Coach: Tim Lewis
Stadium: Legion Field
Birmingham was a shoe-in for all the prognosticators of franchise locations for the AAF. A stronghold of football talent and fandom, with good proximity to its sister franchises in the East, Birmingham was the 7th franchise named to the AAF on June 4th, 2018.
From the get go, Birmingham set out to be completely different than the rest of the league. The Iron hired long time assistant head coach and former player Tim Lewis to be its head coach. Lewis – well known in NFL circles, had never held a head coaching gig at any level until Birmingham. No other team went that route willingly- as every other team took an established coach. He hired a coaching staff with a wide pedigree. Ted Cottrell earned the linebackers coach job, longtime coach and player Ray Hamilton coached the line, and Martin Bayless coached the secondary and assisted with Special Teams. Cadillac Williams joined the staff as an RB coach briefly- landing a job with Auburn before the AAF season began.
Named for the region’s rich history in Iron smelting and manufacturing, the Birmingham Iron’s colors of black, light gray, and dark gray, were announced on September 20th, 2018.
Games were hosted at creaky Legion Field, while a new state of the art stadium was to be completed in the next year or two. Birmingham itself has a rich history of supporting alternative football leagues. The Americans (WFL 1974-1975) had crowds in excess of 50,000. The Stallions (USFL 1983-1985) drew a crowd of over 60,000 for their home opener in 1984. In 1991, the Birmingham Fire (WLAF 1991-1992) had 53,000 at their season opener, and while the Barracudas (CFL 1995) and the Thunderbolts (XFL 2001) drew mixed reviews, the general perception was the AAF would be a hit in Magic City.
It was probably thought that Atlanta, thanks in part to its proximity and being a straight shot down I- 20 , would be the Iron’s primary rival; However, as the season unwound, it became more and more apparent that it was Orlando, strictly based on divisional jockeying. (Personally I saw it being more of a Memphis-Iron rivalry since they upset Birmingham during the last two weeks of the season, but I digress.)
The city rallied around its home state hero and the AAF’s largest signing- Trent Richardson. He’d become an early star in the league (and somewhat akin to a player representative) as his signing was seen as a bit of a coup for the fledgling league. The team also picked up former Alabama QB Blake Sims, which fans also approved of. Chris Davis- the much celebrated ‘Kick Six’ Iron Bowl hero was also of interest to fans.
The Birmingham Iron featured the AAF leader in scoring, Trent Richardson. Richardson finished as the league leader in both rushing attempts (125) and TDs (11), and 4th in yardage with 366. He had to work hard for every yard as Richardson finished with an anemic 2.9 yards per carry, but that’d happen to you too if teams stacked the box. There really wasn’t much sophistication to the offense. The Iron just liked to pound the rock. Trent also caught the ball out of the backfield with pretty good results (31 receptions for 205 yards and a TD).
As a group, the Iron were last in the league in rushing finishing with 631 yards. Brandon Ross, LaDarius Perkins, Ty Isaac, and Marshaun Coprich rounded out an under utilized backfield. No other player rushed more than 25 times or for over 100 total yards on the season, as Trent accounted for over 50% of the ground game’s yards, 60% of the carries, and 100% of the TDs.
The Iron opted to select Luis Perez in the first round of the AAF QB Draft. Perez is an intriguing and smart QB talent. He threw for 1461 yards and 5 TDs, but his completion percentage (52.3) and yards per attempt (5.7) hovered in the doldrums of the league. Keith Price backed him up posting solid numbers playing primarily in two contests and starting the game against the Fleet.
Quinton Patton led the receiving corps in catches (33) and yards (372). Speedster L’Damian Washington set the league mark with an 83 yard TD to go along with 15 receptions, 250 yards, and a second TD- leading he team. Tobias Palmer had another 13 receptions for a buck 29. Outside of that, no other WR had over 6 catches as Amba Etta-Tawo, Quan Bray, DeVozea Felton, and Jamal Robinsion (124 yards on 3 catches), all pitched in to help the passing attack.
