TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama's tradition has always been overwhelming. Now the program has a stadium to match.
Construction workers are putting the finishing touches on a two-year project that added 81 skyboxes and a 10,000-seat upper deck to the east side of Bryant-Denny Stadium at the cost of about $35 million.
The stadium will be ready Sept. 5, when the Crimson Tide plays Brigham Young.
The addition gives the stadium -- named after Bear Bryant and late school president George Denny -- 83,817 seats, raising capacity by a total of about 13,000.
It obscures what was left of the scenic view of the campus, but in doing so, it finally gives the Crimson Tide a campus facility that could rival Jordan-Hare at Auburn and the handful of other loud, large stadiums in the Southeastern Conference.
"The view has changed," said Tommy Ford, the director of Tide Pride, Alabama's annual fund program. "But it's going to be made up for by the sound of the fans and the enthusiasm that the new seats will bring."
A 24-seat skybox costs $35,000 per season -- that's before the cost of tickets. A 16-seater is $25,000.
The stadium now looks like a giant bowl with a huge overhang on the east side to go with the one put up a decade ago, when upper-level seating was constructed on the west side. In the next month, a giant scoreboard with a replay screen will go up on the south end. It's expected to be nearly as wide as the end zone.
The improvements are the finishing pieces to a series of expansions on the 70-year-old stadium that will likely result in the end of the longtime Alabama tradition of playing part of its home schedule at Birmingham's aging Legion Field.
Alabama's contract at Legion Field expires after the 2001 season and the on-campus stadium appears more than ready to take over as the Tide's full-time home.
"The argument that Birmingham can be more profitable, or a better overall deal for us, is dead," Ford said. "There are some people who feel we should always play at least one game in Birmingham because there's a good alumni base there. But the consensus of people we've talked to shows that even the people in Birmingham want to come to Tuscaloosa."
Alabama investigated the skybox issue before the first blueprint was drawn. The school quickly realized it would sell out without a problem. Originally, Alabama planned to build 44 skyboxes, but the plans changed to nearly double the number. Eighty-one skyboxes were built and they sold out days after brochures went in the mail.
A waiting list with another 40 people has been started. People who had been part of Tide Pride for as long as 11 years were turned away. The chances of an average fan or corporation without a longtime alliance to the booster club are practically nil, Ford said.
Those who couldn't get a skybox may still be welcomed onto the second and third floors of the new facility -- two banquet areas where pregame meals will be served to some members of the booster club.
The fourth floor is a state-of-the-art facility for booster club members with disabilities. It has spaces for 257 wheelchairs and 257 accompanying fans. It gives Alabama one of the best handicapped facilities in the country, said facility manager Bobby Rice.
The skyboxes are on the fifth and sixth levels. There are 18 boxes that seat 24 people; the other 63 seat 16 fans each. All will have furniture, televisions and a security system. They also have sliding windows that can be opened and closed at will.
"That wasn't something all skyboxes we looked at had," Rice said. "But when they talked to people about these boxes, we got the feeling they really wanted to be able to open the windows. It makes you feel more like part of the game."
Rice said planners visited about a dozen stadiums and incorporated the best parts of each of them into the Bryant-Denny plan.
But they decided against chairbacks for the upstairs bleachers, which are plain metal rows with about 18 seats each.
"That was just a way to maximize seating," Rice said. "You can get four more people in per row by putting in bleachers."
So far, it appears Alabama could use every seat. The upstairs bleachers have been completely sold, save one non-conference game. Ford said 1,000 new members signed up for Tide Pride to buy a package of tickets for Tuscaloosa games only.
Sales have gone so well, in fact, that some wonder if the expansion plans were grand enough.
"Maybe down the road we look at getting bigger again," Ford said. "But this gives us all we can handle. It's not just a matter of building or selling them, but managing them too. Even though the stadium didn't double in size, it looks like the work force to manage the new parts is going to have to."