BIRMINGHAM — From the first day Connell Maynor arrived at Alabama A&M, the Bulldogs football coach has heard a recurring message:
The Magic City Classic is important.
There is truth in what Maynor has heard.
Not only is the Magic City Classic a longstanding — and intense — rivalry between Alabama’s two largest HBCUs, but it also is one of the most-attended games in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision.
“And this game is extremely important to a whole lot of people,” Maynor said. “That was made clear since Day 1. I’ve been told that from just about everyone since the day I got here.”
Maynor and his new Alabama A&M coaching staff is about to see what the chatter is about.
Alabama A&M plays Alabama State on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in the Magic City Classic in Birmingham at Legion Field. It is the 81st time the two in-state rivals have played, and it is the 77th time in the Magic City Classic.
“Since I got here, when I go out and talk to alumni groups, the primary thing I’ve been told is ‘you better win the Classic,'” Maynor said. “It doesn’t take long to figure out just how big this game is. Just look at the numbers. This is one of the biggest games in the FCS, and for our players to have a chance to play in an event like this is huge.
“This game is a reason why guys choose to play at Alabama A&M.”
In Maynor’s first season, Alabama A&M (3-4) has shown lots of positive signs.
With a young team that relies heavily on underclassmen, Alabama A&M has made waves in the SWAC, competing with some of the league’s top teams.
But, what would a strong showing the Classic provide?
“This game carries so much weight,” Alabama A&M defensive end Yurik Bethune. “These are the type of games you love as a player. It means so much to so many people. This is what it’s about.”
Alabama A&M (3-4, 2-2 in SWAC) is entering the final stretch of its schedule, and the Bulldogs are chasing the program’s first winning season in six years.
How would a successful game against a longtime rival impact the program?
“It would be huge,” Alabama A&M quarterback Aqeel Glass said. “There aren’t many schools our size who have games of this magnitude. Anyone who thinks it’s not a big deal just needs to come by the stadium on Saturday. When that many people come out for an event, it’s a really, really big deal.
“A win in this game goes a really long way.”
Courtesy: AAMU Athletics