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COVID-19 couldn’t stop the Magic when Classic was held in spring

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Comedian Jermaine “FunnyMaine” Johnson can usually be found in the stands of Legion Field as the Magic City Classic is played. He’s the hype man, the fellow who walks among the people, sharing stories and giving away prizes.

In April, FunnyMaine was separated from the fans, stationed just beyond the south end zone. His in-game giveaways and comments came via a display on the videoboard.

“The energy is there,” Johnson said. “It’s the Magic City Classic, so whether I’m here or right in their face, they’re ready to party. At halftime with DJ Traci Steele, we’re going to give them what they want.

“Everybody had to adjust and I think they’ve adjusted well,” FunnyMaine said. “So have I. And it’s an excellent game.”

It was yet another example of how the 79th McDonald’s Magic City Classic presented by Coca-Cola was unlike any of the 78 that preceded it. It took place in the spring instead of the fall. There was no tailgating. The crowd was limited. But the game went on, with Alabama A&M pulling away in the second half to down Alabama State 38-14.

The win punched the Bulldogs’ ticket in the Cricket Wireless SWAC Football Championship presented by Pepsi Zero where Alabama A&M defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff 40-33.

COVID-19-prompted protocols that were in place at the Classic in April. The crowd was capped at 15,000 and announced ticket sales were 13,872.

This Classic also sounded different from others, and not just because tens of thousands of fans were absent. Normally, the bands of the schools add to the atmosphere by playing throughout the game and turning in show-stopping performances at halftime.

But neither band was on hand this time. Cheerleaders for State and A&M chanted throughout the game, with ASU’s cheerleaders sometimes using recordings of their band as they did in-stand routines.

A tightly contested first half kept fans interested in what was happening on the field. The score was knotted at 14-all in the second quarter before the block of an ASU punt yielded a momentum-swinging 46-yard field goal by the Bulldogs’ Spencer Corey.

The team from the Rocket City blasted off after intermission, outscoring the squad from the state capital 21-0. Quarterback Aqeel Glass, the offensive MVP, amassed more than 400 yards through the air and on the ground.

Coach Connell Maynor said his senior signal-caller “just had to get settled down” after a slow start. Once he did, Glass went on to complete 25 of 40 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns and had five carries for 45 yards.

Hornets coach Donald Hill-Eley said it was a “tough day at the office” for his team, which lost three offensive linemen to injury during the contest. “It was a rough day all around,” he said.

While the game was played in the stadium, some people did what they normally do. Organizers canceled tailgating in the park around Legion Field, but some tailgated on private lots across the street.

Pleasant Grove’s La-Tanya Dunham hosted friends on a family lot just across Eighth Avenue West. The president of ASU’s Jefferson-Shelby Alumni Chapter said this Classic didn’t compare with others before.

“It’s just a game,” she said. “We’re glad to be playing football today.”

Two of her guests – Dr. Cheryl Law and her husband, Rodney Bey – were in their annual celebratory mood when the Hornets and Bulldogs meet on the gridiron.

The two were paired when they were ASU students and she was part of the Classic court. She said she “wasn’t bomb enough” to be Miss ASU but was second in court and he was the Air Force ROTC student who was picked to be her escort.

“And we have been in love ever since,” he said of his wife of seven years.

Organizers expect the Magic City Classic on Oct. 20, 2021 will feel more familiar.

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