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AAF Lands in Birmingham

by Fran Stuchbury
June 7, 2018 - Alliance of American Football (AAF)

The Alliance of American Football announced Birmingham as its seventh member at a press conference on Wednesday.

"Birmingham is the largest city in one of the most-populated states without a professional sports team. For a market with such a passion for the game of football, we knew early on that we needed to address that and expand the football offering for fans," said AAF co-founder and CEO Charlie Ebersol. "There are a number of exciting changes happening in Birmingham that make it an ideal destination for a professional sports team, including a new stadium currently under construction. We look forward to becoming an integral part of the community and I know this community will rally around and support Alliance Birmingham."

The AAF franchise will join the Southern League Birmingham Barons, Southern Professional Hockey League Birmingham Bulls and United Soccer League Birmingham Legion on the Birmingham sports scene.

The AAF named Tim Lewis Birmingham's first coach. "Tim's experience as a player and coach in the NFL is invaluable, both for The Alliance and the players he will be leading in Birmingham," said AAF co-founder and head of football Bill Polian. "He started coaching at a very young age and has since displayed leadership qualities that make players want to win for and learn from him. He is deserving of a head coaching role, and we're pleased to have him on our sidelines competing for a championship."

Lewis performed as a standout cornerback at the University of Pittsburgh from 1979-1982. His senior year he was named an NEA All-American and Defensive MVP of both the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine games. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the first round, 11th overall selection of the 1983 NFL Draft.

He played for the Packers from 1983 until 1986. His career was cut short when he suffered a career ending neck injury in a game against the Chicago Bears the third week of the 1986 season on Monday Night Football. His 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Rams in 1984 is still the Packers' team record. He played in 52 games with Green Bay and had 16 interceptions. Lewis twice led or shared the team lead in interceptions.

Lewis began his coaching career as a graduate assistant with Texas A&M in 1986 and 1987 under his former college coach Jackie Sherrill. From 1989 until 1992 he served as the defensive backs coach for SMU. From 1993 until 1994 he filled the same position with Pittsburgh. He landed his first NFL coaching job with the Pittsburgh Steelers when he served as defensive backs coach from 1995 until 1999. Lewis was then promoted to defensive coordinator with the Steelers from 2000 until 2003.

From 2004 until 2006 Lewis became defensive coordinator for the New York Giants before a stint from 2007-2008 as secondary coach for the Carolina Panthers. Then in 2009 coaching DBs for the Seattle Seahawks. From 2010 until 2014 he moved on to become secondary coach for the Atlanta Falcons and in 2015, Lewis was defensive backs coach for the San Francisco 49ers. Over his twenty-one years of coaching in the pros, his teams compiled a cumulative record of 183-152-1.

"The Alliance is an opportunity for me to take the next step in my coaching career. The organization's leadership team has communicated an unwavering commitment to putting high quality, professional football on the field, which immediately captured my attention and interest," said Lewis. "I look forward to working closely with a group of hungry, talented players and making a mark in year one. This region produces high-caliber football players, many of whom haven't had a chance to really prove themselves on the field at the professional level. They'll get to show what they can do here with Alliance Birmingham, and I'm committed to helping them succeed on and off the field, while making a positive impact in this community."

Lewis joins Steve Spurrier at Orlando, Brad Childress at Atlanta, Mike Singletary at Memphis, Craig Erickson at Salt Lake City, Rick Neuheisel at Phoenix and Mike Martz at San Diego as head coaches in the AAF.

The team will play its first two seasons at Legion Field before moving to a new stadium downtown.

Legion Field opened in 1926 and has been renovated several times, mostly recently in 2015. It has hosted many college football teams including the Alabama Crimson Tide from 1927-2003, the Auburn Tigers from 1926-1991 and UAB from 1991-2014 and 2017 to the present. Legion Field has hosted three bowl games: The Dixie Bowl from 1948-1949, All-American Bowl from 1977-1990 and the Birmingham Bowl from 2006 to now.

Legion Field also hosted two SEC football championship games. In 1992 Alabama defeated Florida, 28-21, and in 1993 Florida defeated Alabama, 28-13.

