Newcomers find Magic City Classic lives up to the billing

(STATS) - Alabama A&M and Alabama State were both on a bye last weekend, happy to rest some wearied players leading up to their matchup Saturday in the 74th annual Magic City Classic.

The SWAC teams probably could use a week off afterward to recover emotionally.

Their rivalry game at Birmingham's Legion Field basically trumps everything else they do during a season. In addition to the teams chasing bragging rights in the state, the game annually draws the biggest crowd of the FCS season, with last year's turnout an impressive 67,710.

For newcomers to the game, the experience can be eye-opening. That's what Alabama A&M coach James Spady, who last year was in his first season guiding the Bulldogs, learned during Magic City Classic week as his team rallied in the fourth quarter to win a 37-36 thriller.

"Having had an opportunity to experience it last year, it was way beyond my wildest imagination," Spady said. "It was festive, there was a lot of hoopla around the game. The game was pretty much unbelievable simply because we won it I guess.

"It certainly lived up to its billing as the biggest and the best. It's an honor to be a part of it."

This year, Alabama State brings the newcomer, first-year coach Brian Jenkins. His squad holds the 39-36-3 series lead.

Both coaches believe their teams have shown improvement recently, with Alabama State winning three of its last four games to jump to 3-4 overall and 3-3 in the SWAC. Alabama A&M is coming off a big win over Jackson State to improve to 2-4 and 2-2.

"Everything is big, everybody is excited about the game," Jenkins said. "I'm excited about it, but my philosophy and mindset is we look at every game the same and we're going to prepare for every game the same. But we know what's on the line, the fans and the alumni, the boosters and everybody know what the Magic City Classic means to them.

"We'll be ready."

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