In RJ Young
FOX sports writer
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – If Saturday’s Down South showdown between the Birmingham Stallions and the New Orleans Breakers looks like a boxing match between two heavyweights, that’s because it is.
Nothing more than a claim to pound-for-pound – or Power Ranking for Power Rank, if you will – the best team in the entire US Football League is up for grabs, and to the winner go the red, white loot. it’s blue.
At every USFL game, the national anthem is sung, and the virtues and pride of this nation are displayed: Endurance, courage, perseverance, and pride do not require talent.
They accept want.
USFL fans want this game like we wanted Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight Manny Pacquiao. And the city of Birmingham will no doubt be ready.
They were certainly ready in the first game of this inaugural USFL season when their stallions (2-0, 1-0) took possession of the ball at their own 41-yard line with 1:24 to go, losing 24-21. to the generals of New Jersey. The sound emanating from the Protective Stadium seats seemed entirely one-sided.
Birmingham stud fans cheered their team – a hometown advantage in a city where each of the league’s eight teams must play.
As Stallions quarterback J’Mar Smith ran to snap the snap from behind center, the Stallions team and players waved their hands to ask the crowd to calm down so the offense could hear the cadence.
They dropped the gun there, when the crowd went quiet as they saw Smith settle down to make the call.
The comeback win set a high bar in both emotion and audience that Birmingham fans and the Stallions felt a responsibility to meet.
The Stallions’ next game was also the most watched of the second week’s games, as the Stallions needed a late interception to remain undefeated, prompting Stallions coach Skip Holtz to be vociferous in his praise of the city’s support of his team for a second straight week – even during a weekend when NASCAR descended on Talladega just an hour east.
“You hear them,” Holtz said from the crowd. “They’re loud. They’re polite. They’re hoping for the right things.”
And the impact of the Birmingham crowd is being felt even among teams the Stallions have yet to play.
“I had a coach tell me,” Holtz said, “‘I’m excited to play with you guys because I’m excited to play against your home crowd.’ This is a real testament to the people coming out, the noise they’re making, the way they’re supporting this team. I just hope it keeps growing and getting bigger. My goal is, by the end of the year, I’d like to to sell this son of a bitch.”
Birmingham is consistently among the top performing TV markets in the country for college football, and fans are enjoying having professional football at a time when football isn’t normally played.
The best most could hope for is a lively, scripted practice between the UAB Blazers or the Alabama Crimson Tide before having to go back to waiting four months for real football to be played.
Now, not only will they have real football, but Saturday night (8pm ET on FOX and streaming on the FOX Sports app.) features the last two undefeated teams remaining in the league.
The Stallions face Larry Fedora’s Breakers (2-0, 1-0) for the chance to become the sole owner of the South Division’s top spot and plant a marker in nearly a third of the season as the best team in the league heading into May. .
The Breakers have been crushing their competition, though. In their 34-3 win over the Tampa Bay Bandits, they saw players on offense (Kyle Sloter) and defense (Vontae Diggs) win the USFL Player of the Week award.
Running back TJ Logan and his speed of 4.37 and 40 yards scored touchdowns in each of New Orleans’ games, and defensive end Davin Bellamy recorded four sacks in two games.
Add to that a wide receiver corps that features former Ohio State player Johnnie Dixon and former Arkansas State player Jay Adams, and you can assume the Breakers look good enough to break the Stallions.
Holtz and Fedora are also more than familiar with each other. At Conference USA, Fedora won the league title in 2011 as head coach at Southern Miss, and Holtz won the C-USA Coach of the Year at two different programs — East Carolina (2008) and Louisiana Tech (2016) — aged eight. of difference.
In fact, it was Holtz who helped convince Fedora to take the head coaching job in New Orleans.
“After I got into it,” Holtz said, “I was on the phone talking to Larry Fedora about it, about how fun it would be and what we’re going to have the opportunity to get into.”
He couldn’t have known he was talking to maybe the man who would be standing in front of him on the opposing sideline in the biggest game of the year so far. Nor did Fedora know that its team would quickly announce itself as one of the best in the league.
Fedora was prescient in noting the level of competition he would face, however.
“I mean, there are some good coaches in this league,” he said.
Holtz and Fedora each won eight bowl games. As Saturday’s Down South Showdown kicks off, there’s more than bragging rights at stake in a game that looks like a bowl game between two undefeated shows with everything to play for.
Someone’s “O” has to go.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and host of the podcast “The Show No. 1 Ranked with RJ Young.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Youngand sign “The RJ Jovem Show” on YouTube. He’s not on a StepMill.
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