Memphis Runs Past Birmingham in League Debut

Bamaslammer - Bolts Team Reporter

Birmingham (5 February 2001) --Popular sports radio jock Paul Finebaum had predicted 15 or 20 thousand people would be at the game. He even suggested he would skip it all together. Paul was wrong on both counts as the Birmingham ThunderBolts opened the season Sunday against the Memphis Maniacs. Paul's luminous head was spotted in the press box and more than 35 thousand fans showed up to watch.

...the crowd began to get into the game and the video editor soon found that any dead moment could be brought to life by a close up foot level view of the Beautiful Thunderbolts cheerleaders.

My tailgate crew arrived at approximately 10:45 AM. We were thinking we would be alone at the stadium but we were preceded by a number of RV's which were in a special parking lot. One RV in particular had a full size grill, chairs and a massive sound system playing "Sweet Home Alabama". The smoke from the grill was already reaching into the blue cloudless sky. Later while walking near the main office entrance I noticed a black stretch limousine circling the stadium. I wondered if this could be some WWF executive or even McMahon himself. Later the limousine pulled up to the entrance. A well-dressed young man stepped out and opened the back door. Emerging from the darkness of the tinted window was Rick and Bubba, the famed radio hosts. These guys must never turn it off because they were yelling every word so loud you could hear them half a mile away. They were saying that they had been told the Rick & Bubba section had been sold out. I told them we had some burgers for them at our tailgate party. I had previously sent them a fax that I would be glad to be their "guest griller" since they couldn't put a grill in the booth. Bubba stopped in his tracks at the mention of burgers and said they would be sending someone to pick it up. We went back and smoked two of our finest burgers for 30 minutes but as no one showed up to claim them we ate the burgers and prepared to enter the stadium.

The scoop around the press box was that there were 18,000 tickets pre-sold for this game. They felt like they could handle another 12,000 walk up by game time. This would be around 30,000 which was far in excess of what the press was promising would make it to the game. However as game time approached the lines continued to grow outside the stadium. Eventually around 35,300 fans ignored Paul Finebaum and the gaggle of sports writers at the Birmingham News and made their presence felt.

As the game kicked off hopes were high. After trading punts the Bolts defense scored a big hit on Memphis QB Marcus Crandell. He half walked half stumbled to the sideline and it appeared Birmingham's defense was about to strike. The second stringer came on and did the worst thing he could possibly do to Birmingham, He handed off the ball to RB Rashaan Salaam and he promptly hit the corner and burned the Bolts defense for a long touchdown run. The crowd was shocked but things were about to get worse.

Bolt QB Casey Weldon began to falter badly, misfiring time after time. The drop back passing game was not working at all and the Defense had shut down RB James Bostic. The Memphis offense being aware of the injuries Birmingham had suffered in the secondary quickly struck for another long TD. The lead quickly grew to 19 - 0 and many were thinking of the beating New York had taken the night before. After a terrible throw by Weldon which Memphis intercepted, the crowd began a thundering chant for "Barker Barker".

Jay Barker is the ever popular second string QB. Being from Birmingham and the winningest Quarterback in University of Alabama football history he is naturally someone the fans would like to see. Jay never so much as shifted his ball cap or warmed up. Dinardo left Casey in there to work through the problems.

After a few more series Weldon began rolling out on his passes and the results were much better. Weldon rolled right on a red zone play for seemingly forever and finally found Damon Gourdine who had circled out of the end zone in front of a Memphis safety. The Safety grabbed at air as Gourdine continued his orbital path back into the end zone. The crowd quieted and after halftime Weldon struck again on the first drive. After each touchdown the offense scored the extra point. The score was 19 - 14 and Memphis went back to what they did best which is run the ball. The bolts kept it close but never overcame the many fumbles and penalty's that plagued them all day. The final score was 22 - 20.

In the final game analysis there were more questions than answers. Birmingham runs a West Coast passing attack, which takes more time to install from scratch than a running attack. It may be 2 to 3 games before we know the truth about Birmingham's offense. Defensively the speedy defensive line was poorly matched against the strong Memphis running game. Crandell was hounded repeatedly on passing plays but Salaam kept slicing and dicing the Bolts defense. Adding to the defensive problems was the injury-riddled secondary that seemed confused in its coverage and tackled poorly. On a positive note the Bolts receiving core had a stellar day catching virtually anything that came near them. Stepfret Williams didn't see too many balls but stung the Memphis secondary several times with long runs after the catch. Quincy Jackson also had a number of great catches including a long touchdown. Bostic ran hard but simply didn't see much daylight. On one occasion he did get through a hole and stormed through the secondary dragging DB's with him all the way.

The field presentation looked as confused as the secondary through parts of the first quarter. The speakers appeared to be out of commission at first. Long periods of silence followed every play. The game was held up several times while they attempted to fix the problem. It seemed things were going badly but one by one they got things working. Finally the powerful sound system began emanating loud thumping rock music and things got a little better. The crowd began to get into the game and the video editor soon found that any dead moment could be brought to life by a close up foot level view of the Beautiful Thunderbolts cheerleaders. The crowd became especially excited when either of the two Brunette Brandy's or the Blonde Amy who's body seemed to defy logic and gravity. By the half everything was working perfectly.

The biggest blunder of the day had nothing to do with the Bolts. The local beer distributors must think we're all too stiff to drink beer because amazingly they RAN OUT 15 minutes into the contest. Apparently they were reading the paper too much and simply didn't think that many people would be there. This mistake I'll be willing to bet won't be repeated.

One thing we didn't see was the lewd behavior and foul language that the press warned us about. The player interviews were far less "in your face" than what we saw in Las Vegas the night before. After the game I asked James Bostic if they had been asked to tone it down because they were in "The South". Bostic said they had not received any such instructions. He went on to explain that he had family and he personally didn't want to say anything that would upset or embarrass them.

As for the team he said that most of these guys didn't feel the need to showboat to that degree. This may have been evident by the fact that Birmingham players opted to print their names on their jerseys unlike the Las Vegas crew.

Talking to starting Center Matt Hogg he echoed the general feeling among the players. "I think we beat ourselves, If we can eliminate some of the mistakes we can play with anybody, Hopefully we can get things worked out for the New York game."

Weldon fielded a number of questions but still seemed dazed somewhat from several ferocious hits he received in the third quarter. He stuck it out and took some big hits to make plays. That sort of thing can go a long way to stop the cat calls for Barker.

I didn't leave the stadium until after dark and I noticed most of the RV tailgaters were still out there drinking and dancing to loud music. Everyone I spoke to enjoyed the game in spite of the loss and planned to return. Talking to many people I feel the press has not properly represented our thoughts on the XFL and I think it has a real chance to grow into something special. One thing is certain however; they're going to have to win some games to prosper here.