Tight end had a couple of bruisers. Wes Saxton just happened to be able to catch too- pulling down 17 receptions for 241 yards and a TD. South Alabama graduate Braedon Bowman had 4 catches for 43 yards and a TD, while bookends Connor Davis and Weslye Saunders snuck primarily to block catching 3 passes each, respectively.
The offensive line had some pretty decent names. Kitt O’Brien, Dominick Jackson, and JC Hassenauer held down the front. They allowed just 15 sacks on the season as they tried to give Luis Perez as much time to pass the ball as possible. Overall the passing offense was ranked 4th, as Perez and Price combined for 1626 yards on the season, but their 3rd down efficiency was pretty bad, coming in at 31%. Overall the offense put the rock on the turf with regularity- losing 12 fumbles.
The Iron kicked off the AAF season with a quieting thud, dominating defensive statistics and blanking the Express in the league’s only shut out. A solid front 7, the Iron defense didn’t make too many mistakes, but finished curiously in the middle of the pack both against the pass and run. The two places that Birmingham really excelled in was points allowed (20.6) and 3rd down defense (27%)- both of which the Iron ranked 1st in by a far margin. While the defense was much celebrated, they were prone to getting in trouble against pass happy opponents such as the Apollos, Fleet, and the Express (in their second meeting).
Beniquez Brown was a black hole at linebacker putting up 70 total tackles (2nd in the league), 3 sacks, and a forced fumble. The numbers for the other linebackers were pretty spotty. Shaeed Salmon had 17 total tackles in 3 starts and 8 games. Veteran Devin Taylor had 4 starts, 13 sacks and a tackle. Ike Spearman had 11 tackles in 8 games (1 start), and Matthew Wells started 4 games and had 16 total tackles.
The Iron were very deep along the defensive line. While they didn’t bash out tons of sacks, they held the line well and put the pressure on when it counted. At defensive end, Jonathan Massaquoi started 6 of 8 games, posting 28 tackles and 3 sacks. Xzavier Dickson had 3 starts in 7 games to go along with 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception, while Johnny Maxey had 9 tackles in two starts.
Jeremy Faulk had a motor that wouldn’t quit. He led the Iron defensive tackle group with 33 total tackles and 3 sacks. Casey Sayles posted 16 total tackles and a sack. Rickey Hatley, had 9 tackles in 6 starts. Jake Payne stepped in and started a game while playing in 3. The Shenandoah graduate had 7 tackles and 2 sacks, while Nick James and Joshua Frazier rounded out the interior.
The secondary was difficult to gain yardage on, even though they did not force too many turnovers. Jack Tocho started all 8 games, recording a pick, 1 forced fumble, and 27 total tackles. Wildman Max Redfield had a pick, a fumble recovery and 34 total tackles in 7 starts. Jamar Summers out of Connecticut led the team with 3 picks, 2 forced fumbles, and 20 total tackles. Elijah Campbell got 3 starts under his belt and 21 total tackles. Joe Powell- from Globe Tech (NY) started 1 game and had 13 total tackles and a pick in 7 contests. Bradley Sylve started 4 of 8 contests and posted 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 30 total tackles. Chris Davis, Joe Powell, Bradley Sylve, Ryan White, Jacob Hagen, Trovon Reed, Christian Bryant, and Trey Johnson all helped out at some point during the season in a limited capacity.
The defense did the best it could to limit the offensive shortcomings of the team recording 9 interceptions and 7 fumble recoveries, finishing with a -2 turnover differential.
The Iron had a pretty good special teams unit. Devozea Felton had 14 returns for 125 yards and a 47 yard long. Quan Bray also posted solid results with 7 returns for 51 yards.
Colton Schmidt dropped 20 punts inside the 20. He punted 44 times for 2024 yards (46.0) and a 65 yard long. The coverage team was decent, allowing 22 returns for 169 yards- but began to unravel near the end of the season. They also allowed the only punt block (for a TD) in league history (against Memphis).
Grizzled veteran Nick Novak – another Houston Ex-an, had an impressive season hitting on 13/16 field goals including a 53 yard long.
