The Old Gray Lady ain’t what she used to be, but in her prime she was known as the Football Capital of the South. Constructed in 1926 at a cost of $439,000 the 21,000 seat stadium was named Legion Field in honor of the American Legion. Its capacity was increased several times and lights added to allow for night television games. By 1991 the stadium capacity was over 83,000.
This old lady has seen a lot. Some of the biggest names in football have played and coached on this field. The first prime time national televised collegiate football game was played on October 4, 1969 on ABC with announcers Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson. The game was a shootout between Scott Hunter of Alabama and Archie Manning of Ole Miss. In the end Alabama won 33 -32.
She also could tell stories of old Alabama and Auburn games where the tickets were divided 50/50.
After the stadium began falling into disrepair the University of Alabama began a plan to increase the capacity of Bryant Denny Stadium and move all of it home games to Tuscaloosa. The last home game for the University of Alabama at Legion Field was against the University of South Florida on August 30, 2003.
In 2004 a structural evaluation determined that the 9,000 seat upper deck would need major repairs in order to meet modern building codes. With the loss of future income it made more sense to remove the upper deck than pay for the repairs.
Today the Old Lady has a capacity of 71,594 and is home to UAB (The University of Alabama in Birmingham). She also hosts the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Today I was visiting the old lady on business. Our company maintains the telephone system for the concessions. I have many memories of this stadium. As a child my dad brought me here to see many Alabama football games, not because he cared about football, just because I did. As a young man, I became a part-time / freelance photographer for a very small bi-weekly newspaper. My main job there was to photograph high school football every Friday night. However, most Saturdays I could either be found either in Tuscaloosa or Birmingham.
Since our paper was so small we never could hope to obtain the credentials needed for a field pass to a major college game. For some reason I didn’t let this get in my way. My buddies and I would usually purchase a ticket from somebody on a street corner and get into the gate. Then they would head to the stands and I would head for the field. If I my entrance was questioned I would plead my case showing my press card. Sometimes I was denied, but I would just go to another gate. I never failed to get on the field. That is until I went to the Sugar Bowl. It was New Year’s Day 1979 and Alabama was playing Penn State for the national championship. I still can’t believe that I went to New Orleans with my friends without a ticket. However, just as planned I purchased one on the corner from a Penn State fan. I had no problem getting on the field. It fact it was the easiest of the season. I walked over to the sidelines and began running my meter tests, and talking with a fellow photographer. That when a guy asked for my credentials. He didn’t stop to listen to any excuses he just ushered me of the field. So I spent the night enjoying the game stuck right in the middle of a Penn State section.
So the Old Gray Lady may not be what she once was, but if listen very carefully I swear you can hear those old gray walls speak.