BIRMINGHAM, AL — Birmingham was once known, at least by its own residents, as “the football capital of the South,” as those words graced the stands of Legion Field for decades. This, of course, was because of the love of football held by so many fans throughout the city. So why has professional football been unkind to the proclaimed “football capital of the South?”
Veteran sports writer Scott Adamson explores that question and so much more in his new book, “The Home Team: My Bromance with Off-Brand Football.”
Adamson, a Birmingham native, was the sports editor for The Daily Home in Talladega before becoming the sports editor for the Birmingham Post-Herald in the 2000s. And his memory of Birmingham’s repeated attempts at pro football success (from the Americans to the Vulcans to the Stallions and beyond) is as vivid as it was when he was at Legion Field cheering on or covering for the newspaper whatever team each now-defunct league brought to the Magic City.
“The Home Team: My Bromance with Off-Brand Football” is Adamson’s journey through the long and embattled history of pro football in Birmingham, as he uses humor, trivia and his love of both Birmingham and football to create a portrait of his hometown’s interesting — albeit sometimes tragic — relationship with professional sports.
Patch caught up with Adamson to discuss his new book and his fascination with Birmingham’s pro football history:
How long has the idea for this book been in the works?
When I left the newspaper business in October, 2017, there were two things I wanted to do writing-wise. First was to start a website, where I could write whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and write a book. Originally I thought about doing fiction because it was outside of my comfort zone, but after getting a couple of things started and not being inspired enough to finish them (yet, anyway), I decided to write what I knew. So I guess around March or April of 2018 I started doing research on Birmingham pro football. I had followed all the teams and thought it would be interesting to write a book about them from a fan’s perspective – not so much a by-the-book history of all the teams as my history with all the teams. Since I have a bit of an obsession with Birmingham pro sports anyway the memories were already there, and I just took off and started writing. I thought I was finished when it was announced the Alliance of American Football was coming to town, so I decided I’d add a chapter about the Iron.
Do you think the attempts at more off-brand football will continue in the coming years, and will Birmingham still be on the list?
I think as long as someone has an idea and access to a little money, they’ll be tempted to give it a try. The XFL has new ownership so apparently it’ll be resurrected, and the Freedom Football League is supposed to have a team in Birmingham. But it’s hard to say how things will shake out in a post-pandemic world, and at some point you have to wonder if there’s a legitimate path to success for any non-NFL pro football league. That being said, I certainly think Protective Stadium and Birmingham’s reputation with past football upstarts would put it in the mix for any circuit that comes along.
What are the factors that have contributed most to Birmingham’s failure to sustain pro football?
It’s become a cliché but it’s mostly true when people say that Birmingham didn’t fail the leagues, the leagues failed Birmingham. All of the leagues they were in folded except for the World League of American Football, which shifted entirely to Europe, and the CFL. Of course the CFL’s “American experiment” ultimately failed completely, but the attendance plummeted for the Barracudas as traditional American football seasons began back in 1995, so I think even if the CFL had managed to gain a foothold in the United States, Birmingham would’ve fallen to the wayside.
Do you think the success of UAB’s football program in recent years helps or hurts Birmingham’s chances of getting another pro team?
That’s a good question. As a UAB alum and fan, I’m much more concerned with the Blazers than I am any potential pro team. But I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t co-exist. With the new stadium and the job Bill Clark has done at UAB, Birmingham is definitely getting positive publicity as a football town.
Of all of the off-brand football teams that have come to Birmingham, which was your favorite?
Oh, man, that’s a tough question. I loved the Stallions and by their third season I think they were clearly the best team we ever had; the USFL was an excellent league. And as a huge CFL fan, I was really hoping the Barracudas would last. But if I have to choose I’ll go with the Americans. Just the feeling I had going to that first game and seeing pro football in person for the first time is still as vivid to me today as it was 46 years ago. They were the originals, and they were the ones who started my obsession.
“The Home Team: My Bromance with Off-Brand Football” can be purchased through Burnaby Books online.