BIRMINGHAM - Historic Legion Field was originally scheduled to be inactive this weekend for college football.
It changed when Hurricane Irma made a bee-line toward the state of Florida and to invade Georgia. Two games were able to go on thanks to the generosity of the folks from Birmingham.
University of Alabama-Birmingham, plus the Birmingham Park and Recreation department came through with free rental to Florida International and Georgia Southern. Their games were played while five other schools in the "Sunshine State" got cancelled including Florida, Florida State and Miami.
Upon learning of the decision, yours truly went Saturday afternoon to the former place known as "The Football Capitol of the South." In figuring this out, it was my first venture into the ole gray lady on Graymont Avenue since 2004 when the Addison Bulldogs won the 1A state championship by defeating Brantley 21-12 in the Super Six.
UAB, the stadium's regular occupant, was on the road at Ball State, so the facility was active with a few wrinkles.
The East side of the stadium from the lower level was open to the Georgia Southern and New Hampshire. There was a sea of blue on one side. The West side was roped off, concessions were sold in the South location.
The best thing to many including myself, free parking and free admission.
It was the first time for myself to attend a college football game without a press pass and not having to pay for a ticket.
Georgia Southern brought a very respectable crowd from Statesboro, which is five hours to the East of the "Magic City."
A few New Hampshire fans got their way to the rescheduled site too.
Georgia Southern was back in this state after opening the season a week ago at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Auburn. That ended in a 41-7 romp by the Tigers with the Eagles' only TD coming on a fumble recovery that was advanced to the end zone.
I've have experienced many trips to Legion Field in the past. It began in 1982 when I was given a press pass and covered Alabama playing LSU. That was Bear Bryant's last year with Alabama losing on that November day and rumors beginning to emerge on the possibility of the legendary coach retiring after the season (in which he did).
This was fun for taking photos outside the fence in the South end zone, having sunscreen to protect myself, plus plenty of water and comfortable clothing.
College football is much, much more than just the SEC, ACC, Big Ten. Big XII and Pac 12. Those are the power five conferences. Football is taken in the same aspect by Georgia Southern, a member of the Sun Belt and New Hampshire, who plays in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).
Georgia Southern felt right at home, playing in the 90-year old stadium that is 71,000 capacity. But the Eagles offense struggled like it had in the Auburn game until they scored their first touchdown of 2017 in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles fell 22-12 to the Wildcats as New Hampshire led 22-0 when the contest reached halftime and kept Georgia Southern off the scoreboard just enough to go 2-0 and leave the Eagles winless in two games.
Florida International got past Alcorn State 17-10 Friday night, presenting former Miami and Cleveland Browns' coach Butch Davis with his first victory.
Many remember Georgia Southern from its days of Erk Russell coaching the Eagles and the program was I-AA, not Division I as it is now.
Birmingham was reported to lose approximately $15,000 to $20,000 for the two games. Concession sales went to the city while no revenue was collected for parking and admission.
There is more to things than collecting a paycheck. These schools who hosted games in Legion Field wanted to stay on schedule, especially in the position of winning that can add up to six total victories to become bowl eligible.
So I do commend UAB, Mayor Bell and the city of Birmingham for displaying some great "Southern Hospitality."
I hope to be back at Legion Field soon to see UAB, who is back on the field after a 2-year absence. The Blazers have a local side to the program, former Hanceville and Cullman athlete Brontae Harris playing in the secondary.
This adds to the legacy of the 90 years this stadium has been alive by Graymont Avenue with plenty of life left in it.
Photos of Legion Field scoreboard, Georgia Southern running a play and attempting a FG.
Sportspage photos by Johnny Thornton