Birmingham, Alabama might not be a place high on your vacation list when you start picking out destinations in the South to spend a few days. Cities like Atlanta, New Orleans, and Memphis are bigger tourist destinations than the largest city in the state of Alabama.
But on the last week leading up to the last Saturday in October, Birmingham becomes the center of the Black Universe for an entire week. What’s the reason? The Magic City Classic! The Magic City Classic is more than a game. It’s a week-long family reunion, class reunion, concerts, day parties, a week long tailgating experience, it’s the parade, and then the game.
This game impacts just about every African-American who lives in the city of Birmingham or who ever has. It’s the week the people from far away decide to come back home. It’s been long said that people will choose not to come home for Christmas and Thanksgiving but will come home for The Classic. Children who grew up in the Birmingham City Schools were taught by graduates and administrators who were products of Alabama A&M and Alabama State. It’s also said that in the state of Alabama that you declare your allegiance to Alabama or Auburn, but in Birmingham on the last Saturday of the month you must declare yourself a Bulldog or a Hornet!
The games have also been Classics recently with 15 of the last 20 meetings being decided by a single possession. During this game legends are made and plays are given names. You have the “Comeback” in 1998, “The Catch” in 1999, “The Kick” in 2011 and “The Comeback Part 2” in 2016. Players like Darnell Kennedy, Tavaris Jackson, Earl Cochran, and others have become legends for ASU in this game while names like Johnnie Baldwin, Michael Jordan, Tevin McKenzie have almost become immortal for the Bulldogs.
This game draws crowds that annually exceed 60,000 and there’s another 40-50,000 who choose to enjoy a mardi gras type tailgating atmosphere and never enter the stadium. This game and experience is truly magical to say the least.
This Year’s Edition
This year’s edition brings in a much improve Alabama A&M team who currently sits at 3-4 overall and a 2-2 conference record, while Alabama State comes in with a 2-4 overall record and a 1-1 record in SWAC play.
The Hornets have been the real mystery team of the season. The boast two wins over two of the best teams in HBCU football in Tuskegee and Alcorn State even though statistically they were dominated. Alabama State’s average margin of loss this season is 43.75 points which makes their wins over Alcorn State and Tuskegee that much more baffling. The Hornets have struggled on both sides of the ball this season with an offensive unit which ranks last in the SWAC in points per game averaging 13.8 points and only averaging 263.2 total yards per game in the SWAC which is next to last. Defensively the Hornets give up 471.5 total yards per game which is 8th in the league, and their rushing defense is ranked dead last in the league giving up 320.2 yards on the ground per contest.
If there has been a bright spot offensively for Alabama State it has been running back Ezra Gray who has rushed for 287 yards and two touchdowns the season. Quarterback Darryl Pearson was the 2nd team All-SWAC quarterback selection by the media this summer but Pearson hasn’t lived up to expectations so far. Pearson is only completing 47% of his passes and only averages a shade over 100 yards passing per game. But luckily for Pearson and the Alabama State offense this is The Magic City Classic where unexpected performances happen almost annually.
As bad as The Hornets have looked at times during the season, they control their own destiny as far as a divisional crown and a second trip to Birmingham later this year for the SWAC Championship game. This game could be the statement game that Hornet fans are looking for to show the rest of the conference that the Alcorn game was no fluke.
For AAMU this game is another opportunity to make a statement and to spoil the party for their bitter rival. With a win on Saturday the Bulldogs would seriously hamper Bama State’s hopes at not only a divisional title but possibly a winning season as well. The Bulldogs have a defense that ranks in the top 3 in the conference as far as yards surrendered and an offense that’s ranked 5th as far as yards per game.
A&M Quarterback Aqeel Glass is now the second leading passer in the league with 1,383 yards and is second in touchdown passes with 12. One of the targets for Glass on Saturday will be true freshman Brian Jenkins Jr. Jenkins is the son Brian Jenkins Sr. who is now on the staff at A&M but was the head coach at Bama State from 2015 until mid-way through the 2017 season. The Young Jenkins has made quite a name for himself already as he leads the SWAC in total receptions (32) and has 362 yards receiving and has added 259 yards in kick return yards.
The Bulldogs are the favorite coming into Saturday’s contest but this is a game where the favorite doesn’t always win. To protect against a letdown Alabama A&M must protect the football and avoid costly penalties. It would also be a good idea to avoid Alabama State defensive back Dennis Robert who already has two interceptions on the year. Defensively the Bulldogs must continue to play sound and solid and limit the big runs from Ezra Gray.
Alabama A&M 24
Alabama State 14