LSU-Bama Preview: Bama's "New" Stadium
Bryant-Denny, before the end zones
Bryant-Denny, before the end zones
Posted Oct 31, 2011

CFN's Jon Berke takes a look at Bryant-Denny... From humble beginnings to one of the most impressive stadiums in North America.

By Jon Berke

On September 18, 1929, Alabama beat the Mississippi College Choctaws 55-0. This unremarkable game was played in front of an unremarkable crowd of 6,000, by a relatively unremarkable Crimson Tide team that would go 6-3 for the second year in a row. The venue in which the game was played, though, would turn out to be anything but unremarkable.

That game marked the opening of Denny Stadium - now Bryant-Denny Stadium - a field that has been the home of the Crimson Tide for more than 80 years, and one of the toughest places to play in all of college football.

Alabama began life as a football entity without a consistent home stadium. During the first three decades of its existence, the Crimson Tide found itself playing ‘home' games in a number of sites in Birmingham, and the Quad on-campus in Tuscaloosa (as well as an occasional trip to Montgomery or Mobile).

This held true even after Alabama moved to Denny Field (initially called University Field). The venue was usable, but did not offer the platform athletic director George Denny imagined for his football program, which he desired to be known as a national spectacle (as shown by his willingness to take out Crimson Tide football ads in New York City). Denny anticipated needing far greater capacity for the crowds "to come".

This led first to his engineering Alabama's partial residency at Legion Field. It also led to the construction of Denny Stadium (you may recognize a pattern in the naming convention), which seated a mere 12,000 when it first opened.

However, Denny Stadium was designed to be able to grow in stature side-by-side with the Crimson Tide program, and so it was expandable. Fittingly, as Alabama has won conference championships and national titles, its home in Tuscaloosa has gone through numerous refits, updates, and additions.

By 1966, 60,000 rabid fans could cram into its single-deck confines. 1976 saw the re-dedication of the stadium to better honor Alabama's famed coach Bear Bryant, incorporating his name into the stadium's new title of Bryant-Denny. In 1988, an upper deck was added to allow further capacity. That second tier has been expanded a further three times (including the most recent south end zone construction which ended in time for the 2010 season), to bring Bryant-Denny's capacity up to a massive 101,821 - a far cry from the initial 12,000 upon the stadium's opening.

George Denny's vision of a monolithic stadium to house his team of great national prominence was realized piece-by-piece over decades, and the current Bryant-Denny stadium fulfills much of that desire. As of 2004, it has allowed Alabama to fully move out of Legion Field (a classic stadium in its own right, but one badly in need of repair), and further embrace its home city of Tuscaloosa.

The current incarnation of Bryant-Denny is one of college football's most intimidating home stadiums. The experience begins with the Walk of Champions, as Alabama's players file along a pathway ringed by statues of the Crimson Tide's five national champion-winning coaches. Rumors abound that current coach Nick Saban's statue is nearly indistinguishable from Saban himself - right down to the steel that makes up his insides. Following that comes the Elephant Stomp in The Quad, during which Alabama's Million-Dollar Band plays a brief pep rally, before marching into the stadium.

The giant structure itself now has a full two-tier design: a continuous lower bowl that crowds right up against the end zones extends on the east and west into large upper rims above. Those rims do not run all the way around the stadium, going approximately from goal line to goal line. Behind the north and south ends of the stadium, directly behind the two end zones, are the most recent stadium additions - giant bleacher expansions known as the Zones which constitute the highest points of the structure itself - notwithstanding the national title flags that flutter above it all. Add in four state-of-the-art video boards and more than 150 luxury skyboxes, and it all combines to make up an extraordinary home for one of college football's most storied franchises.

When the Alabama Crimson Tide and Louisiana State Tigers clash November 5th, they will do so in a venue that has grown from humble beginnings into a worthy amphitheater for the most anticipated game of the season.

Follow Jon on Twitter @jonbcfn

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