Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.57
Bryant-Denny Stadium 920 Paul W Bryant Drive Tuscaloosa, AL 35401
Year Opened: 1929
Roll Tide Roll
When considering elite college football programs, the University of Alabama is often one of the first that comes to mind. Historically Alabama has been one of the top draws in the college football landscape, and with good reason. Not only does their year-in-and-year-out success on the field give fans one of the most exciting teams in the nation, but all the pageantry surrounding fall Saturdays in Tuscaloosa perfectly complements the action inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Food & Beverage 4
When hosting over 100,000 fans each week, it takes a concerted focus to provide enough concession stands around the stadium to serve them quickly and keep concourses from becoming too congested. Despite their best efforts, lines here can get extremely backed up, especially in the upper levels on the east side of the stadium.
The north end of the upper deck is home to Bear’s Den concessions. which does not seem to have items significantly different than most other stands, but does pay homage to the legendary coach, with a massive houndstooth fedora affixed to the stand’s signage. Other specialty stands include the local Twelve-25 Bar, which features wings and chicken nachos, Papa Murphy’s Pizza, and World of Beer’s specialty of a giant German pretzel. However, the highlight of the concession stands here is Dreamland Bar-B-Que, which serves its legendary smoked pork on sandwiches and nachos.
Bryant-Denny Stadium serves Coca-Cola products and sells various domestic lite beers, seltzers, and canned pre-mixed cocktails; craft beers include Huntsville-based Yellowhammer Brewing’s Gold and IPA.
In all, the concessions here provide just enough to keep options interesting – there are enough options from iconic local establishments to make the concessions at Bryant-Denny Stadium slightly above average compared to most other stadiums.
Bryant-Denny Stadium has a long history as the home of Alabama Crimson Tide football. Like many historic stadiums, expansion has come in a bit of a jigsaw puzzle fashion – there are three to four distinct stadium designs that make up the full structure. As the stadium has grown, additions have been built around the original structure.
In a bit of a break from the norm in college football, rather than one massive scoreboard Alabama has gone with four more modestly sized videoboards in each of the stadium’s corners in the lower level. These are complemented by ribbon boards around the façade of the suites area, which are primarily used for advertisements. The end zones each have an additional ribbon board strip that primarily provides game stats.
Even though the Bryant-Denny Stadium experience is rather modern, the traditions that make college football special still play a prominent role. Pregame uses call and response cheers, as the head cheerleader implores fans on one side of the stadium to call “ALA” followed by the other side responding “BAMA” as the school mascot, Big Al, and the male cheerleaders storm the midfield logo, signaling the Million Dollar Band to take the field for their pregame performance.
This performance is highlighted by the precision of the band’s formation of Alabama’s script “A”, spelling out “BAMA” for both sides of the stadium, and possibly the most impressive part, the formation of an elephant that walks down the field, then tilts its head back to unleash a mighty trumpet. The Million Dollar Band puts on a show that is must-see entertainment.
Alabama football is steeped in history, but rather than simply holding on to traditions that so many hold dear, the Crimson Tide has done a wonderful job at using those traditions to complement a more modern game experience. The band still plays a prominent role in the game, but during breaks in the action on the field, the focus is on playing music over the loudspeakers, accompanied by interactive fan cams.
During the second half of the game, more emphasis is placed on familiar songs, to which the Bama faithful have added their creative lines. College football in the South is special in itself, but at Bryant-Denny Stadium it is one of the top college football experiences in the country.
Tuscaloosa is a great college town, to begin with, but when accounting for the proximity of the bars and restaurants to Bryant-Denny Stadium, it elevates the game day experience to elite status. For example, at the corner of Paul W. Bryant Drive and Wallace Wade Avenue is the popular breakfast joint, Rama Jama’s, with a breakfast that fans flock to. The best bet is to try for a game with a late kickoff, as the place is packed for games starting before noon.
On the north side of the stadium, University Boulevard, also known as “The Strip,” has a concentration of bars, restaurants, and apparel shops that are packed with Tide fans before and after the game. A secondary cluster of bars and restaurants is closer to Tuscaloosa’s downtown district near city hall – this location has a handful of hotels also, but there are more options at the junction of I-20 and I-359, which is about a 5-minute drive from downtown. As would be expected, these hotels fill up quickly and are expensive on game weekends.
The layout of the Alabama campus perfectly lends itself to making the day a top-notch experience. Most of the excitement of the pregame tailgating is concentrated near the south end of campus and is an easy walk to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
When a program has experienced both the historical and recent successes the Crimson Tide have, it is a given it will come with a passionate fan base and a massively large one at that.
