Rediscovering The University of Alabama and Tuscaloosa after forty years

Paul W. Bryant Museum Courtyard

My connection to the University of Alabama runs deep. I was a student there from 1982-1984 before continuing my studies and graduating from Pepperdine University in California in December 1985. Those were the days of big hair and big cars, a nostalgic era I sometimes look back on.

I had not returned to the U of A for a long time since I left. While I did attend a football game on October 8, 2008, when the Tide played Kentucky, it was a very short trip. It was hot and loud, and the tailgate food was incredible! I did get my program signed by John Parker Wilson, Alabama’s then-QB.

As I strolled through the campus, I was struck by the monumental changes that have unfolded over the past four decades. The quaint fraternity and sorority houses of yesteryear have given way to majestic mansions, and the student population has swelled to a staggering forty thousand. The most recent sorority house, a testament to this growth, was built at a cost of over sixteen million dollars, a stark contrast to the modest houses of my era.

I was shocked to see all the new buildings. Some of the buildings where I went to class, and thankfully, the quad hadn’t changed much, except the trees were older and it had more shade. The strip had changed, too; there were no more ratty-looking bars; it was all new and overflowing with students. “Wine down Wednesday and Thirsty Thursday” beckoned. I remember the game crowd in 2008 but can only imagine what a game day is like now; the stadium holds over a hundred thousand.

Accommodations

Visit Tuscaloosa hosted my trip, and my accommodations were noteworthy. The Westgate Condominiums stand just outside Bryant-Denny Stadium. My single-bedroom unit was well appointed, with a balcony overlooking 8th Street, a high-end full kitchen, bath, and ample space. Only ten units were available to rent in the building. I am sure the unit’s rental price is in the thousands on game weekends. You can see a YouTube tour of the unit here. I happened to meet the sales agent for the complex in the elevator; she told me the units ranged from 900 thousand to 3.2 million for the penthouse units. There are eight penthouses in the building, and I did see one. It was impressive in size and décor. My little one-bedroom off-campus apartment on 3rd Avenue in 1983 pales in comparison.

Alamite Hotel is a boutique hotel in downtown Tuscaloosa. Former Alabama football coach Nick Saban invested in the upscale hotel, which features standard rooms and suites for visitors. Don’t be surprised if home games cost you a few extra dollars. It also features Forte, a sophisticated steakhouse.

Food and Tradition

Pro Stroke

Pro Stroke Tuscaloosa AL

This is the latest player to Ttown. It is akin to Top Golf but caters only to the mini-golf crowd. We played eighteen holes on a lovely Wednesday evening with beers in hand. Dinner was simple but tasty. This is a family-friendly place with many other games to entertain all ages. I was impressed with the design and their use of shipping containers to outfit the bar, kitchen, and even restrooms.

Rama Jama

Rama Jama Tuscaloosa AL

This small restaurant is a Tuscaloosa institution located next to Bryant Denny Stadium. It was one of the best burgers I have had in a while. I was told that the line is down the block on game day, and I now know why. It’s worth the wait.

Decades Pub and Grub

This downtown restaurant was a great stop on a Thursday night. Outside seating was available, preferable to the heavy bass music inside. The food and service were excellent. Try the flatbread pizza, it won’t disappoint.

Waysider Restaurant

Table at Waysider restruant Tuscaloosa AL
Bear’s table

This is where Coach Bear Bryant had breakfast regularly, and they still maintain his table. This is the quintessential southern breakfast place. Good, down-home cooking! Highly recommended.

History lessons

Tuscaloosa has a 3-day attraction pass for many of its museums. It is well worth looking into if you want to visit multiple attractions.

Paul W. Bryant Museum

I visited the museum in 2008, but on this visit, I was struck by the displays on the coaches through the years. There have been several great ones. It’s not a large museum, but learning about the history of the Crimson Tide is worth your time. You can see a quick YouTube video here.

Alabama Natural History Museum  

I joined the stream of students heading to class as I walked to the Natural History Museum in Smith Hall, which sits at the top of the Quad. Again, it’s not a large museum but well worth your time. I have always been fascinated with the rocks in Alabama and found two references to Sylacauga, one about the marble of the area and one about the meteorite that struck there.

Warner Transportation Museum

The museum is housed in a former bathhouse near the Black Warrior River. The uniqueness of the building drew me in. It served as the community pool from 1943 until the 1980s. It was vacant until 2005 when it was renovated and opened in 2011 as a history museum. Here, visitors will find an through excellent view of the history of Tuscaloosa and its contributions to the area.

Gorgas House

The home is located just at the top of the university’s Quad. The university’s oldest building was built in 1829 and survived the Civil War. It has served many uses throughout the year and features many original furnishings from the Gorgas family, who lived there until 1953.

Bryant Denny Stadium

Bryant Denny stadium in Tuscaloosa AL

This is the highlight of any campus visit. We started where the recruits began their journey to become Crimson Tide athletes. The stadium can now hold over one hundred thousand fans. The original stadium opened in 1929 and today is the tenth largest stadium in the world. Leading up the front of the stadium is the Walk of Champions, which carries the team inside for each home game. You can see a YouTube short here.

Surrounding the walk are statues of the great coaches Wade, Thomas Bryant, Stallings, and Sabin. I was lucky to tour the recruit, media, and locker rooms. We also walked through the tunnel to the field. It is massive! So many great athletes have played on that field. I have to say, it was pretty special to stand on the same podium where the coach and the team members would meet the media.  Roll Tide!

Charlene Scott behind the media room podium

Adapted Athletics

Toward the end of my tour of UofA, we toured the Adapted Athletics building. This was built for para-athletes and is the only one like it in the world. While I had seen para-athletes compete in the Paralympics, I had not considered it at the collegiate level. Alabama is leading the way in adapted sports. They have won eleven national titles in wheelchair basketball and seven in wheelchair tennis. Dr. Brent Hardin is the founder of the Adapted Athletics program. This facility is cutting-edge. You can see a YouTube short here.

Final thoughts

Tuscaloosa is a vibrant community that has grown tremendously since I attended the University. I was impressed with the diversity of things to do and restaurants. It is easy to navigate. Game weekends are crowded but exciting.

If you can visit or attend a football game, DO IT! It is something you won’t forget. As I drove off the campus, I could only imagine what it would become in another forty years. Bigger and brighter, I am sure. One thing is certain: I will always cheer for the Crimson Tide. ROLL TIDE ROLL If you’d like to learn more about places to visit in Alabama, please have a look at my blog, RRJ.

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