Sports

April 14, 2011

Why I’ll Miss Legion Field

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Written by: Tyler Cantrell
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The New England Patriots hosted the New York Jets at Legion Field in 1968.

When most UAB fans are asked about Legion Field, you can physically see their body language change. It has reached a point that the Old Gray Lady is hindering the program on a constant basis. UAB is constantly mentioned in national media reports about “lack of atmosphere” or “horrible facilities.” If an article is written about either subject, you can bet the Blazers are going to get mentioned. It amazes me that nobody has taken the time to research or mention the Blazer’s recently renovated weight room and training room that strength coach Steve “Murder” Martin has at his disposal everyday. The improvements made to those facilities were life giving to the program, but somehow remain one of college football’s best kept secrets. That topic is for another column as the real sour note for Blazer fans is Legion Field.

Legion Field was first opened in 1927, and 400 Graymont Ave was on its way to being one of the South’s best showcases for college football. The stadium would be added upon multiple times and eventually seat over 83,000 fans. Over the years, the stadium has hosted many large scale events such as the Iron Bowl, SEC Championship game, Olympic soccer, Magic City Classic, SWAC Title game, the high school Super Six, numerous post season bowl games, and several professional football teams.

More than just athletic events have been held at the stadium-concerts have always been a part of the venue’s use. Legendary artists such as The Rolling Stones, Living Color, Counting Crows, Pink Floyd, and U2 have all been brought to Birmingham to perform in the stadium. In one of the biggest events in Birmingham’s history, Billy Graham came to preach at Legion Field. It wasn’t just any service, not even for Billy Graham. You see, Graham came to Birmingham and preached to an integrated crowd at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama on Easter Sunday in 1964. One of the first things to shine Birmingham in a positive way during the Civil Rights Movement throughout the nation happened at Legion Field.

UAB football came into existence in the early 1990’s and became Legion Field’s newest tenant. By this time, Legion Field had fallen onto hard times despite the illustrious past of the stadium. Over the next two decades as the Blazer football program grew up, its home stadium continued a downward spiral. Many events would leave. The Iron Bowl, professional teams, SEC Championship, and even the Super Six vacated the facility. The only permanent tenant that remained was the Blazers. Even though the upper deck had been demolished, the stadium remained way too large for UAB to have hope of filling the stadium, leaving an atmosphere at games that is less than what Blazer fans crave. The area around the stadium has suffered along with the stadium, and now the game day experience inside and outside the stadium is far different from the glory days that 400 Graymont Avenue had once had. It doesn’t help the feelings of UAB fans when local media members describe Legion Field as a dump when the Blazers are playing in the stadium, yet when the BBVA Compass Bowl comes to town with an SEC team in tow, it is rebranded “Historic Legion Field.”

Blazer fans have a lot of reasons to be excited about the potential of a new on campus stadium on the Southside; it would dramatically change the atmosphere of Blazer games and I am looking forward to the day the stadium becomes reality, as most Blazer fans are. I know UAB fans will be happy to leave the Old Gray Lady behind for a shiny new stadium that better fits the team’s needs on campus. But recently, I’ve heard comments from some Blazer fans, and Birmingham people in general, that they will celebrate the day that Legion Field is tore down. I myself cannot share that thought.

The day that Legion Field will face the wrecking ball and go the way of the dinosaur will surely come in the foreseeable future. The costs to repair the stadium to its former glory would be astronomical, especially without a permanent tenant. But I cannot look forward to that day. I have had many firsts at Legion Field, like my first college football game, attending the Olympics, and becoming a UAB fanatic. And no matter how great an on campus stadium might be, I will always have visions of Roddy White, Darrell Hackney, and Joe Webb in Legion Field. I’ll never forget Hiram Atwater bringing back an interception for a touchdown for the Blazer’s first win over Southern Miss, or the hail mary catch Jackie Williams made in Bryan Ellis’s coming out party last year against Troy. So memories will remain at the old stadium.

The main reason I can never look forward to the day that UAB plays their final game at Legion, or when the stadium may be brought down is something much more precious to me than football. My first year as a student at UAB I had attended the first annual “Battle of the Bones” against Memphis. It wasn’t my first time to watch the Blazers, not even close. But it was the first (and last) time my grandfather came with me to cheer on the Blazers. Despite remarkably good health for a man in his late 80’s, coming out to the games and going down those stadium steps were a task for him. But he wanted to come, and we watched the Blazers win the Bones trophy. During the game, we talked about when he lived in Birmingham and what the city used to be and what it could be again. He told me it had been thirty years since he attended a game there, but the first game he ever attended was a Howard College (now Samford) game. It is my greatest memory as a Blazer to have my father figure come with me to the watch my beloved Blazers.

