Photos by Lloyd Brown and Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
Legion Field 400 Graymont Ave W Birmingham, AL 35204
Year Opened: 1927
UAB’s Blazers are Back and on Fire
One of the icons of college football has gone from being The Football Capital of the World to being known as “The Old Gray Lady” due to its location on Graymont Avenue in Birmingham, Alabama. Legion Field opened in 1927, and recently celebrated its 90th birthday, but the last few years have been difficult ones for the stadium that hosted the fabled “Iron Bowl” between Auburn and Alabama for more than 40 years. The stadium also served as the alternate stadium for University of Alabama until 2003 when Bryant Denny Stadium was enlarged. The once proud upper deck of the east stands had to be torn down in 2005 due to structural issues, reducing the massive stadium’s capacity from 83,091 to 71,594.
The demise of the stadium can be tied to many factors. The loss of several marquee games led to large losses of attendance. In addition, the City of Birmingham, which owns the stadium, went through bankruptcy and deferred needed maintenance for several years. The neighborhood surrounding the stadium has also gone through tough economic times. Finally, the 90-year-old structure does not offer many of the frills found at most any on-campus stadium around the country.
Ironically, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers, at least temporarily, may be the savior of Legion Field. They have returned from a two year hiatus and are the main tenants of the stadium in the fall. The team has had some very successful seasons since the return of the program and the Blazers have breathed new life into the old stadium.
Food & Beverage 2
There are six permanent concession stands still operating at Blazers games. They serve the basic stadium fare of BBQ sandwiches ($7), hot dogs ($3.75), nachos ($5), sausages ($7), popcorn ($5) and roasted peanuts ($3.50). Coca-Cola brand beverages cost $4 while bottled water is $3.50. Beer can be sold at Legion Field as it is not a campus facility. Budweiser brands are available for $8. The drinking age is 21 years old in Alabama and it is strictly enforced.
We suggest that you check out one of the many food trucks at the Blazer Village for a wider selection of foods at very reasonable prices.
The atmosphere of dread that preceded the UAB shutdown, has made a major turn to one of optimism by the city, the university and its fans. The city of Birmingham has shown its support by adding a new and much larger video board in the end zone, replacing a scoreboard dating back to the 1996 Olympics. It has also begun working on some deferred maintenance backlogs on the infrastructure of the stadium. The University of Alabama at Birmingham has recommitted itself to the football program by building a $22 million Football Operations Center and an indoor practice field.
The student body has shown its support by working with the school in creating a great game day experience for the fans. This includes the organization of a Blazer Village pregame area on site and the addition of the Blazers Walk, welcoming the team on arrival at Legion Field with the Blazers marching band, cheerleaders and student forming a cordon for the team to pass through before the game. Two new additions to the pregame festivities are a Food Truck Rally featuring 10 different choices each game and Tailgate Wars, a competition based on a combination of the best decorated table, best food, creativity of games and largest group amongst all tailgaters.
These actions have made a major difference in improving the game day atmosphere. Still much is left to be done to bring Legion Field back into competitiveness with many of its peers around the country. Though it boasts more than 71,000 seats, most of these are of the aluminum bench variety, and tarps cover more than 30,000 of these seats. The need for club seating is a necessity to bring major donors back into the stadium. The suites at Legion Field offer very few amenities other than a roof, air conditioning and a refrigerator. Lighting at the stadium is antiquated and the parking lot surrounding the stadium is unpaved gravel. These capital improvements will not come overnight, but the various parties involved seem to be willing to discuss the shared costs of these improvements.
Legion Field is in the Smithfield neighborhood. Unfortunately, the area has been in serious decline in recent years. Many homes are boarded up and there are very few restaurants in the area. Talks are underway to redevelop the area.
Downtown Birmingham is less than two miles from the stadium and has lots to offer. Regions Field is home to the Birmingham Barons minor league baseball team and is less than 5 years old. Nearby is the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, which is certainly worth the visit. On the food front, Dreamland BBQ is a legend in Alabama and the Highlands Bar and Grill in the 5 Points section of town is highly rated.
Very simply, UAB football would not have returned, or once again be playing the games at Legion Field without the Blazer fans. From the beginning they protested the closure of the program, questioned the financial picture painted by the Board of Trustees and showed their support for the program through fundraising drives and the enlistment of several members of the Birmingham business community to form a committee to bring football back to UAB.
In the end, these efforts paid off, and the Blazers could not ask for a more loyal fan base. In the first year back from the hiatus, the Blazer team stunned everyone by going 6-0 in home games at Legion Field. The UAB fans reacted by bringing in an average of 43,000 persons a game and leading Conference USA in attendance in 2017, with the next closest competitor more than 6,000 fans behind
Access to Legion Field is somewhat limited as it is located within a residential neighborhood. You can reach the stadium from both exit 260 B from I-65 north or via exit 260 from I-65 south. However, both exits force a rather circuitous route to the stadium. Upon arrival you will find very limited parking with a gravel lot serving only season ticket holders. We strongly urge fans going to the games to take a free shuttle from the UAB campus. Park for free in Parking lot 4 of the UAB campus and meet the shuttles at the bus awning. Busses run continuously from four hours prior to the game until one hour after the game. (Detailed info is available at www.uabsports.com.)
Due to its age, Legion Field is not the most ADA compliant facility you will encounter. Fans with disabilities should call the UAB athletic department prior to the game to set up assistance. Wheelchair seating is on a raised platform on the field which is served by ramps. ADA parking is in the lot at the south end of Legion Field. Even persons without disabilities may have difficulty negotiating the steep ramps and steps of the stadium.
Restrooms and concession stands are receiving upgrades and should be much more accessible for the upcoming season.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets for UAB Blazer games come at two price levels. Tickets between the 40 yard lines are priced at $30 and all other seats are available at $20. Seats are aluminum benches, so either bring your seat cushion with you or be prepared to pay $10 for a seat back that can be attached to your bench. The concessions are limited, but quite inexpensive. Parking prices run the gamut from parking in neighborhood yards for $5 to reserved spaces in the gravel lot adjacent to the stadium for $8. The free shuttles from the UAB campus are the most cost-efficient and safest method of getting to and from the stadium.
Several other colleges play special games in Legion Field on an annual basis. The Magic City Classic Pits Alabama A&M against Alabama State, the Steel City Classic features Miles College against Stillman College and the Birmingham Bowl is a post-season game pitting an SEC team versus a Conference USA opponent.
The first football member of the UAB Sports Hall of Fame is Roddy White, a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons from 2005-2015.
The largest crowd ever in Legion Field was 83,810 for a preliminary match during the 1996 Olympics that featured the USA men’s team.
Among the musical artists that have held concerts at Legion Field are U2, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones.
UAB has already begun fundraising efforts to build a smaller 30,000 seat stadium closer to its downtown Birmingham campus.
Though the “Old Gray Lady” is showing her age… the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the city of Birmingham are working together to make her last years as productive as possible.