Like most, I was first introduced to Cameron Luke “Fluffopotamus” Ratliff through Twitter. I stumbled across this funny kid that I could tell loved Alabama just by his posts. Shortly after, he showed up at our tailgate and a grand friendship was born. Luke passed away at 23 years old on Friday night at Druid City Hospital in Tuscaloosa, around 10:30 pm after a short illness. I’m old, so I've been around a good deal of death in my lifetime. Whenever it involves a young person it just hits different, especially one who was so full of life, so joyous, so kind, and so damn funny. Luke will truly be missed.
When Luke took over as President of The Crimson Chaos, the student involvement in the basketball program had grown stagnant. In true Fluff fashion he breathed life into the student section and made it make a difference. It didn't matter that the team still wasn't doing particularly well. He was there, hours before games setting up the area, choreographing chants and sometimes skirts. Let’s not forget the classic day when Luke donned an FBI jacket and hat to welcome the Auburn Tigers and their coach who was being investigated by the Bureau.
When Nate Oats took over the program Luke was already established as Mr Alabama Basketball, but Oats and his staff embraced him and took things to another level. Luke had obtained an old plaid jacket that he wore in homage to former coach Wimp Sanderson. The old jacket wore out eventually, so Oats and assistant Antoine Pettway surprised Luke with a new plaid jacket that solidified Fluff’s place with Tide Hoops. That jacket was worn to every basketball game, and many other sporting events from then forward.
The Alabama basketball team made Luke part of the team. He attended 44 of the team’s last 45 SEC games and made every game this year, driving over 10,000 miles in the process. The coaches and players took him in and looking at social media you can see how much he meant to them. At the memorial today all of the players and coaches that were in town were in attendance. They spent time with his mom, dad, and brother with a genuine outpouring of love and sadness. The loss and dismay in their faces was palpable. Athletic Director Greg Byrne spoke and President Stuart Bell was in attendance with several hundred grieving students, fans, and friends,
How do a middle aged man and a “kid” from North Carolina become friends? Luke had an old soul, and could -and would- converse with anyone. In talking to his mom Pam at a memorial service today she told me her friends used to tell her that Luke was the only kid they knew that had birthday parties with all adults in attendance. While speaking with her today she gave me a big hug and said, “Roger, you know Luke really loved you. He always spoke so highly of you.” Those words warmed and broke my heart all at once. As I told a mutual friend, William Galloway, Luke had 35,000 best friends, because if you were with him he made you feel like you were the only person in the world, and that he was your best friend. How does a young man in just 23 years manage to be able to do that?
On football Saturdays I could always count on seeing Fluff strolling up the sidewalk, stogie in tow. That sight, and the thought of it, brings a smile to my face. When I got to basketball games I always sought Luke out for a pregame hug and a quick report on the health of the team, along with a scouting report of the opponent which were always spot on. During baseball games he would spend about half his time in the Right Field Plaza and half his time with us in the Home Plate Club. The smiles he brought to people he came in contact with were real and genuine. You couldn't spend any amount of time with Luke without breaking into a big smile and laugh.
I have been with Luke when he was continually stopped and asked for a picture. He always willingly, and joyfully, obliged, but would always say, “I don't deserve this, I’m just a kid from North Carolina that really loves basketball.”
My friend, you were so much more than that. His brother Noah is special needs, and Pam told me that Luke never missed a single Special Olympics event Noah participated in, and always brought an army of friends with him so everyone would have fans to pull for them. The family told me that Noah watches every Alabama sporting event on TV in hopes of seeing his hero, Luke. Me too Noah, me too.
This still doesn't feel real and it is incredibly sad. Luke was the life of the party and would want everyone to go on with their lives, which we will have to do. But damn kid, we sure wish you had stuck around a lot longer. Alabama, Where Legends Are Made- and you are a legend. RIP Luke, love and miss you. You left a giant impression on so many. #FlyHigh