A modest 17,039 showed up to see the Iron crush Memphis- despite the city trumpeting the team and Trent Richardson for the past few months. The following week police literally set up barricades and handed out tickets to people to show up for the Iron’s defensive struggle over the Salt Lake City Stallions. The Iron persevered and moved to 2-0 before a crowd of just 17,319.
Media put a positive spin on it- trumpeting the ‘good signs’ of so many people showing up in ’50 degree’ weather. Other media groups called the numbers ‘sizeable’. But in actuality, underwhelming would be the best way to put the Iron’s attendance numbers when you lined them up next to the Iron’s predecessors in Magic City.
After a road game in Atlanta, the team returned to host the San Antonio Commanders in Week 4. That day- tornadoes and inclement weather forced many fans to stay home. A league season low 6,539 patrons showed up for the contest, a 12-11 loss to the suddenly streaking Commanders. In Week 5 the Apollos thumped Birmingham, as the Iron ‘doubled’ attendance from the previous week at 13,310. Birmingham’s final home game came in Week 8. They’d triumph over the Atlanta Legends to secure a playoff birth in front of a season high crowd of 17, 328- A mere 9 more patrons than their Week 2 victory over the Stallions.
The Iron were the top of the second tier in terms of attendance averaging 14,307 a game, squarely in 4th place 1,500 above Memphis and roughly 5,000 behind San Diego. Maybe it was the fact the league launched and bet that Birmingham was going to come out in force for the inaugural season- but 4 out of the first 5 games for the Iron were at home? That didn’t seem very well thought out. Birmingham was the only team in the AAF to play their entire home schedule before the league folded.
When Birmingham was announced as the 7th city, my heart immediately dropped- as I thought that there was no way that the Alliance would select San Antonio over St. Louis for that final franchise spot.
At the season opener the Iron gave away towels to all the fans in attendance, while at the final game they gave away an inaugural team poster of the team.
The Iron were the only other team besides the East leading Apollos to secure a playoff birth in the AAF. Their playoff contest versus the Apollos was locked in three weeks from the folding of the league. A win in Week 9 by the Apollos however, guaranteed Orlando home field for their playoff matchup.
TTM, and through EBay the Birmingham Iron have been the most difficult to acquire.
The Iron tradition was to have somebody beat on an anvil with a hammer at certain points before and during the game.
Briefly a few months after the league folded the Birmingham Iron’s Twitter admin took back over the page and talked to fans. This lasted all of 3 hours and changed the header and the hashtag to #ForgeOnForever.
Birmingham’s hashtags were #ForgeOn and #WeAreBirmingham.
The Iron sported some 19 players who attended Alabama colleges on their team- including 8 that went to Alabama and 5 that went to Auburn.
From the signing and play of Trent Richardson, to the encouraging attendance numbers, then on to their smash mouth defense- it seemed that the Iron did a great job of garnering a lot of really positive press.
The Iron were sort of an enigma. Were they the second best team in the league behind Orlando- or were they the 4th best team that lost to Memphis in OT? Week 9 and 10 were going to determine the Iron’s true pole position in the league with matchups in Arizona against the hot Hotshots and on the road at Orlando in Week 10. Birmingham could easily finish 7-3 or 5-5. Birmingham had a stout defense against teams that ran to set up the pass- but when teams just came out and gunned them down throwing the ball, things could get out of control quickly. Supposing as much, Arizona beats Birmingham, then the Iron play Orlando. Does Spurrier play his starters and open up the playbook knowing that Birmingham will play them again the following week for a 3rd time that year?
I feel like the Birmingham Iron was a season finale for a show that got cancelled. Things were really starting to get interesting in that final game. Was Luis Perez still the QB to lead the offense or was it Keith Price? Marshaun Coprich was really starting to show some colors against Atlanta. Was he going to be the solid 2 punch to go along with Richardson? Sadly we will never know the conclusion to the Iron’s story, other than they qualified for the playoffs.
RB: MARSHAUN COPRICH
OL: DOMINICK JACKSON, JC HASSENAUER
K: NICK NOVAK