Win or Lose, UAB – College Football’s Biggest Winner

Lyn Scarbrough

October 04, 2021 at 1:43 pm.

There were plenty of big winners in college football this past weekend.

Alabama and Georgia made impressive statements about their No. 1 and No. 2 national rankings.

Cincinnati, the Bearcats from the American Athletic, won its first regular season game ever over a Top 10 team – Notre Dame in South Bend, no less – strengthening its case for CFP Final Four consideration.

Kentucky staked claim as Georgia’s biggest SEC Eastern Division threat by beating Florida at home.

Auburn, its only loss a one-score margin in the annual “White Out” game at No. 4 Penn State, beat LSU in Tiger Stadium for the first time in 22 seasons, setting up a big match-up with Georgia this coming Saturday.

Iowa and Penn State both won, setting up that Big Ten headliner for Saturday. Undefeated Michigan and Michigan State won, too. So did Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. And, don’t forget Stanford.

There were a lot of big winners.

But, the biggest winner of the weekend actually lost its game. That was UAB.

The UAB Blazers, head coach Bill Clark, the city of Birmingham, Alabama – They were the biggest winners.

UAB lost its game to Liberty. Malik Willis – the multi-talented, future first-round NFL Draft pick and former Auburn quarterback – led the Flames to a 36-12 win on Saturday evening. But considering the battle that UAB had already fought and won, the outcome of this game really didn’t matter.

It was the fact that the game was being played at all … and where the game was being played.

Protective Stadium. The new home of UAB Blazer football, built in downtown Birmingham.

Many people, probably most, thought it would never happen. There was a point when you would have considered me among that group.

You could say that Saturday’s game was the culmination of a miracle and in a sense it was. But, that doesn’t give credit to what caused this to happen – hard work, determination, patience, perseverance. So many adjectives could apply.

There will be more games that UAB will lose at Protective Stadium, but I strongly suspect it will win a lot more there than it loses. Expect championships to be won there because that is the legacy that Bill Clark, his staff and players have already established in such a short time.

This is one of the greatest, and most improbable, story lines in college football history.

For those who may not remember …

UAB football was dead. There were no players. No games. No plan. No pulse.

Attendance had been inconsistent. Significant wins had been few. Support from those with the final say-so had been virtually non-existent.

There were influential people who preferred for UAB football to be dead. Those people administered what was supposed to be the fatal dose of cyanide to the program after the 2014 season, ironically a season in which the Blazers qualified for a postseason bowl game.

Of course, that game didn’t happen. The death-wish folks had apparently won the war.

But, UAB had a couple of things that hadn’t been taken into account – a small, but extremely loyal and dedicated fan base, and Bill Clark, the head man who didn’t even have a team to coach, but stayed on Birmingham’s south side anyway.

By mid-2015 the outcry from Blazer fans and from some in the Birmingham business community, and the fact that over $27 million had been raised to support the program, caused the decision to be reversed. The program would be reinstated, even though there wasn’t a roster and there wasn’t a future schedule.

Blazer football was reborn for the 2017 season and home games would still be played at Legion Field.

That first season back, UAB won a program-record seven games and played in the Bahamas Bowl. In the second season (2018), the Blazers won the Conference-USA championship, its first ever league title, and defeated Northern Illinois, 37-13, for its first postseason bowl victory.

UAB claimed the C-USA West Division title in 2019 and 2020, and won its second conference championship in 2020.

Since the UAB program was brought back, the team, under Clark’s leadership, has a 37-18 overall record, with a gaudy 23-6 mark in C-USA games.

And, Clark was recipient of the 2018 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award after the 2018 season.

Think about that for a minute … the national Coach of the Year – Bill Clark of the UAB Blazers, a team that just two seasons earlier didn’t even exist.

Not bad for a program that a lot of folks wanted dead.

Clark talked with me after spring practice concluded in April for a feature in Lindy’s 2021 college football editions. He expressed excitement and appreciation for the upcoming season and the new stadium.

“Things have exceeded our expectations,” he told me, looking back over how the UAB program has developed. “In our wildest dreams, where we are now is where we would have been. It took a lot of hard work and a lot of people believing. No doubt we have been blessed.”

He had thought about the first time that he would lead his team out of the locker room onto the field at Protective Stadium – something that happened this past Saturday night.

“I get chills just thinking about it,” he said in the spring. “That will be the culmination of so many things. When our program came back, first we just wanted to compete, but look at where the program is now. The new stadium symbolizes the good things about where we are.”

Protective Life Corporation traces its roots to the founding of its parent company in Birmingham in 1907. The company wanted to be involved in what was happening with UAB football.

Scott Adams is a man with a long title at Protective Life – Executive Vice President, Corporate Responsibility, Strategy and Innovation. He expressed the company’s thoughts to Lindy’s.

“When the Blazers run onto the field for the first time, I believe that we (Protective Life) will all feel a sense of pride knowing that we played a role in making this vision a reality,” he said.  “We are proud that UAB is playing its home games at Protective Stadium and we look forward to welcoming the team and Blazer fans to the stadium this fall.”

That happened this past Saturday night, too.

An announced crowd of 37,167 fans attended the inaugural game on Saturday evening. Unfortunately for Blazer fans, they didn’t see a UAB victory. They did see a quarterback who could be the first chosen in the NFL Draft in early 2022.

But, more significantly, they saw college football history being made. They saw a program which had been executed validate its resurrection. They watched a revived team playing at the new home for Blazer football, something that just wasn’t supposed to happen.

On a Saturday with a lot of big winners, they got to see the college football weekend’s biggest winner, the UAB Blazers.