Blue–Gray Football Classic
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|Blue–Gray Football Classic (defunct)|
|Stadium||Movie Gallery Stadium|
|Previous stadiums||Cramton Bowl|
|Previous locations||Montgomery, Alabama|
The Blue–Gray Football Classic was an annual American college football all-star game held in Alabama usually on Christmas Day. It was begun in 1939 and held annually through 2001 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama under the auspices of the Montgomery Lions Club. The game was not contested in 2002 and was subsequently revived in 2003 at Movie Gallery Stadium in Troy, Alabama. However, the game was discontinued because it lacked a major sponsor after that year. The idea for the game was developed by Champ Pickens.
The format, unsurprisingly given the Classic's name, pitted players who attended college in the states of the former Confederacy, the "Grays," who wore white jerseys, against players who attended school in the northern half of the country, the "Blues," who wore blue jerseys, and also sometimes including players from western teams. Both teams wore gray pants. Only seniors played in this game, because it was their first venture into professional football, as they were paid for their participation.
The game had an interesting and somewhat checkered history. It was almost always the first major college all-star game of the year. For this reason, it was difficult to get some of the truly big-name collegiate stars, because many of them were preparing at the same time for bowl games with their regular teams. Also, many potential players preferred to spend Christmas at home.
In recent years, therefore, most of the players had been players from teams with losing records and from smaller schools which do not play NCAA Division I football. The Classic gave these players an opportunity to be noticed by NFL scouts and others who may not have had the opportunity to observe them previously. Most such players now attend the NFL Combine for evaluation.
Given its setting, it wasn't surprising that this game was slow to desegregate. At one point, NBC, which televised the game for most of its run, dropped it from the schedule when the Lions Club refused to integrate it. Since then, the game had not only been desegregated, but in the process showcased many African American stars from smaller, lesser-known schools (including many historically black colleges and universities). In fact, Jerry Rice played in the 1984 game and was named the Most Valuable Player.
The Classic also made many concessions to make it more television-friendly, such as shortening the first quarter to 12 minutes on at least one occasion to make it fit more easily into a doubleheader package, and changing the rules so that after any score a team down by a double-digit margin would receive the kickoff, even if they in fact were the one that had just scored, presumably to keep the game close and prevent the loss of viewership which often occurs in grossly-uneven contests.
In later years, the game had always been played on Christmas Day, which may have tended to limit the live attendance, but which ensured that it was on television at a time when more viewers were available for it.
The game was not played in 2002 after longtime sponsor Kelly Springfield (a subsidiary of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company) decided to discontinue its sponsorship. The Lions Club was unable to find a new sponsor in time. However, it is not likely the game would have been played in any event that year due to the poor condition of Cramton Bowl. The stadium, built in 1923, had not been well maintained over the years, and by this time it was literally crumbling. The Lions Club was instrumental in reviving the game at Troy University's Movie Gallery Stadium, 50 miles south of Montgomery. It was generally thought that the Lions Club and others would have liked to return the game to Montgomery, but opted not to do so because it was unable to find a suitable replacement venue in the Montgomery area.