By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
Alabama A&M won an overtime thriller on Saturday defeating rival Alabama State 42-41 in the Magic City Classic at Birmingham’s Legion Field.
A&M’s De’Angelo Ballard threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Dorsey in overtime, and Nick Carden kicked the extra point to give the Bulldogs the one point triumph.
Ballard, named MVP, completed 19-of-35 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns and ran 19 times for 101 yards. Freshman running back Jordan Bentley had 15 carries for 80 yard and two TDs.
For Alabama State, Khalid Thomas carried 24 times for 170 yards a touchdown, and Quinterris Toppings had six carries for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Houston Markham had heard about the rivalry between Alabama State University (ASU) and Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (Alabama A&M) when he arrived in Montgomery to coach the Hornets in 1987.
Markham, who would go on to become the winningest coach in ASU football history, initially dismissed talk about the rivalry. The Brookhaven, Miss., native came from Jackson State University, and he figured a big-time rivalry involving historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) had to involve Southern, Grambling State, or Alcorn State.
Markham, now 73, would learn that he was wrong.
“The moment I entered [Legion Field], I knew it was a different ball game,” said the man for whom the ASU football complex is named. “It was unreal. Your livelihood depends on that one.”
The 75th McDonald’s Magic City Classic presented by Coca-Cola—which will take place on Oct. 29, 2016, at Birmingham’s Legion Field—is the renewal of a college football rivalry that has few rivals, a rivalry so deeply entrenched that it appears fans are born on one side or the other.
Eighty-nine-year-old Cleophus Vann has scarcely missed attending the game between the Hornets and the Bulldogs. He started attending the Classic before he enrolled at ASU and continued after he graduated in 1950.
The rivalry was “always a high point of the Magic City Classic,” the Titusville resident said. “Who can outbrag Alabama State folks from A&M? It is what I call the epitome of friendship within a university.”
Vann and his wife, Juanita J. Vann, attended the game nearly every year since he was a senior and she was a freshman at ASU—a streak that ends this year, as Mrs. Vann passed away on Oct. 12, 2016.
“It will be very difficult for me because my wife, anybody that knows her will tell you, was a get-up-and-goer,” he recalled. “She’d say, ‘We’ve got to go. We’ve got to be there.’ I’d say, ‘I don’t feel like going.’ She’d say, ‘We’re going.’ We’re staunch ASU fans.”
Hoover’s Demitria Peoples Scott said she and her siblings all graduated from Alabama A&M. They are among three generations who are proud to be considered Bulldogs.
“When the siblings finished high school, our grandmother Louise Berry said she was ready for [us] to go to Alabama A&M University,” she said. “It started back with our mom and her brothers and sisters, and it carried on through the second and third generations. It’s a big to-do.”
Albert J. Benifield Jr., president of the Alabama A&M Alumni Association, currently lives in Pearland, Texas, but he grew up in Birmingham’s Woodlawn neighborhood and has been conscious of the rivalry since he was a young child.
“When I was small, I had a chance to watch the parade and had family and all coming in town,” he recalled. “It was one of those rivalries that, no matter the team’s records, was a big event that would go on in the city for bragging rights for at least a year. It’s one of those things where all year you would cheer for the other school, but on that last weekend in October you took sides and were trying to get bragging rights for the remainder of the year.”
So this is not a bitter rivalry?
“Oh no, no, no,” Benifield said. “As soon as the game is over, you have friends you’ve grown up with, friends you see during the year. As soon as the game is over, you’re still friends, but you’ve got those bragging rights.”
Jeffery McDaniels is president of the Jefferson–Shelby County Area ASU Alumni Association. The Helena resident said the schools can identify with many of the struggles African-Americans have endured over the years and the relationships that have been built through college and professional experiences.
“I think [the football rivalry] gives us an opportunity to be on opposing sides but celebrate the good that both teams and universities bring to Alabama and to this nation,” McDaniels said. “There is nothing negative about those two sides being diametrically opposed for a football game. You’ll find many families that have both Alabama A&M and ASU graduates in a very wholesome family.”
Better than Homecoming
Curtis Pearson, a product of Birmingham’s West End High School and part of the Bulldogs football program from 1981 to 1986, said the Classic has always generated more excitement than homecoming.
“More people really participate in the Classic than they do homecoming,” the Center Point resident said. “Homecoming is huge because you’re on campus, but the Classic is huge because it’s the largest HBCU game in America. You’ve got the parade. You’ve got a week’s worth of doing everything. It’s just like homecoming, but it’s not at home.”
“We looked forward to playing in the Classic much more than playing in a homecoming game,” Pearson continued. “The Classic is the big stage. You get national exposure because now the games are on TV. The crowd is nice for homecoming, but of course it’s bigger for the Classic. It’s more dressed up, more hyped up.”
Former ASU coach Markham noted that Tuskegee University, another HBCU that’s just 40 miles down Interstate 85 from ASU, is another rival but in a different way.
“That was our homecoming, and we played it on Thanksgiving, the Turkey Day Classic,” Markham said. “The matchup between the Golden Tigers and the Hornets was huge, too, but the Magic City Classic was bigger and more important.”
And what’s a rivalry without a little friendly banter?
“You always have to have the rhetoric,” said A&M alum Demitria Peoples Scott. “That’s what makes it interesting. We have that for 364 days. When we win the game, we’re talking for 364 days. That’s what keeps the fun going.”
OFFICIAL MAGIC CITY CLASSIC SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Thursday, October 27
7 p.m.: Alumni Pep Rally, Sheraton Birmingham Ballroom: Cash bar, light hors d’oeuvres, entertainment, along with team cheers and spirit! A ticket at the gate is $15. You do not have to be an alumnus to attend.
Saturday, October 29
8 a.m.: McDonald’s Magic City Classic Parade, Downtown Birmingham. Join 100,000 of your closest friends to witness one of the best parades in the nation. More than 30 high school bands will participate to get your day started off right!
9 a.m.: Shuttles begin; stadium perimeter will close.
10 a.m.: Coors Light Pre-Game Tailgate Party. Get your game day party started at the Coors Light Pre-Game Tailgate Party. Sponsors will be handing out all kinds of swag and multiple stages and DJ’s will keep you entertained throughout the morning.
10 a.m.–2 p.m.: Ford Tailgate Takeover. Located directly outside the band entrance on the east side of the stadium.
3 p.m.: 75th Annual McDonald’s Magic City Classic broadcast live on ESPN3, Legion Field. Will your alma mater earn the bragging rights this year? Come show your support as they battle it out on the gridiron.
HALFTIME: Celebrity Ambassador featuring Grammy Award winner Ludacris; performance by Alabama A&M Marching Maroon and White Band and ASU Mighty Marching Hornets.
POSTGAME: Postgame Concert at Legion Field featuring Ludacris.