S ports in Paradise By Dale Jones
Written across the upper deck at Legion Field in Birmingham were the words “Football Capital of the South.”
No doubt many historic contests happened in that stadium. Memories of the “Punt Bama Punt,” game, watching the Bear Bryant lean on the goal post, and numerous high school state championships all happened within the confines of the stadium named in honor of the American Legion.
For years, Alabama played at least 3 of their home games at the stadium that once accommodated 83,091 screaming fans. It was the neutral site for the Iron Bowl, has been the host of the annual Magic City Classic between Alabama A&M and Alabama State since 1946, and has been the site for the Dixie Bowl, Hall of Fame Bowl, All-American Bowl, and presently the BBVA Compass Bowl.
In addition, Legion Field was the home stadium of the Americans, Vulcans, Stallions, Fire, Barracudas, and Thunderbolts.
Those words no longer appear on the upper deck at Legion Field. As a matter of fact, there is no longer an upper deck at all.
Days of Tide and Tiger fans driving to the West side of Birmingham for a game are a thing of the past.
Even the Super Six high school football championships have moved on to Auburn and Tuscaloosa.
So where IS the new “football capital of the south?”
Where is the one place people can go and be inundated with gridiron greatness?
My contention is that it is no longer a specific venue, but a geographic location, and that location is …. Baldwin County.
Think about it for a moment.
At the present time, the reigning NFL World Champion New Orleans Saints is the closest NFL franchise to Baldwin County. If you live in Baldwin County, you are likely a Sants fan.
The current college football National Champion is the Alabama Crimson Tide, including the most recent Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram.
It is very possible that the next National Champion and Heisman Trophy winner could be Auburn. If you live in Baldwin County, you are likely an Alabama or an Auburn fan.
As I write this column, Baldwin County’s Spanish Fort Toros are preparing to face off against Birmingham’s Briarwood Christian for the AHSAA Class 5A title. This evening, an undefeated Daphne Trojan team, also from Baldwin County, will battle it out with the Hoover Bucs for the state’s Class 6A championship.
Alabama stars Julio Jones, Robert Lester, and D.J. Fluker are all from Baldwin County’s Foley High School, but the list is endless.
D.J. Reese (UAB), Bryant Turner (UAB), Chase Garnham (Vandy), Justin Anderson (Louisiana-Lafayette), Chandler Davis (Tulane), Coley White (West Virginia), D.J. Taylor (Troy), Kynjee Cotton (Ala. State), Jacob Kirschenbaum (Samford), Tyler O’Neal (Samford), Reggie Hunt (Southern Miss), and on and on I could go with guys who are playing in division II, division III and the NAIA.
Oh, and don’t forget Baldwin County High’s Wallace Gilberry in the NFL.
Go to any Baldwin County High School football game during the fall and you are likely to see an SEC commitment on the playing field.
There is no better place to live, if you are a football fan at any level, than Baldwin County, Alabama.
It is, indeed, the new Football Capital of the South.
Auburn owns the series 6-1-1. They had a dramatic come from behind victory earlier in the season, beating the Gamecocks at home 35-27. Presently ranked at the top of the BCS poll, the Tigers somehow overcame a 24-0 deficit to beat Alabama at Bryant-Denny last Friday.
Most football fans would agree that Auburn vs. Oregon would be the most favorable National Championship matchup at this point, but hold your horses. South Carolina is better than their 9-3 record represents. They are physical, they can run, they can pass, and, with Steve Spurrier as their coach, they have a chance to make history at the Georgia Dome on Saturday afternoon. Auburn fans shouldn’t be googling tickets to Glendale, AZ just yet. Look for an explosive, high scoring game. The team who has the ball last will win. Auburn 37 – South Carolina 34.
-Hit ‘em straight!
—Dale Jones is a reporter / sports columnist for Gulf Coast Newspapers and a Member of the Alabama Sports Writers Association. You can reach Dale at firstname.lastname@example.org