we sat down with our special Birmingham Correspondent, @BourbonBias, to ask one question, “ Why should we be looking forward to The Birmingham Bowl?”
No matter how you pronounce it, there are still lots of wonderful things about the Magic City. It might not flow off the tongue the same way or garner the same attention as Atlanta, Nashville, or Charlotte, and it doesn’t receive nearly the amount of tourism accolades, but the bowl game destination stigma that Birmingham has wrought is totally unnecessary. Yes, Birmingham is next to last in the pecking order for SEC Bowl Games, but that doesn’t mean that South Carolina is playing in some third-world country without clean water or safe shelter. In fact, it’s the contrary. Birmingham is a pretty swell place to live and raise a family with a great cost of living.
You will probably have a really good time and have some spare change leftover.
Think of it like this
It’s the opportunity to take that Maymester you never took in Australia: Great food, great drinks, great people and an exchange rate that made me able to live like a king. You could get that same experience with a trip to the Birmingham Bowl!
Almost immediately after South Carolina accepted their surprising bowl bid (surprising based upon preseason expectations), you could hear the collective groans and complaints coming from points east of the Savannah River. Back in September, South Carolina fans would have crawled over the broken shards of glass that were the remains of the 2015 season to be guaranteed a bowl bid. In a vacuum? this additional post-season practice time as well as a chance to play another game during a rebuilding season on national television would have been deemed invaluable. In reality? upon learning our fate, we apparently only appreciated that opportunity if it means a bowl bid in literally any other city except for Birmingham.
I know, I know. Your hesitation is understandable, trust me. But, this isn’t 1963.
After growing up in South Carolina, and logging time post-graduation in Virginia Beach, Washington DC, I have, for the past 6 years, called Birmingham, AL ‘home’. I’ve seen the best and worst of many areas across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. While it is absolutely true that this city has a very long road to travel before it’s considered a destination, I assure you that there is much more to offer than meets the eye.
This column is not an attempt to explain the nuances of Birmingham as a city or its current state of affairs. This also isn’t going to be a rah-rah post outlining why you should support our Gamecocks after besting the Vegas odds and making it to a bowl game in Will Muschamp’s first year. Both of these statements could be answered by reading any Garden & Gun/Southern Living/Fodor’s/New York Times write-up or a visit to your favorite local Gamecock message board. The point simply is this: making a quick trip over to Birmingham on I-20, even if it’s just for a night, will be more than worth your time and money.
So. What to do?
First and foremost, you’ve got to decide what kind of Birmingham “experience” you want to have.
If you’re looking for a quick one night trip to town and you want to keep your time here as generic as possible, look for hotels in Hoover, Trussville, and the Highway 280/Inverness area. There, you’ll be able to catch great scenic sites such as the famous Galleria Mall which houses such boutique stores as JC Penny, Sears, Costco, and Macy’s.
Not your speed? You can try Bed, Bath and Beyond and if you are feeling real frisky, there’s multiple Targets and Buffalo Wild Wings (excited yet?) in these suburbs. Of course there are likely many legitimate reasons that lead you to stay out in these areas…but don’t do it if you can avoid it. Sure, you’re only seven miles from downtown, but do you really want to travel for six hours to stay at Alabama’s version of Harbison Blvd. during Christmas rush-hour? I didn’t think so.
For those of you that want to brave Birmingham regardless of what you’ve seen on The First 48 or the internet, downtown will make an excellent option for your party. Great food, multiple breweries, and many fun bars that cater from the all night crowd (See: Marty’s) or the craft cocktail (See: Collins Bar) can be found in 2nd Ave N., Lakeview, and Five Points districts. If your last trip to Birmingham was in 2010 for the infamous 30 degree Papa John’s Pizza Bowl (where they ran out of Papa John’s Pizza by halftime) then I could understand why you would be a little hesitant to return. But, in my [nearly] six years here, I can tell you that the downtown area is nearly unrecognizable compared to when we first moved here. I can’t quite put a finger on it…but it’s kind of like Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it” definition of pornography. Not to mention, Legion Field has had a few renovations recently that include a fresh coat of paint AND a new video scoreboard!
Birmingham might not be as sexy as the other mid-tier SEC bowl sites, and, quite frankly, it’s unfair to make that comparison because it’s not in the same category. Sure, they don’t have an NFL team (Unless you count the Alabama Crimson Tide, but I digress), and the economy isn’t experiencing double-digit growth, but that doesn’t mean the city should be painted with such a broad brush. In fact, to those of you that would say they would be happier with a bowl game in downtown Nashville because, “it’s a better city in a better stadium,” riddle me this: where will your money be tied up and just how far will it go? Want to stay in downtown Nashville? Good luck with reasonable hotel costs. Going to commute in? Have fun and paying upwards of $50 for a parking spot two miles away. There is one thing I’ll promise you: your drink of choice tastes just as good in Central Time as it does in Eastern Time, and at a fraction of the cost. Not to mention there’s also quite good barbecue and fine-dining all over the place. It’s your choice!
Sure, Birmingham isn’t the most ideal location for a bowl, but we don’t deserve a choice…yet. The 2016 South Carolina Gamecocks are a 6-6 team with potential for a better future and there isn’t another bowl game or city in the continental US that better reflects where the Gamecocks are, or where they soon could be.
Make the trip and support our team.
You might be happy you did.