By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
Alabama A&M coach James Spady was concerned that the stage created by the 75th McDonald’s Magic City Classic presented by Coca-Cola might be too big for some of his young players as they faced rival Alabama State.
“They’re not going to play in front of that many folks that many times in the course of their careers,” he said. “It was a bit of a concern but in retrospect, I feel like we handled it.”
The Bulldogs not only handled the atmosphere of Legion Field, they knocked off Alabama State 42-41 in overtime before an announced record crowd of 70,813. The previous high for the Magic City Classic was at another milestone; the 50th drew 70,200.
“What a fun crowd to play in front of,” Spady said. “It was full and it was kind of nerve-wracking to a certain extent, but a good nerve-wracking. You like playing in front of that crowd, you like to play in that atmosphere.”
Gene Hallman, whose Bruno Event Team has managed the Classic since 2000, said they anticipated establishing a high mark for the 75th playing of the event.
“We thought there was a chance for a sellout but we came just short of that,” Hallman said, noting an increase in out-of-towner and ancillary activities. “It’s just an amazing event that continues to get bigger and bigger every year.”
Alabama State coach Brian Jenkins said the Magic City Classic was a magic moment, “just not on our end.”
“It was extreme, a great atmosphere,” the Hornets coach said. “It was wonderful. It was probably the best Classic I’ve been a part of even though we didn’t come away victorious. It was still good.”
Hallman said the challenge of managing the Classic is to make it bigger each succeeding year. He said they have some ideas for No. 76, perhaps adding to the activities that involve the universities but aren’t necessarily on game day.
“Those are ways we can grow what the schools receive in the way of a total payout,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.”
Asked about the possibility of the Magic City Classic being hosted in some other city, Hallman said he is not concerned. The event is working beautifully in Birmingham, he said.
“The size of the crowd far exceeds the capacity of either on-campus stadium,” Hallman said. “And I really can’t think of another venue where it would work so well. It’s geographically positioned between the two universities. We’ve got the corporate resources here to support it. We’ve got the hotel inventory to support it.
“The old saying is, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ I think that applies here.”