Rickey Smiley, this year’s celebrity ambassador, has long history with Magic City Classic

Rickey Smiley, this year’s celebrity ambassador, has long history with Magic City Classic
This is comedian Rickey Smiley's first Magic City Classic as celebrity ambassador, but it's a long way from being his first Magic City Classic. (Derek Blanks)

Rickey Smiley will never forget the 2004 Magic City Classic.

Alabama State fought back from a 20-7 third-quarter deficit to record a 24-20 victory.

“Tarvaris Jackson was the quarterback and they won with, like, a minute on the clock,” Smiley said. “I grabbed that flag from a cheerleader and took off running across the field and waved it in front of the student section.

“That was probably the best Magic City Classic ever,” he exclaimed, his bubbling emotions clearly coming through the telephone. “That was probably my favorite Magic City Classic.”

Smiley was just another spectator at Legion Field that day. He had grown up in Birmingham’s Woodlawn Community and had annually made his way to Legion Field to take in the contest between the state’s largest historically black universities.

Smiley will be at the Classic when it kicks off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, but he won’t be just any spectator. All eyes will be on him as the comedian, actor and entertainer is the celebrity ambassador of the 76th McDonald’s Magic City Classic presented by Coca-Cola.

He will be grand marshal of the Magic City Classic Parade, which begins Saturday at 8 a.m. Smiley is the 18th ambassador of the Classic, dating back to Willie Mays in 2000.

Smiley is the third ambassador to have attended either of the schools, following former A&M Bulldogs John Stallworth (2002) and Ruben Studdard (2003). He’s also the third comedian, following Sinbad (2007) and Steve Harvey (2009).

Ties to both schools

Smiley makes no secret that he’s excited about his role in this year’s Classic.

“Even though I went to Alabama State, I do a lot of work with Alabama A&M University,” he said. “Alabama A&M put me on my first comedy show as a comedian, had me come up there and perform the Delta Week and then Alpha Week and the SGA Homecoming.

“I would always perform for Alabama A&M,” Smiley continued. “I would hang out on the campus and I have a lot of friends who went to A&M. I feel a part of both universities. But to be the ambassador this year, I’m really, really, really excited about it. It’s a big deal.”

The 49-year-old is host of the nationally syndicated Rickey Smiley Morning Show based in Atlanta from its flagship affiliate HOT 107.9 and heard in Birmingham on 95.7 JAMZ. He has starred in the sitcom “The Rickey Smiley Show” that aired on TV One and is also a featured columnist on the Fox-produced tabloid nationally syndicated show Dish Nation.

“I take a lot of naps,” he said. “I get a lot of sleep. I’m busy, but I get a lot of rest. That’s for sure.”

In 2015, the Woodlawn High grad started appearing on “Rickey Smiley For Real,” a reality TV series about his life.

Telling it all

Most recently, Smiley has been on a tour promoting his new book, “Stand By Your Truth and Then Run For Your Life!”

“Writing a book is totally different from anything I’ve ever done,” the entertainer said. “Writing a book is like going to therapy, telling your story and tapping into places you don’t talk about every day.  There were a lot of emotional moments writing the book.”

The book shows a different side of Rickey Smiley.

“Oh yeah, inside and out,” he said. “That book tells it all.”

Smiley said he expects to tailgate with family after the game.

“I am proud to be from Birmingham,” he said. “People treat me really well. I love being in Birmingham. There’s a lot of love. Every time I perform here it’s packed, it’s sold out. We just thank God for everything, for all the wonderful opportunities and just proud to be from Birmingham.”

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