2017 UAB Blazers: The new ‘America’s team’

Inside Legacy Pavilion at UAB.

Inside Legacy Pavilion at UAB. (Chadd Scott/Gridiron Now)

If you’ve ever been bullied. If you’ve ever had something taken from you. If you’ve ever only realized how much you loved something after you lost it. If you’ve ever continued fighting after hope had been lost. If you’ve ever made the most of a second chance. If you’ve ever been the victim of a conspiracy theory that actually was true.

If you’ve ever experienced even one of these most American of situations, then you should be rooting for the UAB Blazers in 2017. You should be rooting for the UAB Blazers because they’ve experienced all of them in the past two years.

UAB had its football program killed after the 2014 season. The crime was orchestrated by powerful forces in that state tied to the University of Alabama’s Tuscaloosa campus, which never believed it had the right to exist in the first place.

They had been waiting 20 years to pull off the robbery, finally acquiring a willing accomplice in UAB president Ray Watts. A series of justifications more palatable than paying off a long-held grudge were carefully constructed to color the decision as a mercy-killing.

On December 2, 2014, UAB football was dealt its death blow, with Watts telling the team it was no longer wanted days after qualifying for its first bowl appearance in more than a decade. The decision was callous. The decision was calculated. But the decision had the exact opposite effect it was intended to.

A funny thing happened when Watts, emboldened by his puppet-masters inside the University of Alabama system, announced the decision to kill UAB football.

A long-dormant fan base found a powerful voice it never had used before. Their voice was aided by thousands of others unconnected to UAB who were outraged. The entire city of Birmingham, on the cusp of a true revival, stood together to defend the “home” team in a strength it never had come close to mustering previously.

A movement formed, a movement neither Watts nor his backers could squash.

On June 1, 2015, it was announced that UAB’s football program would return. Tireless work by benefactors big and small in the face of overwhelming odds – not to mention the promise of millions of dollars from both private and public supporters to resuscitate the team – had set the heart of UAB football beating again.

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