Day 9: Sodas, The Snake, Street Signs
Road to Houston

Day 9: Sodas, The Snake, Street Signs

The MMQB staff rolls through the Gulf Coast, from Julio’s hometown to Brett’s old stomping grounds

A real Atlanta Falcon

The MMQB stops in College Park, GA to see Nimbus, a real Atlanta Falcon.

 

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MILE: 2175

FOLEY, Ala. — Twenty minutes from the beaches of Gulf Shores, Ala., sits Foley, a town of about 16,000 where Falcons star Julio Jones grew up. The main road, variously dubbed U.S. 98, Alabama’s Coastal Connection and E. Laurel Ave., runs from Foley Beach Express through scattered houses and pine woods into the quaint, old-timey downtown. The row of classic brick storefronts includes an old-fashioned pharmacy and soda fountain, an antique shop and some nice eateries. Palm trees lining the streets remind you that the shore is close.

Jones was a big name in this town well before his Alabama and NFL days, when he was a Foley football star and a track-and-field standout. It seems like everyone in Foley has a connection to him. At our breakfast spot, Grumpy’s, owner Lori Davis lit up when we mentioned we were here to learn about Jones. “Everyone in Foley loves bragging on him,” she said. Davis’s son Michael was the kicker on Jones’s Foley High team. “They had a great quarterback too, Roosevelt Bird. He threw like the wind,” she said. “He and Julio kept my son busy. The first game, he kicked like seven PATs.”

At Foley High we met Lester Smith, who coached Jones in football in middle school. He showed us an old issue of Sports Illustrated that featured Frank DeFord’s classic story on Bull Sullivan: “The Toughest Coach There Ever Was.” Sullivan was Smith’s college coach back in 1962. The school? East Mississippi Community College, our stop on Day 7. Small world.

After finishing up at Foley High, it was back downtown, where that old soda fountain beckoned. Stacey Rexall Drugs was established in 1929, and still has much of its original look. At the vintage soda counter, they serve up vanilla phosphates, hand-made drinks that taste like cream soda. Next door is Holmes Medical Museum, housed in what was Baldwin County’s first hospital. Local historian Zana Price showed us around the museum’s recreated operating rooms and patient rooms—which look straight from the set of “American Horror Story.” Rusty forceps, scary-large needles and antique syringes are displayed on the counters among an assortment of other medical instruments that might really be torture devices. The interior of the Medical Museum is mostly unchanged from its days as the Sibley Holmes Memorial Hospital from 1936 to 1958. The patients’ bathroom is stocked with of old bedpans. Price told us that the hospital was located on the second floor of the building because the main road outside was dirt, and less dust would drift up to the second story on dry days. A visit to the Holmes Medical Museum leaves visitors extremely thankful that they live in an era of advanced medicine.

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If there was a “Mrs. Foley, Ala.,” it would be Price. A lifelong resident, she tends the visitor center, is a docent at the museum and has worked concessions at Lions football games for the past 40 years. She knows everyone in Foley and spits out town facts at a stunning pace, rarely even pausing to breathe. Price escorted us to Ivan Jones Stadium, and finding it locked, pulled out her key ring to let us in. Of course she has the key to Julio’s high school field. Inside the gates was a monument commemorating another hometown hero: Hall of Famer Kenny Stabler. The Snake preceded Jones by nearly 50 years, but his image and memory are just as present in Foley.

On our way out of town we passed a tent offering Julio Jones Super Bowl 51 gear. The couple running the tent had traveled from Atlanta to set up shop in a Foley parking lot. When we stopped by, they said they’d already sold $100 of apparel, though they were still in the middle of laying out all the merchandise. Asked if he thought other Falcons players might also have Super Bowl apparel being sold in their hometowns, the man replied, “No, nobody is as big as Julio.”

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On the way to Baton Rouge for our next stop, we took a quick detour in Pass Christian, Miss., that led us to Irvin Favre Road, named in honor of Brett’s father, who was the local football and baseball coach. When the road sign went up in the ’80s, the town spelled his last name wrong—“Farve”—but, as Leight Montville wrote in a 1993 SI story on Brett, “No one but Favres and their relatives lived on the road anyway” and the misspelling “is not so bad because that is the way the name is pronounced. People can figure it out.” Google Maps apparently hasn’t gotten the word that the sign’s been updated.

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Looking for a Super Bowl 51 tie-in? Favre, of course, spent his rookie season as a Falcon. Tomorrow: You’ll meet a former Patriots long-snapper with a heck of a story.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.