Legion Field has hosted several professional teams starting with the Birmingham Americans of the World Football League in 1974, followed by the Birmingham Vulcans of the WFL the following season. The Birmingham Stallions of the United States Football League played there from 1983-1985, the Birmingham Fire of the World League of American Football called it home in 1991 and 1992, the Birmingham Barracudas of the Canadian Football League appeared there in 1995 and the Birmingham Thunderbolts of the XFL were the most recent pro tenants in 2001.

Though it has never hosted an NFL regular season game, Birmingham has a long professional football history.

The Birmingham Americans played in the World Football League in 1974, winning their first ten games and finishing the season 15-5. In the semifinals they defeated The Hawaiians 22-19. In the World Bowl, the Americans defeated the Florida Blazers 22-21. After the season the WFL revoked their franchise due to them owing over $2 million dollars in bills, taxes and missed player salaries.

Another ownership resurfaced in the WFL for the 1975 season under the Birmingham Vulcans name. They had the best record in the league with a 9-3 mark when the league folded mid-season.

The Birmingham Stallions played in the United States Football League from 1983 until 1985. Their head coach was former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Rollie Dotsch. The Stallions were one of the league's most loved and best supported teams. In 1983 the Stallions finished their season 9-9.

In 1984 the Stallions upgraded their roster with the signings of NFL players QB Cliff Stoudt, RB Joe Cribbs, FB Leon Perry and DE Dave Pureifoy. The Stallions first home game that season had a USFL record 62,500 fans in attendance for a 17-6 loss to the New Jersey Generals. The Stallions finished the regular season 14-4, and in the playoffs they defeated the Tampa Bay Bandits 36-16. The Stallions lost to the eventual champion Philadelphia Stars 20-10 in the Eastern Conference Championship.

The city of Birmingham bailed the team out of financial trouble with a $1 million loan during the 1985 season when owner Marvin Warner's financial empire collapsed during the savings and loan crisis. The Stallions drafted WR Jerry Rice with the first pick in the 1985 USFL Draft, but he never played for them. Despite the ownership turmoil, the Stallions went 13-5 that season, and in the playoff quarterfinals they defeated the Jim Kelly-led Houston Gamblers 22-20. The Stallions lost to the Baltimore Stars 28-14 in the semifinals. The Stallions were one of eight teams that planned to play in the fall of 1986 before the USFL's demise.

The Birmingham Fire played in the World League of American Football for the 1991 and 1992 seasons. Their head coach was Chan Gailey. In 1991 the Fire went 5-5 and lost to the Barcelona Dragons 10-3, in the semifinals.

In 1992 Birmingham made a big push to host the World Bowl that ended up be awarded to Montreal. The Fire went 7-2-1 and lost to the Orlando Thunder in the semifinals 45-7. After the 1992 season the WLAF suspended operations.

The Birmingham Barracudas, an oddly-placed Canadian Football League franchise in 1995, competed in an American South Division with four other US teams: the Baltimore Stallions, San Antonio Texans, Memphis Mad Dogs and Shreveport Pirates.

The Barracudas were coached by veteran Jack Pardee, and their quarterback was CFL Hall of Famer Matt Dunigan who had a great season for them, passing for 4,911 yards, 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The Barracudas finished the season 10-8 and lost to the San Antonio Texans in the Southern Division semifinals 52-9. Attendance for the Barracudas was solid at first but as the season went on, and college football and the NFL beginning play, they struggled, with the last four home game attendances all under 9,000 fans. After the 1995 season, the CFL retreated north, abandoning its American experiment, and the Barracudas folded.

The 2001 Birmingham Thunderbolts of the XFL coached by Gerry DiNardo. The team struggled, going 2-8 and averaging 17,002 fans per game, second lowest in the XFL. Wide receiver Stepfret Williams led the XFL in receiving yards with 828. After the XFL folded, Gerry DiNardo went to be head coach at Indiana from 2002 until 2004.

Birmingham had one arena football team, the Birmingham Steeldogs joined the arenafootball2, the Arena Football League's minor league, as one of the charter teams for the 2000 season. They played at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center. Bobby Humphrey coach the team from 2000 until 2004 before Ron Selesky took over in 2005. For the 2007 season they were rebranded as the Alabama Steeldogs. After that season they folded.

The AAF will announce its eighth and final inaugural city next week.

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