Welcome to Sport Town


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Written by Luke Robinson

When I Googled “best sports towns in America” I noticed a glaring omission on the list.

What was the missing city? I will save the answer for a moment (but if you can’t guess the answer while reading B-Metro then your powers of deductive reasoning are God awful).

First, how about a question for you: What makes a city a Mecca for sports, anyway? Is it the number of professional franchises? The size of the fan base? The number of championships? The body-paint applied  per capita?

Those qualifications seem rational. I would put another category ahead of them all, though: The passion for sports in general; the average time a citizen spends worrying, loving, caring and studying one or all sports.

So, back to my original question, the glaring omission was obviously…Birmingham.

Los Angeles and New York were justifiably on there. Boston and Philadelphia, too. Detroit, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Atlanta and Charlotte all made the list. But no Birmingham.

Let me say—in my most Darth Vadery voice—I find the Internet’s lack of faith in Birmingham’s sports fandom…disturbing.

I don’t mean to be too hyperbolic, but I could make the case that Birmingham is the best…sports…town…in America!

“Luke, are you playin’?”, you ask.

Hell naw I ain’t playin’?! I mean this, man! The Magic City is at least on par with many other more famous locations with bigger airports that did actually make that list.

Before I go into why Birmingham is the best, let me poke a few holes in those other locales first.

Los Angeles is a fantastic city with tons of personality and more stars than Bill Gates’  third grade homework. But is it a great sports town?

You mean the 2nd largest city in the country that is sooooOOoooo sports hungry it went without an NFL franchise for 20 years? Have you WATCHED the Lakers play lately? Or the Clippers? They could call off their games due to “lack of interest”. I just went to a Major League Baseball game in Los Angeles last month. There were more people at the local park playing dodge ball than watching the Dodgers bat!

Meanwhile, New York is an AWESOME site for sports. But NYC is an AWESOME site for just about anything.

You like museums? Go to New York. Incredible landmarks? New York. Wide-ranging diversity? New York. Great food? New York. Giant subway rats big enough to wear tennis shoes? New York.

The point is, NYC has 4.89 billion people (memo to self: fact check that number) and a lot of them are bound to like sports. So, really, putting New York on the list is kind of cheating.

Philadelphia and Detroit  are incredibly sports savvy cities, but just because the fans call into radio shows to complain about their hockey teams with the ferocity of a DMV worker with Tourette’s Syndrome doesn’t make them better than Birmingham.

Atlanta’s inclusion over Birmingham is what gets me. Look, Atlanta is hip and cool no doubt. If you want funky, the A-T-L is the funkiest place in Funktown! (And if anyone knows “funky,” it’s me…a 44 year old, middle class, white male from rural Alabama.)

However, when it comes to sports, Atlanta can be almost dys“funk”tional. The city has the classic pro-sports vibe; all corporate-like and watered down. The Falcons’ Super Bowl run last season being the exception to that rule and the Braves’ not selling out NL Championship Series games (I know cause I was there for some) being more of the standard fare.

And don’t get me started on the Hawks. I used to love that squad, but he last time people were really fired up about that team was when they missed a layup to tie the game against Larry Bird’s Celtics in the 1988 playoffs. Damn you, Cliff Livingston!!!!

Birmingham may not have the dense populations and pro sports scene of those aforementioned cities, but fan-for-fan, when it comes to sports, this town is more passionate than Cinemax at 11 p.m. on a Friday night. Rightfully so, too. There are more kick-ass sporting events in the Magic City than a wizard can shake a wand at!

Let’s just start with the fact the Southeastern Conference—the best damn conference in this here ‘Merica—is headquartered in Birmingham. To us, that’s like having the Louvre in Leeds. But instead of the Mona Lisa, it’d be filled with nothing but Daniel Moore prints.

Also, the SEC Championship WAS BORN here! Atlanta stole the marquee event away from us because of their fancy domed stadium (and, truthfully,  the weather for the first two SECCG’s in Bhm was Arctic-esque), but the impetus for Championship games everywhere was played at Legion Field.

Legendary Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden? He’s from Birmingham. “Mr. Kick Six” Chris Davis? Birmingham. Running back extraordinaire Bobby Humphrey and his recently NFL-drafted son, Marlon? Birmingham. Heisman winner Pat Sullivan, national championship winning coach Dabo Swinney along with Georgia Southern legend Erk Russell were all born in Birmingham.

Heck, Birmingham even took a page from pop culture’s book by resurrecting the dead when it comes to football! The UAB gridiron Blazers had died a merciless death only to have the city’s sheer willpower bring them back amongst the living in a just a few years! File that Lazarus story under  «Believable, Un-By-God!»

Oh you prefer high school football? How about a li’l program called “The Hoover Bucs”?  They made the-normally-hot-as-hell gridiron spring practices cool via MTV back in the day. Since that time, Hoover has been collecting trophies the way Angelina Jolie collects kids.  That school wins enough rings to make Elton John vomit with envy.

Meanwhile, famous NFLers with names like Bo Jackson, Cornelius Bennett, Marcell Dareus, Andre Smith and Karlos Dansby  all played high school ball in or near Birmingham.

