It is 2017 at last, which means football is back on the Southside, and #theReturn is on. The Blazers are getting ready to put a cap on a strong recruiting class,and are now heading into the offseason like every other program in the country.
UAB is set to open a brand new facility for the football program that will house a new locker room, weight room, coaches offices, dining room, study areas, and covered turf practice fields before they kick-off the season in September. Construction started in late August and workers have been hard at work to make sure they stay on schedule.
Money has been raised, commercials have been aired, and anything that you could put 2017 on has been sold. Some would say support for the football team is at an all-time high. With the brand new football operations center being opened in the fall, and no football stadium on campus, a casual fan might ask where are they gonna play the games? Well, we know the answer to that — historic Legion Field, or “The Ole Gray Lady” if you will. Opening in 1927, the very first event saw Howard College (now the Samford Bulldogs) play Birmingham Southern in which Howard won 9-0.
Historically known for the site of the Iron Bowl, which took place in Birmingham from 1948-1988, the stadium is also known for hosting concerts, Olympic Soccer games, the Magic City Classic, SEC Championships, and more.
Originally only seating 21,000 people, renovations and construction of an upper deck over time pushed the capacity to 83,091 in 1991. In 2005 the city removed the 9,000 seat upper deck and it currently holds 71,594. UAB has played its football games at Legion since 1991, and it is where the Blazers will play the 2017 season.
Rumors have swirled of the city of Birmingham renovating the BJCC downtown and building a football stadium where they would like the Blazers to play their home games. Nothing is set in stone, but one can only think with a program that is coming back from the dead, do they really want to continue to play in a stadium that was built in 1927? Time will tell if the Blazers get a new stadium, but in the meantime, here is what should happen to Legion Field.
Something that has been around this long has seen some memorable games and moments. The city could choose to preserve the stadium and it could become a landmark to all sports fans. Nowadays it is very common for something like this to be preserved and turned into a museum where fans can come and interact and learn things they might not of known. Local schools could take field trips and kids could get to walk on the turf. An interactive museum would be something college football fans from across the country could enjoy. A whole stadium as a museum would be a unique way for fans to learn not only about Legion Field, but the city of Birmingham as well.
For being so old, the field and stadium itself are in pretty good condition. It is obvious though that if UAB wants to continue to play its home games there, major improvements are needed. Improvement to the locker rooms, the tunnel the team runs out of, and adding more suites would prove vital if the Blazers were to stay at the Ole Gray Lady. The city of Birmingham did improve the video board and installed a new sound system in 2015. Another part of the upgrade would need to come on the outside of the stadium. Adding parking lots where fans could tailgate, and just making the outside of the stadium look more appealing to fans are necessary. Look at Regions Field for example, more people are likely to attend because it is a nicer, newer stadium even if they are not die-hard Barons fans. If UAB does plan to upgrade the stadium, somehow the city of Birmingham would need to create a transportation system from UAB’s campus to Legion Field.
Tear It Down
The most unlikely option, but one that needs to be thought of though, is to tear down Legion Field. If the city of Birmingham is really invested in building up downtown and going to build a brand new stadium for UAB to play and host other events, there really is no need for Legion Field anymore. Look at the city of Atlanta for instance. Turner Field and the Georgia Dome are relativity new, but the Braves and Falcons will be moving into newer stadiums this year. The Mercedes Benz Stadium will host the College Football Playoff National Championship, the men’s basketball Final Four, and the Super Bowl. That is a lot of money coming into the city of Atlanta in which the stadium is for an NFL team. Birmingham will never be able to compete with these other cities unless it makes serious upgrades to their sports venues.
With another college football season ending on Monday, another season will soon be starting again. UAB’s long two year wait without football is over, and they soon will be running out of the tunnel at historic Legion Field. The stadium has been an integral part not only in the history of the Blazers football program, but the city of Birmingham too. Legends have walked its sidelines, Bo went over the Top, the Ole Ball Coach won an SEC Championship Game, and it was Joe Webbs playground. For now, UAB will play all of its home games at Legion Field in 2017. After that, it has not been decided on if the Blazers will stay or move into a newer stadium. Something is going to happen, but until then, enjoy the Blazers at their historic home field.