National Football League in Birmingham
At numerous times the National Football League and its pre-merger sibling the American Football League have considered the Birmingham as a possible city for relocation of an existing or expansion for a new franchise.
Boston Patriots (1968-1970)
When Legion Field substituted for Fenway Park as home turf for the Boston Patriots' 1968 home opener against the New York Jets, Birmingham was viewed as a potential relocation city for the AFL franchise if owner William Sullivan Jr was unable to get control of Harvard Stadium, or get a new stadium constructed in Massachusetts. Hugh Morrow III organized the Birmingham Pro Football committee to discuss the possibility with Sullivan. Other cities, such as St Louis, Missouri and San Diego, California were considered more likely contenders.
The 1968 Boston Patriots vs. New York Jets football game, a regular-season home opener for the Patriots, was played at Legion Field as a "test" of the reception. Hopes were high for a game featuring former Alabama star quarterback Joe Namath. Attendance, however, was meager, with only 29,192 fans showing up on the day after 63,759 filled the stands for Alabama's game against Virginia Tech. It is unclear to what extent the tepid reception affected the team's decision not to move south.
The AFL merged with the NFL prior to the 1970 season, with all teams pledging to play in stadiums of at least 50,000 seats by 1970. The Patriots used the 26,000-seat Alumni Field at Boston College in 1969 and 40,000-seat Harvard Stadium in 1970. The threat of a potential move helped prompt construction of the 61,000-seat Shaeffer Stadium at Foxboro, where the New England Patriots began the 1971 season.
Frank Thomas Jr and Harold Blach made a formal presentation on behalf of Birmingham at the NFL's 1974 winter meeting in Miami, Florida. Although the prospect of being awarded a franchise was remote, they hoped to at least secure a pledge to consider Birmingham for the 1978 or 1979 Pro Bowl. Their efforts had previously been complicated by the Park Board's willingness to give the World Football League's Birmingham Americans an exclusive contract for Legion Field.
After the WFL folded in October 1975 Vulcans manager Jack Gotta met with Memphis Showmen owner John Bassett to work on a pitch for the NFL to bring both cities into the league. Mayor George Siebels supplemented their efforts with a telegram to commissioner Pete Rozelle. The expansion committee met in December and declined to recommend the proposal, having awarded new franchises to Tampa, Florida and Seattle, Washington just a year before.
Birmingham Bulls owner John Bassett formed Alabama Pro Sports Inc. as a vehicle for pursuing an NFL franchise along with former Birmingham Vulcans owner Pee Wee Burgess. No expansion of the league took place until 1995.
Minnesota Vikings (1979)
Vikings manager Mike Lynn mentioned the warmer climates of Birmingham, Los Angeles, and Phoenix as potential sites for moving the Vikings if Minneapolis failed to construct a domed stadium. The threat never materialized.
Minnesota Vikings (1998)
In 1998 Larry Lemak made a failed bid to purchase the Minnesota Vikings and move them into the proposed domed stadium envisioned as part of the MAPS project. The franchise was subsequently purchased by Red McCombs and remained in Minneapolis.
Oakland Raiders (2019)
As a result on an on-going stadium dispute in Oakland, and their new facility in Las Vegas unavailable until the 2020 season, the Raiders may be in need of a temporary home for the 2019 season. As such, in February 2019, Birmingham City Councilor William Parker stated publicly his interest in courting the Oakland Raiders to play their 2019 home games at Legion Field. On February 11, it was announced that Birmingham was working with Tucson, Arizona to possibly split the 7 home games between Legion Field and Arizona Stadium. William Parker and Tucson attorney Ali Farhang stated they homed the joint effort would lead to serious discussions with team ownership.
- Bryan, Jimmy (February 24, 1974) "Thomas, Blach off for Miami NFL parley" The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Ball, Jeffrey (January 14, 1998) "Birmingham Hopes a New Stadium Will Eliminate Inferiority Complex" The Wall Street Journal
- Pennington, Bill (January 27, 2012) "A Team’s Ragtag Roots: Early Patriots Were a Comical Traveling Sideshow" The New York Times
- Koplowitz, Howard (February 8, 2019) "Birmingham city councilor wants 2019 Oakland Raiders home games at Legion Field" Al.com
- Staff Reporters (February 12, 2019) "Birmingham partners with Tucson in bid to land NFL's Oakland Raiders in 2019" Arizona Daily Star
- Birmingham Pro Sports website