From ‘Funnymaine’ to food and fan vendors, the Magic City Classic is serious business

From ‘Funnymaine’ to food and fan vendors, the Magic City Classic is serious business
Magic City Classic vendor Vernon Moland Jr. displays one thing he won't sell Saturday -- his Bulldog letterman jacket. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

Jermaine “Funnymaine” Johnson makes his living as a comedian, but he’s not joking when he talks about the Magic City Classic.

“Absolutely not. Absolutely not,” said the man who grew up in Birmingham’s Pratt City neighborhood. “The Classic is serious business but it’s always so much fun for all the families and kids who get to march in the parade.”

Johnson knows of what he speaks. He marched in the Magic City Classic Parade when he was in middle school and then as a Mustang marcher at Jackson-Olin High School. He annually ventured back to Birmingham from Stillman College for the Classic when the last Saturday of October rolled around.

“Growing up in Pratt City, the Classic is definitely a part of my life,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a week out of the year where the Classic doesn’t come up for some reason. We talk about it all year long. At least once a week, it’s going to come up.

“All the alumni get to come back, the city, the state, everybody tailgating and enjoying all the events,” the comedian continued. “What else could it entail? What else would it need? It’s a top-notch week of events and it’s grown from just being a weekend to a full week.”

Leading up to the game, Johnson has been at various events, posting on social media to fan the fire of excitement. Saturday at Legion Field, he’ll be roaming the stands, engaging with fans.

“Keeping it lively,” he said. “Making it an inclusive event.”

Like Johnson, Vernon Moland Jr. grew up with the Classic. He would help his father sell T-shirts and other paraphernalia in a stand on the sidewalk outside Legion Field.

“I had a cousin that played for A&M, so we used to go in and watch him play,” he said. “Then as I got older, I was more of an entrepreneur. As a fan, I’ve probably seen the game probably four times and the rest of them, I was outside selling T-shirts.”

The Magic City Classic has been a business trip for Moland the past five years as the Minor High grad was a member of the Alabama A&M football team. He proudly says that his Bulldogs lead the overall series and he was personally 3-2 against “that school,” Alabama State.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in business administration, Moland is back at Minor as a substitute teacher, and coaching fullbacks with the Fighting Tigers.

But he’ll return to his roots Saturday, staffing a stand at the base of the steps in front of the stadium.

“We’ve got Magic City Classic T-shirts, A&M and State apparel,” he said. “Probably right before the game I’ll be selling and then during the game, I’ll go in there and watch. After the game, my shift will take over.”

Gwen Braxton didn’t grow up with a Classic background. The Air Force veteran has leased the Tide & Tiger café across the street from Legion Field since 2010. The establishment, a hotspot when Alabama and Auburn played at the Old Gray Lady years ago, has been closed since December as Braxton has dealt with health issues.

But there will be life in the parking lot of the Tide & Tiger as several vendors rent space there to sell their wares.

“There’ll be five on one side, right in front of the building,” she said. “There will be 11 vendors on the other side.”

The air will be filled with the smell of burgers and Polish sausages. “One girl is doing steaks, which I’ve never seen before,” said Braxton, a native of Syracuse, New York. She admits she didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of the event of which she has become a part.

“I’ve never seen a football game have so many people that’s milling around on the outside like that,” she said with a chuckle. “That was an eye-opener.”

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