GameDay Greatness: Paul Janeway hasn't forgotten his Alabama roots

Paul Janeway, lead singer of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, grew up just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. He says football has been a constant in his family since childhood, adding: "football is like an escape, and Im just thankful for that escape." Greg Ostendorf/ESPN.com

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Paul Janeway, the lead singer of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, was backstage after the first of two sold-out shows at the Alabama Theater last week. He had replaced his signature suit with a t-shirt and was wearing his favorite Alabama hat when a couple approached and asked to take a picture with him.

They had one small request, though. They asked him to take his hat off. Evidently, the couple was a pair of Auburn fans. But Janeway didn’t bite.

"I said, 'You’re either taking a picture with me in this hat or we’re not taking a picture.' They took the picture," Janeway said, laughing about it later. "I gave them a big 'Roll Tide.' They loved it."

Throughout the past year, St. Paul and the Broken Bones has enjoyed quite a bit of success. The band toured all over the world, played at different festivals and even opened for the Rolling Stones at one point. Through it all, Janeway is still a Crimson Tide fan at heart.

After all, the singer who has drawn comparisons to the likes of Al Green and Otis Redding was named after a former Alabama football coach.

Janeway grew up in Alabama, just outside of Birmingham. He still remembers the family piling into his granddad’s van and driving over to Legion Field to watch the Crimson Tide play. He was maybe 4 years old when he first started going to games.

It was a way for the family to bond, and at that time, they could all agree on one thing: they pulled for Alabama and hated Auburn.

"One time, my friend had an Auburn hat," Janeway said. "When I was about 6 years old, I was kind of being a smartass and I thought I’d wear it. My granddad spanked my ass for wearing that Auburn hat. He was kind of the one that got into it the most."

His granddad, Ralph Shaw Sr., passed away more than 10 years ago, but Janeway still loves hearing stories about him. Like the time his dad and granddad took a shortcut to a game that turned out not to be a shortcut. Or the time Shaw got into a fight with an Auburn fan who was waving a pom-pom in his face at an Alabama-Auburn game down on the Plains.

It was Alabama football that brought his family closer together then, and it’s no different today.

In October, Janeway and his dad took a road trip to Texas A&M for the Alabama game. It was the first trip like that they had taken together for a long time, and it was a chance for Janeway to get away from his hectic schedule and spend some quality time with his dad.

"[Football] is a family thing," Janeway said. "No matter what was going on, no matter if things were good or bad, that Saturday -- at least for two and a half hours -- things were going to be pretty good. Or they could go badly. But it’s just a lot of fond memories, and I think that’s what it all comes down to for me.

"It doesn’t matter what I do or what I become, that’s the one thing that [stays constant]. That’s what I love about it."

Life has changed for Janeway since the rise of St. Paul and the Broken Bones. He’s not the same avid fan he once was, mostly because he doesn’t have the time. The band played more than 200 shows in the past year alone.

"I think I just have more going on in my life," Janeway said. "Now I have to live, eat and breathe music and what we do. So football is like an escape, and I’m just thankful for that escape.

"Used to, I was working paycheck to paycheck and couldn’t wait for Saturday. And I get that, because it was that feeling, like that Friday when you’re about to get off, that’s a great feeling. That is one thing I do kind of miss."

Even on the road, Janeway still does his best to watch Alabama.

Two years ago, while in London, he paid 50 Euro to watch the Alabama-West Virginia game on his laptop. This fall, he nearly missed the Alabama-Ole Miss game because he was in Toronto and the band’s tour bus -- where they were planning to watch the game -- was parked under a tree.

But the days of Janeway and his family cramming in the van to go to the game are over. As are the days of going to Auburn and seeing his granddad get in a fight. The next time he goes to Auburn, he’ll be playing a concert.

"I want our music to be all-encompassing," Janeway said. "Growing up here, people take [the rivalry] serious. They take it too far. It’s all out of fun to me. It’s all about teasing, and at the end of the day, it’s just a game. But I get it. I just want everybody to feel included. When they come to the show, I don’t want them to feel like this guy’s going to be mean to me.

"I might be [mean]," he joked. "But it’s all in fun."