Samford University

Hidden Gems: Samford is Vital Part of Legion Field Legacy

While many may think of the Iron Bowl or the 1996 Olympics when they hear the words "Legion Field," the venerable Birmingham stadium owes its inaugural game to a small Baptist school: Howard College, now known as Samford University.

Legion Field

The first game held at the new stadium was a rivalry matchup between Howard College and Birmingham-Southern College on Nov. 19, 1927. During that game, the new stadium was dedicated in honor of the American Legion with more than 17,000 fans in attendance. Howard College defeated Birmingham-Southern 9-0 in the inaugural game.

While many football fans associate stadium with the annual Iron Bowl game between the University of Alabama and Auburn University, those two schools did not meet in Legion Field for the first time until 1948. Alabama did play the University of Georgia at Legion Field the week following the inaugural game between Howard and B-SC.

The game itself was a long-standing tradition for the two cross-town rivals. Many years, it was played on Thanksgiving Day, drawing crowds that usually neared the then-stadium capacity of about 21,000.  It also often served as Homecoming for both schools, and the festivities included two competing parades through downtown Birmingham.  

The two teams also competed for the coveted Birmingham News trophy, which was given to the winner of the rivalry game. The trophy was presented to the winner of the game between 1919 and 1939. The rivalry ended when Birmingham-Southern discontinued football after the 1939 season.

After the rivalry with B-SC ended, Howard continued to play selected games at Legion Field through the 1940s and early 1950s. Their last game there was a 24-24 tie with Alabama State University to open the 1990 season.

Today, the Birmingham News trophy proudly stands in the display cases outside the Samford Bookstore in the Ralph W. Beeson University Center. And, while the annual rivalry game no longer takes place, its history and its significance live on through the venue affectionately dubbed "the old gray lady" and its permanent tie to Samford history.

[Editor's Note: This article is one in a recurring series on "hidden gems" on the Samford University campus.]