The 76th annual Magic City Classic, in theory, is a football game between Alabama State and Alabama A&M in Birmingham. In reality, however, those RV’s start pulling in on the Monday before the game to kick off a week-long celebration.
Full swing on Friday
The perimeter around Legion Field is packed on Friday afternoon, with vendors hawking clothes, food, and artwork. Parking spots are already at a premium, pay your $20 or prepare to take a long walk. As always I choose the walk.
The #MagicCityClassic doesn't kick-off until Saturday afternoon but the party started well before that. –> https://t.co/VPb76fIe7p<–See our full video from hanging with the fans on Friday in #Birmingham @BamaStateSports @AAMUBulldogs pic.twitter.com/SAZesIzrfK
— HBCU Gameday (@HBCUGameday) October 28, 2017
“Smokey Sam’s Barbeque, if the smoke don’t get you, the ribs will,” bellows the voice of Larry Swanson. Larry is a hype-man for this Food Truck because there is a lot of culinary competition seeking the potential dollars strolling outside of Legion Stadium. Miss a customer, miss a dollar.
Larry didn’t attend an HBCU, but he’s a local from Birmingham and he realizes how big this weekend is and what it means to the city.
“It’s like Christmas or maybe another Fourth of July. We really like this, we’re barbequing, we’re out here fellowshipping. We have the parade in the morning so we’re going to do it big here in Birmingham.”
— HBCU Gameday (@HBCUGameday) October 27, 2017
For many families, this is a yearly tradition and a year-long commitment. You can’t just decide on a whim that you’re going all in for the ultimate tailgate experience at Magic City. It takes some real deal planning.
Donald Evans was a student at Alabama State University before being drafted into the Army and finishing his degree there. I find him and about ten family members sitting around his RV directly in front of Legion Stadium. He’s been at the Magic City Classic for at least the last twenty years according to his recollection. It’s an investment of time and money but it has a premium payoff.
“We root for our favorite team but it really doesn’t matter who wins the game, the big thing is that it’s a family thing. Normally we work at least about eight months out, you have to get your room reservation, you have to get your tailgate lot, you really have to plan ahead to be able to enjoy all of the festivities.”
That’s a lot of money
Evans, who arrived on Thursday, says it cost about $2,500 to finance the trip for his family. If you look around the adjoining streets and start multiplying the heads you see, you’ll see why the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that fans will leave an economic impact of $23 million.
Some argue that the money may or may not be going to the right places, that argument is chronicled here via AL.com.
Where the money goes isn’t a high priority with the families I encountered. Monica Croskey-Jones was grilling outside of her RV while her four grandchildren played football.
“I just love it. This is my fun. Once a year my daughter, my nephew and my grandchildren all help me to provide, because they know this is what I like to do. If we don’t make it to church on Sunday, Pastor will have a fit,” she said.
You can accurately describe the Magic City Classic as one big family, but make no mistake, this is still centered around a rivalry. Alabama state on one side, Alabama A&M on the other.
Marshae Madison-Pelt finished Graduate school at Alabama A&M and mostly everyone in her family who attended college, are all Hornets. Except for that one uncle.
“It’s kind of like a family affair, we had one uncle who went to A&M [Do you all talk to him] Sometimes, not much during the classic,” said a laughing Madison-Pelt.
As the sun dipped down behind Legion Stadium on Friday night, you could sense the “Day Party” feel of the afternoon making way for Saturday’s main event. Hype man Larry could hardly wait, reaching back into a decade old lexicon.
“Man this thing is going to be off the chain. They’re going to say turn down for what. This thing is going to be krunk, it’s going to be really nice.”
If you’re headed to the Magic City Classic on Saturday, stop by and see Larry after your long walk to the stadium for a turkey leg and some water. The parking lots have been full for a while now.