Raycom College Football All-Star Game

By on 21 January, 2013 in Fun, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

Saeed Lee stood on the field after the game, signing autographs for fans.

It probably wasn’t the first time he’d signed autographs, but it might be the last. And it was probably the largest throng of children that had ever thrust game programs, footballs, pens and markers in his direction. He turned and asked someone to take a picture of him and the gathered throng.

“Hey, get a photo of this,” he said, taking a football and a Sharpie from a small child. “This is probably the only time this is ever going to happen!”

Lee had just played his last game in an Alabama State helmet. He is a senior cornerback for the Hornets, who finished a disappointing 7-3 season by losing the Turkey Day Classic to rival Tuskegee, a dreary way to inaugurate ASU’s new stadium. But while headlines swirled about instability at Lee’s alma mater (a fired Athletic Director and university president are the highest-profile elements of the turmoil), Lee was invited to a college football all-star game. And that’s how Saeed Lee came to stand on the sideline of Cramton Bowl one last time on Saturday, signing autographs as a member of the “Stars” team, which had just been annihilated by the “Stripes” team by a score of 30-3.

Watching Saeed Lee savor every last moment in a college football uniform was really just the final highlight of a great day. After all, around 18,000 residents of Montgomery had shown up in full force to nearly fill Cramton Bowl for the first-ever incarnation of the Raycom College Football All-Star Game. And from an economic development perspective, that was very good news.

The game’s organizers had been hoping to fill a niche left empty by the failure of the Blue-Gray game, which was played in Montgomery from 1939 until 2001. But with all of the organizing, advertising, and player recruitment, it was unclear whether Montgomery-area residents would pay $20 a ticket to come see players that casual fans had never heard of — and teams that had just been invented.

But the stadium was nearly full Saturday, and the weather at kickoff was spectacular. The teams on the field were a little mismatched, with the Stars never really being in the game. Overall, it was a lovely day for football. Students of the game were surely watching the action with the eyes of scouts, trying to evaluate talent and potential success at the professional level.

Actual scouts were at the game too. They been in and out of practices all week, trying to decide which players would make good employees. The seemingly endless supply of labor may displease unions at the professional level as they try to command higher salaries for seasoned veterans. But the kids on the field at Cramton Bowl just wanted a shot at showing that they could run, pass, block and tackle with the best of the best.

And then there were those players like Saeed Lee, who’ll probably never play for big money on Sundays, but were out there enjoying the friendship of meeting new guys from other schools, signing some autographs for enthusiastic fans, and giving big smiles to family, friends and teammates in the stands.

The organizers of the game seemed pleased with the turnout and the results of a busy week of organized events. City officials were pleased with the tourism and money being spent in Montgomery, as well as a chance to beam with pride at the opportunity to show off the results of $15 million worth of taxpayer funded renovations to Cramton Bowl. The facilities did sparkle and suggest that the city will be able to recruit other tournaments and athletic events to the municipal complex — a real asset to the city and demonstration of the virtues of government spending and management.

If there were any negatives, it would be that parking didn’t seem to be well-planned. A line of cars stretching nearly a mile long was visible from the press box, filling Madison as they waited to pull into the parking lot at Patterson Field. If the city is going to continue host major events at Cramton Bowl, new parking planning ought to be a part of the much-touted “Madison Gateway” plan. A parking deck might be the best way to maximize valuable space in that area.

Also, the temperature began to drop around halftime, and fans began to trickle out slowly during the second half, unwilling to endure a blowout in a game where neither team compelled much of a rooting interest. The most compelling individual performances were from players that most folks had never heard of (the game’s offensive and defensive MVPs were from Western Missouri and Charleston Southern, respectively). And the players from Alabama and Auburn didn’t really do a lot (Ontario McCalebb only carried the ball twice), nor did other in-state players (although Derrick Washington, a running back from Tuskegee, did produce 57 yards to lead the Stars in rushing).

But Saeed Lee, who didn’t record any tackles (although he did break up a pass), had a big smile on his face after the game — as did the kids collecting autographs and a lot of the fans filing out of the stadium. This year’s group of seniors won’t be back next year, but the Raycom game ought to be. And Montgomery will be better for it.

Note: Read our preview of the game here. A few pics from the Blue-Gray Hall of Fame exhibit in the Montgomery Regional Airport can be seen here, here, here, and here.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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