There’s this old saying that starts with “I remember when (fill in the blank) was the best ever.” Or something like that.
Those that remember the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classics of the late 1980s or 1990s remember a game that pitted two evenly matched teams, and you always wondered whether this year’s game could top the previous experience.
Sometimes, a game can grow stale simply because it’s been around for so long there’s nothing new to experience. Events often run in cycles, and when you go through a down cycle, there’s less patience waiting for the upside.
If that’s the proper way to write the obituary for the Alabama vs. Mississippi game, so be it. The 26th and quite possibly last edition of the game ended Saturday at Cramton Bowl with the same results: Alabama won again in a contest that was boring, but even in the first quarter and lopsided through the next two quarters, before a late Mississippi rally made the score respectable, 21-16.
And, once again, most of the sports fans in the Capital City missed the event, with attendance hovering somewhere around 7,000.
Alabama High School Athletic Director Steve Savarese would like to turn the annual all-star game into an event, much the way March Madness has evolved or, if you’re looking for a one-day, one-game event, the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
“We’ve talked about many different concepts,” Savarese said. “The (Alabama All Stars) football all-star game that takes place in the summer, we would like to make a part of this week. After we evaluate it, we’ll make recommendations.”
It could partner with the Raycom College Football All-Star Game in January as well, provided that game gets off the ground and is successful. To improve the quality of the game, Savarese sat down on Friday with Mississippi High School Athletic Association executive director Don Hinton to see if the Magnolia State was willing to host the game every other year or had other ideas to grow the game.
“The model of our association is different from Alabama,” Hinton said. “The MHSAA sanctions the game, which means our kids play in the game, but our association really doesn’t do anything (in the game) and hasn’t been asked to. We had a great meeting (Friday) with Steve, and all we need to know is what can we do to help, what do we need to do to make it better? Our folks still want to play the game. Let’s go from there. We’ll help anyway we can.”
Savarese has talked with other states about a home-and-home series, most notably Louisiana, but wants to give Mississippi the first crack at extending the series.
“Whatever we need to do, we’re willing to do,” Hinton said. “All he needs to do is say we need y’all to step up more. Now that I know that, we will.”
If this is the last Alabama-Mississippi game, the thought of partnering with another state such as Louisiana could add some spice to the event and holding it every other year could make it a more valuable product when it returns to Montgomery. It would also give Alabama a break after several years of hosting both the football and basketball all-star games every year in this state. (For example, the basketball game could be in one state one year, while the football game was in the other state).
“I love this venue,” Hinton said. “This is a great stadium for high school football. To me, it’s perfect. You can get lost in 80,000, 90,000-seat stadiums. I think this is the perfect place. But I do know our coaches in Mississippi always say, ‘When can we play the game in Mississippi?’ Our coaches’ association hasn’t had the same means of revenue and-or sponsorships to do it, but you have to go into a city that wants it and has volunteers like Montgomery does.”
If this is the last game under the current format — and that’s all but certain — it may also set off another bidding war to become the host site of the series. While Montgomery has been exceptional in some aspects hosting the game the last two years, there needs to be more people in the seats and that can only come through better promotion of the game.
The Lions Club doesn’t own the game (as they did with the Blue-Gray All-Star Football Classic) so there may be limitations in that regard, but it’s obvious the game has been one of the area’s best-kept secrets the last two years because of a lack of marketing.
Savarese, however, seemed satisfied with the efforts of the city and its volunteers.
“I’m very pleased with all the efforts put forth by the city, the Lions Club, the Alabama High School Athletic Association,” he said. “They have truly worked hard, from the program to the hospitality to the new (Multiplex) complex. The crowd is bigger this year. I think we’ll continue to grow, and we’ll evaluate the game itself.
“A lot of the proceeds from this game go to the Lions Club to help their sight issues, which is their charity,” he added. “Our goal is just to meet our expenses to allow our kids to play.”
And to make the event the highlight of the high school season. To reach that goal, some changes will have to be made. And if Friday’s conversation between Savarese and Hinton are any indication, changes are on the way.