College football fandom in the South is not just the surface rooting for a team week in and week out – being a fan of a college football program in the South is often generational, and carries the feeling that the season’s fortunes live and die on each snap of the ball. Throughout the game, Alabama fans are ready to respond to play on the field either by way of a “Roll Tide” yell following the public address announcement of a first down, or feverishly shaking crimson and white pom-poms following big plays.
One of the greatest current traditions in college football is the 4th quarter singing of “Dixieland Delight” by the band Alabama; the song had been retired for a bit due to fans adding a few questionable lines about Alabama’s in-state rival Auburn Tigers. Other popular sing-alongs and chants include “Sweet Home Alabama” interspersed with “Roll Tide Roll” during the song’s breaks, and Garth Brooks's “Friends in Low Places”.
Capping off home victories, the band plays a portion of “Rock and Roll Part 2” as fans belt out the school’s victory chant:
Hey (insert team name)
Ramma Jamma, Yellow Hammer
Give ‘em hell, Alabama
It is undeniable that Alabama fans more than do their part in creating one of the top college football experiences in the nation.
There are plenty of interstate roads that make getting to Tuscaloosa convenient for fans traveling from the east or west. Parking is spread out well enough around campus and the city that despite the massive crowds, getting in and out of Tuscaloosa does not have to be a test of patience, if you just give the crowds a little time to dissipate. Just like any major event, there will be backups, but the best bet is to find a bar or restaurant and give most of the traffic time to clear out after the game. Doing this will keep most traffic backups contained to the highways leading out of Tuscaloosa.
When packing more than 100,000 fans into a stadium, concourses get crowded, as expected. Some areas can get congested, but recent expansions to Bryant-Denny Stadium have seemingly considered wide walkways to help alleviate some of that congestion.
The stadium is a bit disjointed, with fans in the upper levels confined to those areas, without the ability to explore lower concourses. From a logistical standpoint, this does make sense, but for those who enjoy exploring a stadium, it is a bit of a disappointment.
Given the number of fans coming to Tuscaloosa for game day, the city and university do a good job managing the influx and trying to mitigate the impact it has in being able to get in and out of Tuscaloosa, as well as being able to navigate the stadium.
Return on Investment 4
With the high level of play and championships Alabama has seen comes a premium ticket price point. This is not to say that deals on tickets are not available – face value for typical non-conference games starts around $25, while matchups with conference foes begin at $80. Single-game tickets seem to be unavailable for marque games, as many of these tickets sell out almost as soon as they are put on sale, so planning for tickets is helpful.
The most reliable option is probably the secondary market. Depending on what you might be looking for, upper-level tickets against non-conference opponents can be had for under $10, before factoring in secondary market fees. On the flip side, tickets against Alabama’s biggest rivals come at a hefty price, starting in the hundreds of dollars.
Parking is relatively inexpensive; typical rates run $35 at campus lots at the outer perimeter, while private lots in closer proximity to the stadium start at $40 with a half-mile walk to the stadium. If a walk of just under a mile is not a deterrent, the City of Tuscaloosa also offers free parking in the city’s municipal deck at the corner of 7th Street and 23rd Avenue, and street parking is also permitted (just make sure to adhere to posted signage).
Concessions prices seem to be a touch high but are aligned with typical stadium food and beverage prices. It should not come as much surprise that Alabama football tickets can get expensive, but equally as surprising are the rock-bottom deals there are out there, for those who simply want to experience Alabama football.
The Walk of Champions recognizes the 18 national championship teams and 33 conference titles. Not only does this area outside the north end of the stadium recognize the litany of team accomplishments, but statues of the five coaches who have won national championships also flank the right side of the walk.
Fans in the lower level of the stadium have amazing access to the wide walkways that run behind the team benches on each side of the stadium. Fans also crowd along the fence to get an up-close vantage point of the field – these areas get crowded but are worth it if you can stand for extended periods.
The Million Dollar Band is a top-notch marching band that kicks off their performance with the “Elephant Stomp” on the steps of the Gorgas Library, on the north side of the quad, before making their way into the stadium for the pregame show.
The Paul “Bear” Bryant Museum, just a short walk down University Boulevard, honors Alabama players and coaches who have contributed to the historical success of the Crimson Tide. In addition, Bryant-Denny Stadium tours are available at 11 am Monday through Friday, except Fridays before game day. Tours are only offered for the first 35 to purchase tickets each day, though, so the tours can be a hot commodity.
While the primary draw to Alabama football certainly is the championship level of play, the overall experience is bolstered by everything associated with the game-day experience. From tailgating on the Quad to the pregame traditions and fan involvement throughout, you do not have to be an Alabama football fan to realize how special the Alabama Crimson Tide football experience is.