Given its size and grandeur now, it's hard to remember when Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium was so unremarkable that the Crimson Tide didn't even play their biggest games in it.
Crimson everywhere. From the oversized crimson script “A” in the lobby to the crimson flags topping the stadium and even to the crimson tints, the scale and grandeur of Bryant-Denny Stadium remains relatively new for a venue born in 1929.
Alabama’s big home games were often taken away from Tuscaloosa in the Crimson Tide's past. Bryant-Denny Stadium didn’t have cache to host droves of fans donned in crimson. Even into the 1980s, Birmingham’s Legion Field hosted the most influential games for Alabama football. That all started to change, though, with a completely revamped Bryant-Denny Stadium for 1988, one that finally included an upper deck and all sorts of club space and amenities in what turned out to be a 70,000-plus seating configuration.
But 70,000 seats didn’t prove enough for the crimson-clad fans, as Alabama soon found out.
In the 1990s, Bryant-Denny started to grow again, jumping to over 83,000 in capacity, but credit much of the look, feel and gameday atmosphere of the 80-plus-year-old venue to the last decade, when the Crimson Tide saw expansions on the north and south end zones.
In 2006, the north end zone expansion finally gave Bryant-Denny a front door to University Boulevard worthy of such a large venue in a town of Tuscaloosa’s size (On gamedays the stadium holds more people than live in Tuscaloosa). This new front door came with a front yard, one with a champions’ plaza full of plaques and statues of coaches, all saluting Alabama’s powerful football past.
With a new modern design, an elevated entry and a two-story lobby for suite and club patrons, the front door to Bryant-Denny serves as the backdrop to the team’s Walk of Champions, a tradition that allows fans to line the revamped area while the Crimson Tide march into the building. Once the team enters Bryant-Denny, they bring with them the fans who have spent the day tailgating in the Quad inside the building.
Not to let the north have all the fun, the 2010 south end zone expansion, done in a more traditional design heavy on columns in a Georgian colonial style, boosted the stadium's official capacity to 101,821 by adding a new upper deck, concourse, restrooms, skyboxes, club space, offices and even a ground-level outdoor market.
With all of the recent expansion and attention paid to Bryant-Denny -- of the seven expansions in stadium history, four have occurred since 1988 -- it is easy to forget that the now double-decker bowl wasn’t always so prestigious.
Located on the southwestern edge of campus, what was originally called Denny Stadium opened with 12,000 seats. The stadium was no larger than 31,000 seats well into the 1950s, which is why the Crimson Tide's biggest contests were sent to Legion Field in nearby Birmingham. By the late 1960s, Denny Stadium had grown to 60,000 seats. The venue took on the Bryant-Denny name in 1975, and after the entire 1987 season was played in Birmingham, Bryant-Denny Stadium finally had some Tuscaloosa staying power by its 1988 renovation.
From 1900 until 2003, Alabama played at least one home game at Legion Field. Now all the crimson stays in Bryant-Denny Stadium, a venue coming into its own nearly a century beyond its birth.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.