A feature on ESPN’s website recently highlighted the top eight college football stadium oddities, and Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa was right at the top of the list.
“Sift through the histories of some of the country’s favorite college football stadiums, and you’ll find everything from a press box that doubles as a bat sanctuary to a former players’ dorm that now houses the country’s largest collection of human skeletons,” wrote ESPN staffer David M. Hale.
So what makes the University of Alabama stadium so unique? When the Alabama Crimson Tide face off against Middle Tennessee State on September 12, more than 100,000 fans will walk past the gates of Evergreen Cemetery on their way into the stadium. Located directly across the street, Evergreen Cemetery dates back to the 1830s, and it’s been complicating construction and renovations to the stadium since 1929, when the Tide’s home was first built.
Eugene Allen Smith, who helped create the football team, was laid to rest there. So was “Tide superfan” Rufus Strickland; according to urban legend, Strickland actually bought the plot closest to the stadium in order to be closer to his team. There are about 2.4 million funerals in the U.S. each year, but only a handful of Alabama residents will be laid to rest in the shadow of the beloved stadium in the years to come. Only fans with an existing family plot can be buried there today.
Because of its location, the cemetery is considered to be incredibly valuable real estate; however, as a still-active burial site, it’s hallowed ground. But so is the stadium itself, which is at the heart of campus life both literally and spiritually.
“It seems strange having a place of death located so close to all that life and activity and sports,” said University of Alabama professor Ian Brown. “But it is a part of our lives.”