Today’s guest columnist is John Lyda.
I have always wanted to attend a Magic City Classic football game between the Alabama A&M Bulldogs and the Alabama State Hornets, the state of Alabama’s two largest historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Year after year I’d find myself once again allowing the Classic weekend to come and go, telling myself, “I’ll go next year”.
After all, I felt somewhat qualified to attend being married to my wife Beth, a proud graduate school alumna of Alabama A&M, class of 1997.
But am I qualified to attend? Would I be welcome? For 26 years I allowed myself to believe that I’d not be welcome, that “over the mountain” Caucasian graduates of non HBCUs were to carry on their tailgates and traditions in Tuscaloosa and Auburn and leave the Classic to those who had deep roots in the HBCUs.
I feel certain that thousands of others are just like me, having a natural curiosity about the Classic and a desire to experience it, but yet still apprehensive because of the perceived lack of connectivity to the event.
Finally, after 26 years, I took the opportunity and accepted the invitation to attend the 2022 Classic with my friend and Hoover City Council colleague Mr. Derrick Murphy.
As soon as I stepped out of the car and into the most unique tailgate scene I’d ever experienced, I knew my assumptions were unfounded. I was made welcome in a way I did not expect or imagine.
I found myself revisiting memories of traveling from Tuscaloosa to “The Old Gray Lady” in the 1990s for University of Alabama “home” games in Birmingham. But there was something noticeably different about this setting.
The haze of smoke emitting from the throngs of tailgaters was unlike anything I’d seen here previously. It was apparent that the vast majority of Classic tailgaters highly prefer cooking over catering. And oh my do they cook. Fryers, smokers, and grills cranking out a seemingly unending supply of catfish, chicken wings, smoked meats, and accompaniments; southern soul food at its finest!
The host of each tailgate was proud to showcase their culinary creation and an invitation to join them was always extended.
First played in 1924 and played at Legion Field since 1940, the Magic City Classic is the Birmingham-Hoover area’s most significant sporting event.
Drawing an estimated 200,000 people to the area for an entire week of pep rallies, a parade, soirees, block parties, and a scholarship breakfast, it surpasses in total attendance the Regions Tradition Golf Tournament, the SEC Baseball Tournament, and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, all nationally televised sporting events.
The Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the total economic impact of the Classic week close to $25 million.
But let us set aside, for a moment, the common data points that often define the success or failure of a major tourism event.
The Magic City Classic is about culture, family, tradition, and is an epic celebration of each of those. It represents pride in the competing universities, yet draws a far greater audience outside of those with direct ties to the two HBCUs.
Being our area’s longest running and most widely attended sporting event it deserves our collective support. The Classic presents a tremendous opportunity for the corporate, civic, and community partners to come together and join forces in an even greater way in celebration of this iconic event.
I’m very grateful for the opportunity I had to attend and experience something so special and unique to Birmingham. I’ll be back next year, and let me assure you that you have an invitation as well. I hope you’ll join me.
John Lyda serves as President of the Hoover, AL City Council. He is a lifelong Alabamian and a 26-year resident of Hoover. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama and UAB.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
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