The Old Gray Lady

Once called the Football Capital of the South

Once called the Football Capital of the South

 

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.

 

Legion Field

Legion Field

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.

 

Field View

Field View

 

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.

 

Press Box View

Press Box View

 

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.

 

22 Comments

  1. Adam Allegro August 29, 2011 at 1:48 am #

    that first shot almost looks a little tilt-shifty,,, For that amount of cash you might be able to afford a new big screen for the end zone 🙂 Great post. Very interesting facts!

    • Phillip August 29, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

      Thank you Adam, I think (LOL).
      I can tell you for certain that this wasn’t taken with a tilt-shift lens. I’m just saying… If I had the money to spend on a tilt-shift lens, I probably wouldn’t be putting it on a D5000. Don’t misunderstand me. I love my D5000. It is the best camera that I have ever owned. However, it isn’t the D700 that I have dreamed about owning (LOL).
      Seriously it a little embarrassing to say but this was taken with a 0.35X Fish-eye adapter screwed on the end of my 18-55mm kit lens. I purchased it off of eBay for around $35. I’m sure that it was made in a fine high quality optical sweat shop in China, but I have several images hanging in my home that were taken with this little jewel. I usually adjust any distortion in Lightroom 3 but I liked the effect in this shot. One day I hope to be able to purchase a nice wide angle lens, but until then this is our secret so don’t tell anyone.

  2. Len Saltiel August 29, 2011 at 5:36 am #

    Excellent series of images. They certainly show your love for the “Old Gray Lady” Phillip. Well done.

    • Phillip August 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

      Thanks Len. She’s special because of the memories that have happened there. However, she 85 years old now and time has passed her by. And you know I’m alright with that. Sometimes it best to let life that its own course. The same can be said of this old stadium. If it stops being profitable, then let it go the same way as its upper deck.

  3. Rob August 29, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    You may have to try these same tactics again and capture this season’s games.

    • Phillip August 29, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

      I would love to do that again. What photographer wouldn’t give anything to be able to get on the sidelines of their favorite team during a season when they won the national championship! However, they were beginning to tighten the screws even then because of the number of request from the national media. Now, especially after 911, there isn’t any way somebody could pull that off. I’m sure football is huge in Minnesota too. However, it is a way of life down here we live it 365 days of the year.

  4. Marc August 29, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    Something eerie about an empty stadium. Great post and interesting reading

    • Phillip August 29, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

      Thanks Marc. I know what you mean. Still it can be somewhat interesting. You never think about all the people running around to get the place ready. Some cleaning other repairing, still others painting. And this is a small stadium compared to what it once was. It used to sell out 83,000 plus. Now I’d be surprised if it ever sold again.

  5. Edith Levy August 29, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    Great post Phillip and a great story. I love that first image.

    • Phillip August 29, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

      Thank you Edith I appreciate you dropping by!

  6. Kris Koeller August 30, 2011 at 7:03 am #

    A great writeup. Reminds me of when I visited the original Orange Bowl. There’s no use for it, but they can’t bring themselves to tear it down. Eerily empty and a strange relic.

    • Phillip August 30, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

      Thanks Kris. You are probably correct. They still use it but it is mostly small colleges and high school games. The do have a couple of dates where they will have a descent crowd. However, it will rarely if ever know the excitement of an major college game again. I say rarely because they do host a bowl game each year.

  7. deniseippolito August 31, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    I agree this is a nice series and story, thanks for sharing.

    • Phillip August 31, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

      Thank you Denise I appreciate it!

  8. Jimi Jones September 1, 2011 at 4:04 am #

    Wonderful shots, Phillip. I’ve seen many games played here (on TV). Been a huge football fan all of my life and there have been some classics in the place.

    Very nice post, man.

    • Phillip September 1, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

      Thanks Jimi. There were some great games played here. However, time changes, and you have to change with it or else it will pass you by. Bryant – Denny was built only a few years after Legion Field in 1929. However, you would never know it. The University finished their latest addition a year ago and it now seats just under 102,000.

  9. Kalyan September 3, 2011 at 7:34 am #

    lovely captures…nice shots!

  10. Scott Wood September 4, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    I enjoyed the images, but liked the write up even more. I love college football, and have many great memories of games from both before I was in college to well after.

    Go Cougs!

    • Phillip September 5, 2011 at 8:57 am #

      Thanks Scott. I’m the same way. RTR

  11. DaniLew September 11, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    One post – three great stories. I absolutely loved the one where your Dad took you to the games because you liked them.

    • Phillip September 12, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

      Thank you Danielle!

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