The football natives and accolades should surprise no one; Birmingham has long been called “The Football Capital of the South.” But wait…there’s more!

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According to my completely biased opinion, there is no high school sporting event in the world that is as much fun as The Alabama High School Athletic Association’s “The Finals” at Legacy Arena downtown. The final four teams from every classification in both genders meet over a series of six days in Birmingham to decide who will hoist the state championship trophies.   

“The Finals” (or the artist formerly known as “The Final 48”)  is truly a sight to behold with alums like Ronald Steele, Eric Bledsoe, John Petty and DeMarcus Cousins. “The Finals” have  been especially fantastic lately with all of the local teams performing so well. Mountain Brook’s neon warriors provide many a “highlight,” Parker High School is always on the move and Midfield’s success is only matched  by its coaches’ dapper suits.

A special thanks should go to the good folks at Knight-Eady who have helped turned  “The Finals” into a can’t-miss event every year. Thanks to that company and the leadership at the Alabama High School Athletic Association, this basketball tournament  is the envy of the country.

Of course you know Charles Barkley is from this area, right? Crimson Tide legends Ennis Whatley and  Buck Johnson, too. Meanwhile, the BJCC once hosted one of the best games in SEC Basketball Tournament history when Alabama’s Elliot Washington buried a three pointer to beat a disgustingly good Arkansas team in 1992.

Then there’s baseball… On the surface, it looks like that may be the weak link in Birmingham’s sports chain; what with no Major League team and all. However, the Barons’ playing at Regions Field (adjacent to the revamped Railroad Park) makes for an awesome family outing. Rickwood Field is the country’s oldest professional baseball stadium and a wonderful part of the sport’s history. Also, the SEC baseball tournament resides in Hoover and that certainly gives the sport a spark in the summertime.

Even if baseball isn’t the city’s strength, a suburb of Birmingham did produce Hall of Famer Willie Mays. I would say that’s enough of a contribution.

How about the more ancillary sports like soccer, boxing, hockey, etc?

Well, Indian Springs School (my alma mater!—I know, I can’t believe I got in either!) was the landing spot for the late, great Ray Woodard. Known as “the father of soccer in Alabama”, Woodard rightfully earned that moniker as he introduced prep soccer to the state, cultivated its growth and mentored thousands of players and future coaches. He could arguably be the most influential coach of any sport in Alabama prep history. When he passed in 2009, soccer—and Birmingham—lost a true champion.

It should be noted that the BHM is back in the boxing game, too, as Tuscaloosa native Deontay Wilder has begun pummeling opponents right here in downtown. His fight at Bartow Arena in 2015 was the city’s first heavyweight fight ever. With Wilder’s Shaq-like wingspan and Shazam-ism power, Birmingham will probably be home to several more fights for some time to come.

So, it’s icy hot hockey action you want??? Well then YOU SIR…are…shit outta luck. Apparently, when it comes to hockey, Birmingham really doesn’t give a “puck.” However, I just learned recently via Birmingham’s sports radio station WJOX that the legendary Gordie Howe did score his 1000th goal right in our fair city. Put that fact in your penalty box  and smoke it! It also appears that the Birmingham Bulls are returning after a 17-year hiatus! Cold beer and fist-fights for everyone!!!!

Speaking of sports radio, Paul Finebaum basically built an empire on the solid  foundation of Birmingham’s sports insanity. Only in Birmingham could people spell “Paul” with five “W’s” and have it make sense.

Because of a word limit, I unfortunately have to  leave out the exploits  of bobsledding great Vonetta Flowers as well as track legends Carl Lewis and  Trey Hardee; all of whom were  Olympians. And can you smell what Theodore Long is cooking? You should… He is the General Manager of WWE Smackdown.

Then there’s the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame downtown… the coolest thing since the automated  bread slicer. It is literally a building filled with overwhelming greatness. When you walk in the place, history washes over you like a hot shower (and frankly, some of you could use that… Just sayin’.)

Finally, if sports gambling is your game, Birmingham is your town. I mean, if you can’t get to Vegas of course.

There’s two things the Magic City loves: BBQ and bookies. If you are from Birmingham and you have never stayed up past 1 in the morning to make sure Hawaii covered a teaser, you are practically alone on an island my friend. There are so many under-the-table bets made here that the city no longer collects sales tax; it gets “juice.”

So let New York have its Jets and LA have its Rams. I’ll take a Van Tiffin 52 yard field goal or a “Bo Over the Top” any day. Miami can keep the Heat and let Chicago have stock in the Bulls (or Bears). I would rather watch Eric Bledsoe face off against DeMarcus Cousins in the high school state semifinals.

The passion for sports in Birmingham isn’t fabricated. It isn’t canned via mass production and then strategically branded by a team of marketers as a passion-substitute brought to you by ABC Widget Corporation; it’s a real, tangible, grass roots love for games.

And I will probably be sued by the Southeastern Conference for saying this, but when it comes to sports in Birmingham, it just means…more.

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