BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – September 19, 1970.
It was the first time I’d ever been to Legion Field, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
My dad had promised for weeks that he would take me to a college football game, and this was the day. We were supposed to head to Seibert Stadium and watch the Samford Bulldogs take on the Jacksonville State Gamecocks – a big game among two great small schools.
I was excited … I didn’t really know who I was going to pull for, but the mere fact that I was going to see a college football game live and in person meant the game was already won for me.
But then Pop called an audible.
Instead of taking me to Homewood, he took me downtown.
And going downtown to watch a football game meant going to Legion Field.
Alabama played Virginia Tech that night, and for the record the Crimson Tide was victorious, 51-18.
That wasn’t the biggest story, though.
I got to see a major college football game at a stadium that – in my mind – was a football cathedral. And it was the night I fell in love with Legion Field.
Every time I visit the “Gray Lady” I think back to that night, a night when I sat perched in the upper corner of section 30, wearing a corduroy jacket that beat back a chill in the air.
But what a warm feeling it still is, and I got to revisit it Sunday while waiting for the Birmingham Iron and Memphis Express to meet in the third game of the Alliance of American Football’s opening weekend.
My main purpose was to cover the contest for this site and gather information for a book I’m writing, but I couldn’t help but think back to that first visit nearly 50 years ago.
In fact, my vantage spot in the press box allowed me to actually look across at section 30, and it made me wonder …
What kid is there with mom or dad, watching “live” football for the first time?
How many youngsters woke up on Sunday morning thinking they were going to watch the game on TV, but wound up taking a Sunday drive to Legion Field instead?
How many children are witnessing something wonderful – something they’ll never, ever forget?
It’s hard not to get sentimental when you were once that kid.
Yes, the stadium is antiquated and many, many years beyond her glory days.
It won’t be long before Birmingham’s football tenants will move to the new and improved stadium that is being built across town.
And that’s great.
But if you’re looking for someone to bash Legion Field, that someone isn’t me.
Too much history.
Too much love.
I’ve lost count of how many college games I’ve seen here – the last being UAB’s return to the Football Bowl Subdivision back in 2017.
That was unforgettable.
But then there was the Birmingham Americans’ debut on July 10, 1974.
The Birmingham Vulcans, Birmingham Stallions, Birmingham Fire, Birmingham Barracudas, Birmingham Bolts and now the Birmingham Iron – I was there the first time they ever played a home game.
And the first game they ever played at home, their home was Legion Field.
I hope this stadium stands for years to come – if not as a place for teams to play, at least as a place to remember those who once played here.
It’s a little big for a museum, but it’s earned that status.
The Gray Lady is old, but she’ll always be beautiful to me.