As a fan of the New York Jets, I can’t imagine ever rooting for the New England Patriots. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m legally required to loathe them.
But the Birmingham Patriots?
Yeah, I’m guessing I could’ve gotten behind them, even if it meant I had to drop Joe Namath, Don Maynard and the Flyboys to my No. 2 spot.
New England rallied to defeat Jacksonville on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, again advancing to the Super Bowl and adding another chapter to the legend of Tom Brady and legacy of Bill Belichick.
You can hate the pretty boy QB and evil genius coach all you like, but theirs is a dynasty unlike any other with five Super Bowl conquests.
And if about 40,000 more fans had shown up at Legion Field back in September of 1968, the American Football League’s Boston Patriots might have morphed into the National Football League’s Birmingham Patriots – and I would’ve been wildly celebrating the win of my hometown team last weekend.
I suppose a bit of background is in order.
Boston was having stadium issues at the time (they played their 1968 home games at Fenway Park), and owner Billy Sullivan threatened to move the team if a suitable stadium wasn’t built. In fact, as part of an impending merger with the NFL, which became official in 1970, each AFL team was required to have a venue that seated at least 50,000.
That led AFL commissioner Milt Woodard to suggest the Patriots play a “test” game – which would be an actual regular season contest – somewhere else.
Legion Field seated 68,821 and, at the time, was one of the top facilities in the United States. So Sullivan decided to play a home game there against the New York Jets.
If a big crowd showed up, it might be enough to convince him to take his team to the Deep South.
The pot was sweetened since Namath, a University of Alabama product, was quarterbacking the Jets. Surely that would entice mass numbers of Crimson Tide fans to pack the stadium.
Sadly – at least for those of us who longed for an NFL team in the Magic City – Broadway Joe’s appearance did not have the desired effect on attendance.
A day after 63,759 fans watched Alabama beat Virginia Tech 14-7 at Legion Field, only 29,192 made a return trip to the “Gray Lady” to witness the Jets beat the Pats, 47-31.
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that the Patriots would’ve moved even if a capacity crowd had shown up to cheer them on.
Owners like to use cities as pawns, and a market the size of Boston would’ve been a tough one to leave. Plus, there would have been plenty of other suitors lined up. (Ultimately, Sullivan got his new stadium and the franchise has lived happily ever after).
Still, the less than enthusiastic response knocked Birmingham out of the running. In retrospect, that brief window half a century ago was arguably the last real chance the Ham had of landing a franchise in an established, United States-based professional football league.*
*Birmingham did have a team in the Canadian Football League in 1995, one of the rare times the franchise died while the league survived.
When the World Football League folded midseason in 1975, both the Birmingham and Memphis clubs petitioned for admission to the NFL, but that mini-merger was never seriously considered.
Besides, the NFL had already announced that Tampa Bay and Seattle would join the league in 1976.
So while Birmingham has also been home to the United States Football League, World League of American Football and XFL, it can likely forget about ever becoming part of the NFL.
Therefore, instead of wearing an oversized blue jersey and tricorne while supporting the Birmingham Patriots on Sunday, I cheered wildly for the Jaguars (a team I otherwise care nothing about) simply because there is no team in professional football I like less than New England.
Man, jealousy sucks.