In a part of the city where the streets are named after states and the mansions straight out of William Faulkner intermingle with the squalor of Harry Crews, Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama isn't much unlike the outdoor arenas where I spent my Friday and Saturday nights watching high school football in the 1980s. Before former Browns GM Phil Savage took over the event in 2012, Ladd-Peebles had seen better days. If Joel Buchsbaum ever ventured from his New York borough to experience it, he'd doubtlessly give it his infamous "Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane" label.
Its outer shell of concrete and steel stood impressively from the parking lot but once inside, it had the look and feel of a run-down boxing gym—except it was soaked in beer and Gulf breeze instead of sweat. The bleachers had more dents than the losing entry in a demolition derby. The upper reaches could double as a wind farm for the surrounding metro area for most of the week. The fencing that was in place to guard fans seated in those rows above its tunnels to the concession areas was so loose from its moorings that anyone leaning on it for support was begging for reconstructive surgery courtesy of a 15-foot drop.
Then there were the bathrooms on the bottom floor in the north stands. If desperate enough to venture there, they looked like the setting of an Eli Roth production. I heard Skip Bayless went in there as a respected journalist in Dallas and Chicago, disappeared for several years, and came out the ESPN talking head we see today.
Thoughts of what happened to him in there sometimes keep me awake a night.
None of us were there—or continue making the pilgrimage to Mobile—to make aesthetic judgments with architecture. What happens at the grassy center of Ladd-Peebles is what transfixes us for much of these six days in January. And it was from these dilapidated stands in 2010 that I saw Joique Bell for the first time in 2010.
The Wayne State star had everything but the name: power, balance, agility, burst, good hands, and a chip on his shoulder. Other than LeGarrette Blount, who shined despite the coaches doing their best to deep him under wraps, Bell was consistently the most impressive back in those practices.