The teams competing in the Jared Birmingham Bowl will take in much of what the Magic City has to offer in between time spent preparing for the game Saturday.
The Wake Forest University and University of Memphis football teams arrived in Birmingham Tuesday and were welcomed by everyone from Mayor Randall Woodfin to ESPN college football analyst Todd Blackledge.
“We’re honored to welcome each of you but more important, we are excited as you are here to soak up all of the action for this year’s Birmingham Bowl,” Woodfin said. “The truth is, I love football but there is a bigger truth: Birmingham loves football. We believe you are in the right place.”
Blackledge, who interviewed the two coaches, delivered the keynote address to the teams urging them to embrace the life lessons that football teaches them.
He said those who like offense should enjoy the game at Legion Field Saturday.
“A couple of exciting offensive football teams, teams that like to play fast, teams that like to move up and down the field and score points,” Blackledge said. “I would anticipate Saturday these two teams would put on a good show.”
Both coaches said they are excited about the opportunity.
“I think the one word that describes our football team this year is just how resilient we were,” said Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson, whose Demon Deacons went 6-6 and won some key Atlantic Coast Conference games to earn a bowl berth. “We did not play early in the year as well as we would have liked. We really went into this season with an expectation of hoping to compete for an ACC title.”
Mike Norvell, coach of the 8-5 Memphis Tigers, said his team is glad to have another game after losing the American Athletic Conference Championship Game to the University of Central Florida earlier this month.
“I’m so proud of our football team,” Norvell said. “We’re obviously excited about the opportunity here in Birmingham.”
In addition to welcoming the two teams to Birmingham, the Monday Morning Quarterback Club took the opportunity to recognize the Golden Flake Legend of Birmingham. This year’s honoree is Jeff Rutledge, a former quarterback at Birmingham’s Banks High School, the University of Alabama and the NFL.
“I’m deeply honored, especially when you look at other Golden Flake Legends,” Rutledge said.
He said nearly half his high school and college games were played at Legion Field. His fondest memory?
“I would have to say the Banks-Woodlawn game (in 1974),” Rutledge said. “To be in high school and to play in that game was something special.”
Rutledge said he hopes the two teams will recognize the history that exists at Legion Field, the coaches who have walked those sidelines and the players who played there.
This will be the 13th annual Birmingham Bowl and Mark Meadows, the bowl’s executive director, said the city has benefited from hosting this game.
“The game over the last 12 years has generated about $145 million in economic impact,” he said. “It’s good for Birmingham, it’s good for the local economy.”
Earning a spot in a bowl game is about more than just having another game to prepare for and play, Meadows said.
“They deserve the opportunity to go somewhere and have a good time,” Meadows said of the teams. “This will be a memory that they will take with them for the rest of their lives.”
“Bowl games are great to reward teams for a good season or a good comeback in a season,” he said.
A street festival and pep rally will take place with the two teams at Uptown Birmingham entertainment district from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday. The game starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 22 at Legion Field.
For more information on the game or to purchase tickets, visit www.birminghambowl.com.