I’m genuinely excited about Sunday’s matchup between the 2-0 Birmingham Iron and 0-2 Atlanta Legends at Georgia State Stadium.
Is it because it’s a Week 3 clash between a pair of Eastern Conference rivals in the Alliance of American Football?
Sure, there’s that; I’m enjoying this league a lot and the more I see, the more I like.
Or maybe it’s because it features two of my favorite American cities. Even though I don’t currently live in Birmingham it’s my hometown, and I’ve developed a real fondness for Atlanta over the years.
But for me, the historical significance of the game is the biggest reason I’m eager to watch.
In fact, it’s been 45 years in the making.
Sometime during the summer of 1974 – while the World Football League Birmingham Americans were riding a 10-game winning streak – I was thinking big.
The Ams were the class of the upstart circuit, and the WFL would, quite obviously, last forever. I mean, I assumed it was formed as a personal favor to all football-crazy 13 year olds like me who didn’t previously have a pro team in their city, so it was implied that we’d grow old together.
The first order of business was for Birmingham to become the dominant franchise in the league, and not knowing any better, I figured the WFL was already the National Football League’s equal.
And even though they were separate leagues and had an adversarial relationship from the get-go, I wanted nothing more than for the Americans to play – and destroy – the Atlanta Falcons.
Because I was jealous of Atlanta, and wanted Birmingham to beat it at something.
See, in the early 1950s, the two cities were roughly the same size and basically had an equal shot at becoming the biggest of the big Southeastern cities.
But while my town had become infamous for clinging to Jim Crow laws, their town was working toward a more progressive – and inclusive – future.
So when businesses looked for opportunities, they looked at Atlanta. And when it came time for an international airport to be built, the “Empire City of the South” got it.
There were a number of factors, of course, but the air hub was game, set and match. It will likely always be Atlanta’s biggest victory over the Magic City.
It’s a major reason why the Birmingham Falcons, Birmingham Braves and Birmingham Hawks never were and will never be.
But Birmingham was going through a renaissance in the 1970s, and I just knew pro football – WFL style – was going to help it give the ATL some competition.
Besides, while Birmingham was in the midst of a season that would end with a WFL championship, the lowly Falcons were stumbling to a 3-11 mark.
Oh, how I wanted the NFL and WFL to agree to exhibition games, in the hopes that a Falcons vs. Americans game would take place.
Of course, I knew nothing about the business side of pro sports and didn’t realize such a pairing was out of the question before the question was ever asked.
But I had convinced myself Birmingham could beat Atlanta in football and maybe – just maybe – that would in some weird way close the prestige gap between the cities.
We’ll never know.
The WFL barely survived its first season and didn’t make it through its second. In fact, on October 19, 1975, Atlanta lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 22-7, while Birmingham beat the Memphis Southmen, 21-0.
But three days later the Falcons were back on the practice field prepping for a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, while Birmingham’s WFL team (renamed the Vulcans) were no more.
The World Football League folded on Oct. 22, 1975.
So not only was I denied a chance to see Birmingham earn bragging rights over Atlanta on the gridiron, I was denied a team, period.
There have been others since then – the Birmingham Stallions (USFL), Birmingham Fire (World League of American Football), Birmingham Barracudas (CFL) and Birmingham Bolts (XFL) – yet until the Alliance came along, there was no opportunity for Birmingham versus Atlanta.
The record will show that on February 24, 2019, that finally changes.
The Alliance isn’t the NFL – or even the WFL – but it’s a quality spring league that’s going to give me a sporting event I’ve always wanted to see.
It’s about time.