BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - So much for “The football capital of the South.”
Once proud to proclaim itself as the gridiron hub of an entire region, the city of Birmingham’s 77-year-old Legion Field is in such disrepair it’s no longer safe to use the 9,000-seat upper deck, which has structural problems. Its metal supports are dappled with peeling gray paint and rust.
With renovation or repair unlikely, the city and the University of Alabama on Thursday said they were ending their contract, meaning the Crimson Tide would no longer play any home games at the 81,000-seat stadium. The announcement marked the end of a long association between one of the South’s most storied football programs and the old field on Graymont Avenue.
“The Crimson Tide has played some of its greatest football at Legion Field, and Alabama fans will forever enjoy fond memories of those wonderful games,” athletic director Mal Moore said in a statement.
But none of those hold a candle to images of the stadium’s past: coach Paul “Bear” Bryant leaning on a goalpost during pregame warmups or Alabama vs. Tennessee on the third Saturday in October.
Alabama moved most of its big games to its on-campus stadium in Tuscaloosa years ago, but the university’s contract with the city called for a few smaller games to be played at Legion Field. The Tide was next scheduled to play in Birmingham in 2005, against Middle Tennessee State, and 2008 against Northern Illinois.
With the agreement to end the contract because of the stadium’s condition, all home games will be shifted to 83,818-seat Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. It will be the first time Alabama has played all its home games in Tuscaloosa since 1899.
“The city is pleased with Legion Field’s place in history and relishes the challenge of continuing to add to the storied ledger of this landmark,” said Melvin Miller, Birmingham’s parks director.
Alabama lost to Georgia 20-6 in the first game ever played at Legion Field on Nov. 19, 1927. Bryant became the winningest coach in college football at the stadium in 1981, when Alabama beat Auburn 28-17 for Bryant’s 315th victory, a mark that has since been passed.
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