Thursday, January 29, 2009
I have a box filled with cherished memorabilia.
There are a couple of football programs in there - one from the 24th annual Liberty Bowl and another from an Alabama-Penn State clash at Legion Field. Both games were in 1982.
I once saw those stadiums as the best of the best. I really knew no other ones. Going to see games at those two were truly dreams coming true.
Those stadiums are not as high on the quality list 27 years later. Others have passed them by or new ones have been built.
I was glad to see a story in The Commercial Appeal a couple of weeks back headlined “Working on Liberty.” Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is getting a long-awaited makeover - including new locker rooms, a media interview room, new concession stands and restrooms and more.
Four years ago a facility assessment said the Liberty Bowl was nearing obsolescence.
But thank goodness, the 43-year-old stadium is getting new life.
I really can’t imagine Memphis without Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and the Liberty Bowl game itself. There’s also the popular Southern Heritage Classic, which calls the Liberty Bowl home, and, of course, the Memphis Tigers play home games there.
I’ll never forget that ride west on then two-lane Highway 78 from Hamilton, Ala., for Bear Bryant’s last game as coach in late December of 1982. For me and my friends making the trip, it was fitting to have it so close to home in the tradition-rich, patriotic Liberty Bowl.
It was cold - really cold - the coldest football game I’ve ever attended.
That day in Memphis, Tenn., will forever be etched in my mind, not because of the cold, but because of the significance of the game itself.
All eyes, including my two, were on “The Bear.” Alabama won the game 21-15 over Illinois and he got one last victory ride - in that hooded, heavy coat with a huge smile on his face.
As Alf Van Hoose, then sports editor of The Birmingham News, wrote - “Paul W. Bryant was leaving the arena, the champ.”
And I will forever be indebted to the Liberty Bowl for providing me with the special memories.
As for Legion Field, I still have my Hamilton Progress newspaper press pass from the huge game in early October 1982 - number three Penn State versus number four Alabama. I was in row 2, seat 62 of the press box.
I was 21 years old, and this was Bear Bryant versus Joe Paterno. I was excited, to say the least.
Quarterback for Penn State was Todd Blackledge. Calling the signals for Alabama was Walter Lewis. Other big names included Penn State’s Curt Warner and Jeremiah Castille.
I even kept the notes I took during the game, good practice for a young reporter who thought he might hit the big time some day.
Alabama won 42-21. On my notepad, I wrote, “Big win.” What an understatement.
The NCAA official stat sheets from the game are in the box of souvenirs, too. Some of the ink has almost faded away.
Of course, Legion Field is most famous for always hosting the Alabama versus Auburn rivalry years ago. But that’s changed. It’s now a home and away series. The last Iron Bowl at Legion Field was in 1998.
Like Memphis, Birmingham and Legion Field are hosting a bowl game - the PapaJohns.Com Bowl, which has a long way to go before attaining the status of the Liberty Bowl.
Legion Field, home of the University of Alabama Birmingham Blazers, did undergo some renovations in 2005, and here’s hoping it continues to be an important part of college football.
My best trips ever to Birmingham were those visits to Legion Field.
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