A case can be made that the ‘fan cave” at my house is a monument to failure, and it’s a relatively strong case.
The minute you walk into the hallway you’ll see a wall full of programs and artifacts from the original North American Soccer League, as well as the American Soccer League.
Step into the main room and there’s an entire side of it devoted to the World Football League and United States Football League, with special emphasis on the Birmingham Americans, Birmingham Vulcans and Birmingham Stallions.
Walk a little further and a World Hockey Association display is the main attraction – starring the Birmingham Bulls.
What do all these leagues and teams have in common?
Well, they’re dead.
They came, they went, and now they’re left to be judged by history.
Depressing stuff, right?
Not to me. Not at all.
In fact, my fan cave is my happy place – the room I retreat to when I want to clear my head and where I churn out many of my columns. I spent years decorating it, and now it serves as my own private sports museum and inspiration tank.
My collection of mostly Magic City sports history provides magic all its own, helping me travel back in time to some of the best times of my life.
When I look at my Americans pennant (and opening game ticket stub and homemade Ams helmet), I don’t dwell on the WFL’s financial disaster – at the time the worst in sports history.
Instead, I think back to July 10, 1974, when a young teenager saw his very first pro football game in person, sitting at Legion Field with his dad on one side and his brother on the other as Birmingham topped Southern Cal, 11-7.
I remember a team that hung 58 points on the Memphis Southmen while one of the loudest crowds I’ve ever been a part of cheered so loudly my ears were ringing when it was all over.
And when the Ams beat the Florida Blazers in the World Bowl, I can still hear myself cheering as I watched the game through the “miracle” of cable television at my brother’s house in Center Point.
If I glance at my Vulcans car tag or Vulcans Booster Club certificate, my first thought isn’t that the league folded 12 weeks into the 1975 season.
It’s joining more than 30,000 people at the “Football Capital of the South” on a scorching July day to watch a controlled scrimmage between the Vulcans and Southmen. That was the game that featured the debut of the WFL’s most famous players – Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield.
The USFL died by its own hand when it left a spring schedule in an effort to compete with the NFL in the fall, but it lives on when I look at the Joe Cribbs’ game-used Stallions jersey I have and my three custom-made player figurines.
And that ticket stub from the 1985 Eastern Conference final against the Baltimore Stars at Legion Field might’ve been Birmingham’s last game in the USFL, but it was also a clash that helped me realize these were great teams that could’ve held their own in football’s biggest league.
I guess I should tell you that admiring my Birmingham Barracudas display – featuring a replica jersey, cap, season press pass and Legion Field parking pass – does still sting a little.
The Canadian Football League is my favorite brand of tackle football, and knowing it plays on while the Cudas played out after a one-and-done season saddens me.
But, you know the old saying: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Hey, I got to sit in the press box and watch CFL Hall of Famers Matt Dunigan and Anthony Calvillo duke it out in the first CFL game ever played in Birmingham. That’s unforgettable.
There are also physical reminders of the Birmingham Fire (World League of American Football), Birmingham Steeldogs (Arena football 2), Birmingham Thunderbolts (XFL) and Birmingham Iron (Alliance of American Football), and even a good deal of gridiron memorabilia that has nothing to do with Birmingham at all – it’s just stuff I collected and enjoy.
And of course my shrine to the Bulls isn’t merely a tribute to the WHA and stars such as Frank Mahovlich and Mark Napier, but a reminder of when hockey became my favorite sport.
Going to the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Coliseum and rooting for the Bulls – even though they usually sat near the bottom of the WHA standings – made for some of the best times I ever had.
So sure, you can visit my fan cave and think it’s a room full of bittersweet memories and broken dreams. I won’t argue with you because in a technical sense, you’re right.
For me, though, it’s far more sweet than bitter. It represents days gone by, but they’re days that – in my mind – will last as long as I live.