people knew him by name. He was more well-known simply by his nickname "The Yamma Yamma Man".
A native of Rochester, New York, Fleming was always short in stature. He attended an all-boys high school in Rochester, competing in track in cross country. But during football season he was a cheerleader. When he enrolled at the University of Miami, he immediately tried out for the squad and was an immediate sensation at Canes games at the Orange Bowl. He was instantly recognized for his unique cheers while screaming into the microphone.
"I got the reputation of being kind of a smart alec--a Jimmy Cagney character," said Fleming in an interview with writer Jim Martz. "I was Mickey Rooney with a chip on his shoulder. When John Routh was the Ibis, we matched so beautifully. We were both irreverent. My irreverance got me in trouble a lot of times".
During a game against Notre Dame in 1965, Fleming's cheers almost got him into a physical confrontation with Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian. At the time, the student section sat behind the opponents bench and would taunt the opposing players much like a basketball game.
"We were obnoxious and it was a highly charged atmosphere," Fleming said. "We were doing a thing with the band screaming, 'Cheer up Ara, the worst is yet to come.' and saying 'Arrrra! Arrrra! By the third quarter, he'd had it. He came over to me and said something you can't print. He said, 'Listen you little SOB. Shut up!' He grabbed me by the throat a little. He was hot. His veins were popping. It shocked me. Somebody was trying to restrain Ara and cool him down. There were a number of cheers back then that would be banned today as people have become more politically correct."
As a kid, I can remember Fleming working the sidelines with his microphone in the 1980s. Some of his popular cheers included, "We've got some Canes over here! Woosh Woosh!". When the referees made what was considered a bad call, Fleming and the drum section of the band would lead the students in the chant "Hey, your momma!" It was a cheer that was eventually banned. When the Canes played the University of Florida, Fleming would scream, "Alligator bags, alligator shoes. If you're a Florida Gator, you're born to lose."
But Fleming didn't just scream into a microphone. In his younger days, he did all kinds of stunts and often paid the price. He dislocated both shoulders, ruptured an achilles, broke his clavicle and suffered a concussion.
"At the USC game in 1966, I was doing a flip and landed the wrong way and dislocated my shoulder falling over a cheerleader," Fleming said. "The USC doctor put it back in place in their locker room at halftime.
But Fleming's legacy at the University of Miami is more than just being a cheerleader. He was the president of the student body and founder of the campus radio station WVUM. But in March of 2006, Fleming died from a heart attack. He was 61 years old. Hurricane football games have never been the same since he left. I can safely say the Yamma Yamma Man was the ultimate University of Miami fan.