Despite early showers and a nippy chill, the 76th McDonald’s Magic City Classic presented by Coca-Cola had all the pageantry and spectacle of the prior 75.
No. 76 may be remembered, however, as one that included a public marriage proposal.
Why did a fellow from San Diego, California, with no ties to Alabama State or Alabama A&M universities, propose to his California girlfriend in the stands of Legion Field with 60,000 awaiting her reply while watching on a jumbo videoboard?
Because his future mother-in-law, with an assist from her Birmingham-resident best friend, suggested it.
Aaron Sims, 25, popped the question to Tatiana Ethridge in the second quarter of the game – a 21-16 upset victory for Alabama State. Comedian Jermaine “Funnymaine” Johnson approached the couple in the stands as he had others earlier.
Before, he gave the fans a prize. This time, he yielded the microphone to Sims, who got down on one knee and put a ring on Ethridge’s finger.
“I thought I had won the pillow like the other contestants had won,” she said later. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
Sims had asked Ethridge’s parents, Todd and Natalie Ethridge of San Diego, for their daughter’s hand in marriage. Later, the future mother of the bride phoned her best friend, Birmingham firefighter LaDonna Collins, to tell her of the pending proposal.
Collins didn’t attend State or A&M, either, but she lives up the hill from Legion Field in College Hills and had declared the Magic City Classic to be a must-see event. Having come before, the Ethridge clan had already planned a trip to Birmingham for this year’s festivities.
“We had planned this trip, so I was just thinking of something unique, a special way for him to propose to her,” Natalie Ethridge said.
Sims decided to go along with the plan. Fourteen friends and family, some from as far away as California, were with the couple when Tatiana said “Yes” on the stadium’s big scoreboard display.
The bride-to-be spent the rest of the game wearing a tiara that family and friends had brought for the occasion.
Before this year’s Classic, Collins contacted “Funnymaine” to arrange the special event. Coincidentally, Collins had a role in Natalie Ethridge meeting her husband and Tatiana’s father, Todd.
Natalie Ethridge said Classic organizers Carrie Coleman and Taryn Fink, with the Bruno Event Team, were very helpful.
“They don’t know us and didn’t have to do this,” she said. “I am forever grateful to them.”