tampabay.com

A Bull's-eye view of Birmingham

Here are some travel tips for South Florida fans attending the PapaJohns.com Bowl game.

By GREG AUMAN
Published December 20, 2006


USF fans headed to Alabama for Saturday's PapaJohns.com Bowl might be looking for travel tips on what to do while they're in Birmingham. Who better to ask than USF men's basketball coach Robert McCullum, left, who was born in Birmingham in 1954, attended Birmingham-Southern and began his coaching career there, calling the city his home until 1983. He'll take his basketball team to face UAB on Dec. 27. He gave us a proud tour of his personal memories.

ROBERT MCCULLUM

Food/music

McCullum can recommend a restaurant in just about any city his teams have ever played in, but he's a veritable concierge of Birmingham cuisine, with an answer for every palate.

"It all depends on what you want. I love ribs, of course, so I like Jim 'N Nick's. There's three or four of them around town. Of course, there's Dreamland, which is very popular, but the one in Tuscaloosa (above) is the original and it's better, I think.

"There's a place called Kathy's (Terrace Caf) in the Museum of Art on Eighth Avenue. They have excellent lunch. The Highlands Bar and Grill has fine dining in Five Points - very good upscale seafood.

"An inexpensive option is the Fish Market, on 21st Street South. Very casual. You can get a great piece of fish there for $10. The Safari Cup is another good place for lunch downtown, on Richard Arrington Boulevard."

"For places to go, I love jazz, so my favorite place is Ona's (Music Room) jazz club, on 20th Street and Fourth Avenue South. It has a great reputation, nationally acclaimed. I love going there. There's a nice comedy club (the Stardome), and there's an interactive science museum, the McWane Center, on Second Avenue and 18th Street North, a nice place."

Legion Field

McCullum first visited this historic stadium for a track meet when he was in first grade, and he remembers how the track was enclosed on the north end, essentially a tunnel that made for extra drama: The crowd could see a runner enter the turn trailing and emerge on the other side with the lead.

As a high school basketball coach in the late 1970s, McCullum had his players work concessions at Legion Field as fund-raisers, so he saw bits and pieces of the biggest Alabama games at the end of the Bear Bryant era.

"I saw some great games there, saw Notre Dame beat them seven-zip," he said. "Saw Nebraska, Southern Cal. At that time, (Alabama) played all their big games there, at least four a year."

Birmingham calls itself the "football capital of the South," and McCullum remembers not just the annual Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn but how Tennessee would come to Legion Field to face the Tide on the third Saturday in October, also playing Auburn in that stadium.

Take time for this

USF's football team will visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on Thursday, and during an athletics diversity training meeting this month, McCullum told athletic staff members they should take advantage of the chance to visit while in Birmingham.

The institute is a few blocks' walk from the team hotel, and if the exhibits inside somehow aren't powerful enough for you, walk across the street to the 16th Street Baptist Church, above, where four girls were killed and 22 children injured in a racially motivated bombing in 1963, one of the most tragic events of the civil rights movement.

"There's so much there," said McCullum of the institute, recalling a poster-sized photo of segregated public restrooms. "The same things will impact you differently, depending on what era you're from."

The mousepad next to his office computer is from the institute, with a black-and-white photo of a "Colored School Room, 1945."

"Opportunity," its title reads. "Being able to see past traditional barriers and having an intense belief in your ideas and abilities will help you take advantage of any opportunity."

For fans who can't make it to Birmingham, you can visit the institute online at bcri.org. For more about the city, visit its site at informationbirmingham.com.