Thank you, Birmingham Iron
I can hear the cynics and skeptics now. What did you expect? No one should be surprised. Fool me more than once, shame on me.
I get it. The sad, sudden suspension of the Alliance of American Football, which includes the Birmingham Iron, before the end of its first season, feels like deja vu all over again. It's not the first time Birmingham has been failed by a spring football league, by poor planning, mismanagement or misguided decision-making at the league level.
The statement released by Iron General Manager Joe Pendry and Head Coach Tim Lewis made it clear that's what happened here. We didn't fail the league. The league, in the person of purported white knight Tom Dundon, who allegedly arrived to save the financial day, failed us.
"We were shocked and incredibly disappointed to learn of the Board's decision to suspend football operations," the statement from Pendry and Lewis said. "While all startups encounter some challenges, we believed ours could be addressed in the offseason, after a successful completion to our first season."
League co-founder Bill Polian sounded just as shocked and disappointed by Dundon's apparently unilateral decision to pull the plug.
“When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself that we would finish the season, pay our creditors and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all," Polian said in a statement. "The momentum generated by our players, coaches and football staff had us well-positioned for future success. Regrettably, we will not have that opportunity.”
If you're tempted to smirk, stop. Real people, good people, people who dedicated themselves to putting a quality product on the field - which they absolutely did here - have lost their jobs in Birmingham and seven other cities. Players. Coaches. Administrators. Staffers. Many of them moved here for the chance to be on the ground floor of something new and exciting. Their hard work has led them to the unemployment line through no fault of their own.
Iron fans who invested in the optimism of a start-up franchise by purchasing tickets and gear, their positivity rewarded by a team that clinched a playoff berth, have had a fun, affordable football option taken away from them.
That's no laughing matter.
There's a bigger picture and larger lesson here, and it's the reason these leagues are attracted to Birmingham and vice versa, the reason we earned a place at the AAF table alongside Atlanta, Memphis, Orlando, greater Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Diego. They know that we love football. They also know that this city has so much to offer as a place to live, work and visit.
That won't change. In fact, Birmingham's reputation as a sports destination city will continue to strengthen as the new football stadium goes up at Uptown and Legacy Arena is redone and reborn. There will be other opportunities in football and beyond. Listen to the man helping to drive these efforts.
"The AAF was an opportunity worth pursuing," said William Parker, president pro tem of the Birmingham City Council. "It showed people all over the country that Birmingham is considered a peer of other quality cities. We're open for business, and we're going to keep making strides to enhance our position as a true sports destination city."
We'll miss the Iron. Thank you to Pendry, Lewis, and everyone associated with the team for giving us more reasons to cheer. But make no mistake. The cheering won't stop. Birmingham, as the perfect place for teams, leagues, tournaments and events to make themselves at home, isn't going away.