Starting point: Pitt's campus
Ending point: Legion Field
Time: 11 hours, 13 minutes
Distance: 756 miles, or a really freakin' long way to travel to the same bowl game for a third consecutive year
Places to see along the way:
Santa Claus Town Hall, Sanda Claus, IN
Jim Beam Distillery, Sheperdsville, KY
The National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green, KY
US Space and Rocket Museum, Huntsville, AL
SEC Headquarters, Birmingham, AL (YouTube video)
For further information about traveling to Birmingham, we've solicited the help of some Pitt fans who have made multiple trips to the BBVA Compass Bowl. Here is some advice that Mike (of Cardiac Hill fame) and Chris (Panther Lair) had to offer.
Where To Stay
Mike: Well, first things first, Birmingham is a giant shanty-town. Literally. There's a pretty compact downtown area with some modern buildings and small skyscrapers - otherwise it looks like the Lower Ninth Ward as far as the eye can see. Little shacks with tin roofs all around.
Legion Field is smack-dab in the middle of one of these neighborhoods, with projects on two sides of the stadium (you can see this clearly if you look at an aerial view on Google Maps). For the past two years, the band has had a police escort en route to the stadium. To be honest, you don't want to stay ANYWHERE near Legion Field. It's not a safe area.
Two years ago, I stayed at the Hilton Birmingham Perimeter Park and last year at the Birmingham Marriott (the official band hotels). Both were in an office park about 25 minutes outside of downtown which had some bars and restaurants and was pretty nice overall. I'd recommend either one.
Chris: Pitt is staying at the Winfrey Hotel, which is near a mall and, as such, some semblance of late 20th-century life. In previous years the media hotel was the Embassy Suites in Homewood, with its nightly manager’s happy hour (read: free beer) and daily complimentary breakfast (including an outstanding omelet bar); unfortunately, the Embassy Suites is booked. I recommend somewhere close to the airport in order to shorten your travel time.
Where To Eat
Mike: There's a Popeyes right down the street from Legion Field where I ate breakfast last year...I did eat breakfast there, seriously, but wouldn't recommend it. I don't really have anywhere in particular to recommend for food.
Chris: Birmingham apparently has lots of good barbecue. In the last two years, I still haven’t been to Dreamland (apparently that’s famous), but I’ve gone to a couple BBQ places that were half-decent. For a quick lunch I recommend a chain called Moe’s; even though it’s a chain, it’s pretty good. For dinner, head to the Five Points South area in downtown Birmingham and take your pick. There are a few good BBQ places down there. I went to Jim ‘N’ Nick’s, and it was pretty good.
What To Do On & Around Birmingham
Mike: Unsurprisingly, there are not many compelling sights to see. The SEC headquarters is in downtown and looked pretty cool, but I didn't have a chance to go inside. For a serious college football fan, it would probably be worthwhile to check out. The other "attraction" is a historic town-square called Five Points South, which is where the bowl pep rally is the night before the game. There's live music, bars, restaurants, and some shops (including a bail bond store). It's nothing great, but something to do while there.
Chris: The Five Points South area is apparently where all the cool kids go for a good time. My time in Birmingham has been largely spent at three places: Pitt’s practices, the game itself, and the hotel. Two years ago I hardly ever left the hotel for anything other than official Pitt activities due to the coaching search. So I could tell you about the fun things to do in my suite that year, but not much else. Overall, I’d say head for Five Points South and poke around. They even got a Starbucks, so there’s that.
Gameday Traditions To Take Part In
Mike: There is a Pitt Alumni Association tailgate outside the stadium, but beyond that I have no clue (other than drinking and pretending we're not there).
Chris: The most notable gameday tradition around Legion Field is a little game I like to call Get Into the Stadium As Fast As Possible. The area surrounding Legion Field is what I like to call "southern urban gothic," and while driving to and from the stadium you will be reminded – on many occasions – that the state of Alabama does not require yearly automobile inspections. You will likely leave with a newfound respect for the resourcefulness of the people of Birmingham after seeing their many uses for duct tape and bungee cords.
Other "Good To Know" Information
Mike: I think I summed it up pretty well in my first couple paragraphs.
Chris: Another thing to know: Dr. James Andrews is based in Birmingham, so if you need Tommy Johns surgery while visiting the city, you’re in luck.
A fun fact, ESPN Plus, a subsidiary of ESPN, is responsible for the operation of the BBVA Compass Bowl. ESPN Plus also operates the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, the Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl, the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, the Gildan Bowl New Mexico Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, and the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. So next time you want to complain about too many crappy bowl games on TV, point a finger at ESPN.