My grandfather attended only one game with me at Legion Field, yet every time I walk through the gates, I find myself looking at where we sat, and I can feel a connection with him as he had attended so many things at the stadium. My mother still talks about him bringing the family to see Billy Graham when she was a child. Even when I was covering practice for BlazerTV.com this spring in a nearly empty stadium, I could feel a special connection to him when I was there. I realize that an on campus stadium is vital to the future of the UAB football program. This is in no way an argument to stay at Legion Field, just one to say I appreciate what the stadium has allowed our Blazers to do and the city of Birmingham as well. I will never be more proud to be a Blazer fan than when we open our new stadium; it will be a wonderful day, but I must admit that part of me will stay at 400 Graymont Avenue sitting with my grandfather at his last football game. So you can’t expect me to be happy when the stadium goes down someday, as it reconnected a city long ago on an Easter Sunday, and it reconnects me with my grandfather every time I walk in. For me, it will be missed. But if she has to go (and she does), we might as well send her out with a CUSA Title game. It would be the one last memory of Legion Field that I could keep.

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About the Author

Tyler Cantrell
Tyler is an executive producer and reporter for BlazerTV.com. He is highly involved in the creation and production of the site's various shows. He is also the primary football reporter for BlazerTV.com and has been featured on various other media outlets (including print and radio) for his expertise. He graduated from the UAB School of Education in 2009 and is currently working on his masters degree at UAB.




  • Smaug

    The day the old grey broad breaths her last will be a bittersweet day for me, as well, and for many of the same reasons. I played on that field in high school, and it was a pretty special experience. It was the old brillo pad rug before they put grass down for the Olympics.

    I look forward to the day when old Blazer fans can chuckle about those Legion Field days.

  • Anonymous

    As a new Blazer fan and not having experienced the history that you guys have, I will not be sorry if I never have to go to Legion Field again. To a newcomer like me the place seems rundown and in a very unsafe area. Not to mention the cost to park and the memorial to Bear Bryant, it all makes me feel like an outsider when technically it should feel like a home game. Basically it feels like every "home" game we play at that field is on neutral ground and I cannot wait to have an on campus stadium packed with fans that truly feels like home.

  • AshleyCantrell

    I didn't realize U2 played there. Or that Billy Graham preached there. You brought up some really good points. Great article.

  • Candy_cantrell

    This is a fantastic article. I have many wonderful memories at legion field too. Dad did take me to see Billy Graham at Legion Field. Dad loved that day with you and Colton. Again, great job son.

  • mdv483

    My first reaction when seeing the title of this article, I thought "who would miss Legion Field?" Points you made did make me kind of understand, but it really didn't hit home until last week, when the town I grew up in was basically wiped off the map. The high school was aged and we (high school students,at the time) always joked about how they needed to just tear it down and build a new one. The tornado completely destroyed it, especially the band room where I spent hundreds of hours, and it will all have to be rebuilt. A friend's house, that I spent many nights at, was totally destroyed and even trapped my friend's mom for over an hour. The church I attended was completely destroyed and had people die just a few hundred feet from the church. All those buildings, while they were old, hold so many memories for me and it's hard to imagine what it's going to be like without those being there. Even if they build a structure exactly the same on the same spot, it's still not going to be the same. Now, I'm starting to see that with Legion Field. Legion has so much history, and so far, all of UAB football history. While we will move into a newer, more technologically advanced stadium, it's just not going to be the same. I now see that the day Legion Field is demolished, it will indeed be a sad day.

    • http://www.blazertv.com James Thrasher

      @66a972279006d984f6f190abeb2bf962:disqus Glad to know that you're okay, and sorry to hear that so much of your hometown was devastated. While things won't be the same, you do still have the memories of all those old places.

  • Penny N

    yep yep i must agree… this is where i went to my first college football game and watched my beloved blazers play…it will be sadly missed by those who have special memories there… when this comes to pass the old gray lady will be sorely missed. So many people in bama are huge SEC fans but I will take the BLAZERS any day over bama or auburn… GOOOOOOO BLAZERS!!!!!!!

  • BAMANBLAZERFAN

    As a child, I saw Harry Gilmer (#52) throw his famous "jump pass" there. As a teen, I saw Bart Starr (#10) play for Alabama during a time when Bama was enduring a 20 game losing streak over 3 seasons. As a college student, I saw the early Paul Bryant teams begin to build back the Crimson Tide to a football power to be reckoned with including the 1961 National Championship. In 1972, I witnessed the "Punt, Bama, Punt" game which featured exWoodlawn teammates Greg Gantt & David Langner as foes. 

    In that year I received my MA from UAB when there was talk of one day beginning an intercollegiate sports program, adopting a school "mascot" name and colors when UAB got enough students and campus. My dad, brother and I attended BB games at the BJCC then the early club FB games to watch former WEHS student Barry Bearden as one of the first team QBs. I have been a blazer fan eversince.

    Now I am looking forward to this new edition of a full-strength UAB team in each major Men's sport and new glory being won on the field and on the court. Our best years are still to be lived and seen.

  • Tulane_1998

    I’m not a blazer fan, but I am a tulane can. It’s sad to read this. We had our stadium ( tulane stadium ) get demolished for the superdome :/. I remember when I was really young in 1998 we went to UAB at legion field and we spanked y’all on our undefeated season, but there was something about that place. I then went in 2004 for the tulane vs UAB and y’all won. It’s a big stadium. A shame to have demolished. It’s a part of the south, it’s made a mark. It’s a shame. Why can’t other schools step in and do something. Auburn and Hama should still play the iron bowl there. Nobody cares about tradition anymore. I hope UAB gets better soon, but for me roll wave!