A lot of college football fans don't like bowl games. They're one-off matchups, often between mediocre teams, that don't really lead anywhere. And now that bowls actively co-exist with a real, actual playoff system, they seem even more out of place in the sports world.
Bowls though, were never created to decide champions, especially national champions. The first one was held more than a century ago as an exhibition game to promote business and tourism in the host city.
More than 100 years later, bowls still serve that basic purpose. So in the spirit of this, and to prove once and for all what a huge geek I am, I arrived in Montgomery, Alabama a full 9 hours before kickoff of the Camellia Bowl and toured the city.
So, F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife Zelda grew up in Montgomery. Who knew?
The "Great Gatsby" author only lived there a couple of months in the early '30s, but he was stationed in Montgomery during World War I, where his future wife was the teenage daughter of a local judge. Zelda wanted out of the city, and Fitzgerald was her ticket.
Today, the bottom floor of the house is the museum and the top floor is, get this, rented out to two tenants. Gotta pay the bills y'all. I was given a brief tour by Rich Anderson, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Fitzgerald.
Fun facts: Zelda wrote just one novel, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia by the doctor who coined the term. Fitzgerald died at 44, largely due to alcoholism, but was a lightweight and apparently would act crazy after only a few drinks.Though Fitzgerald published one book per year in the early '20s it took him nine years to complete his next, and final, novel due to a number of issues. Also, I'm writing this from a Starbucks on Zelda Road.
Rosa Parks Museum
Nationally, Montgomery is probably most famous as the place where Rosa Parks refused to get out of her seat on the bus, sparking bus boycotts in the local area and, eventually, the Civil Rights movement. Today, the Rosa Parks Museum sits on Montgomery's Troy University campus (G5 shoutout!)
Rose parks museum: the famous refusal is acted out on a life-sized bus, with the windows as screens. Very cool pic.twitter.com/clnhPZI0eq— Haisten Willis (@HaistenWillis) December 20, 2014
The tour was probably the coolest thing I saw all day. The museum even worked the lights in a way where it felt like the bus was moving down the street. The biggest leader to emerge from the Montgomery bus boycotts was, of course, none other than Martin Luther King Jr.
First White House of the Confederacy
Montgomery is probably second-most famous nationally for its role in the Civil War. The house was first owned by one of Zelda Fitzgerald's elders. Small world right? To this day, it's organized as though Jefferson Davis still lives there in honor of his wife's wishes.
That's the Cramton Bowl. It was built in the 1920s and recently saw $10 million in renovations. A nice place to watch a game (I think) with brand-new turf. But it's not the only college football venue in town. Nearby Alabama State University, a historically black college, just opened this beauty:
ASU is where Isaiah Crowell played after he left Georgia, if you didn't know. Anyway, the upper deck of ASU's stadium is easily visible from I-85 and I assumed the game would be played here when I first learned about it. Not sure why it's held in the Cramton Bowl, which is just a few blocks north, but that's another story.
Welcome to Alabama
I wasn't in the state of Alabama five minutes before passing a cemetery where one of the graves had a giant Alabama Crimson Tide "A" adorned over it. The thing is, knowing how huge college football is in the south, it wasn't that surprising.
Pulling into Montgomery the song, "My Home's in Alabama" played on a classic country station called The Possum. Not only is that a fantastic song about Alabama, it's by a band called Alabama. Even as a Georgia boy, it was hard not to get a little choked up.
Then I discovered this in the parking garage.
Seriously. I drive a Nissan Titan. This truck put me to shame.
Montgomery is the capital of Alabama, but you already knew that assuming you learned that annoying song in 8th grade. The capitol was pretty though there's not a ton to write about it. Instead, here's the Bowling Green band taking a pic on the grounds:
Maybe Next Year
I didn't see everything there is in Montgomery, of course. It was just one day, plus all the museums close in the middle of the afternoon. I missed out on the Hank Williams Museum and got only a passing glance at the local minor league baseball stadium. The team that plays there is called the Biscuits BTW, which is awesome. I'm sure there are some killer barbecue restaurants in the area but dining choices were made exclusively on the probably of free WiFi.
I also missed out on this:
Alabama cattlemen's association MOOseum. Closed today, unfortunately. pic.twitter.com/YnG4bWca8Q— Haisten Willis (@HaistenWillis) December 20, 2014
Montgomery is a pretty cool place and it actually outbid several other cities for the right to host the Camellia Bowl. Shoot, I would too if I could get Underdog Dynasty writers to come to town right?
Everywhere I went I saw folks wearing South Alabama and Bowling Green gear. USA's entire team visited the Rosa Parks Museum and the city held parades, events and pep rallies (with names like the Winn-Dixie Fan Fest presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama and Outback Steakhouse) all week, not to mention the bright lights of ESPN will bring Montgomery into bars and houses across the country.
Bottom line, the city expects this thing to bring in between 5 and 8 million bucks, so somebody must like bowl games. Besides, who wouldn't want to visit a place with so much history?
Found a historical artifact in Montgomery. pic.twitter.com/1DJdkjCPRF— Haisten Willis (@HaistenWillis) December 20, 2014
Sorry, couldn't resist. Check back later for my story on the game.