University of Alabama History and Traditions

The University of Alabama, known as “The Capstone” for being the first higher education institution in Alabama, is rich in history and tradition that dates back to before the Crimson Tide got its name.

University of Alabama Today

The University of Alabama ranked among the top 50 public universities in the nation in U.S. News and World Report’s annual college rankings for more than a decade. UA is ranked 32nd in the 2013 rankings.

This year’s freshman class, with more than 6,000 students, is the largest in school history—bringing total enrollment to more than 34,000 students.

Alabama Traditions

The Crimson Tide/Roll Tide
When people referred to Alabama’s football team in the 1900s, they simply called it “the varsity” or the “Crimson White” after the school’s colors. Hugh Roberts, a sports editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald, coined the term “Crimson Tide” during the 1907 match between Auburn and Alabama. The game, played in a sea of crimson mud, was the last game played between the two rivals until 1948 when the series resumed. Although Auburn was heavily favored to win, Alabama played in a sea of red mud to hold Auburn to a 6-6 tie. Hugh used the term “Crimson Tide” to describe the great game played by Alabama and the name has followed ever since.

“Roll Tide” was said to illustrate the Alabama varsity running on the field. It was said the team looked like the tide was rolling in, thus gaining the chant “Roll Tide.”

UA’s Elephant Mascot, Big Al
UA has not always been associated with the elephant. In fact, it was not until 1930 that Alabama and elephants were linked. During that season, Sports Writer Everett Strupper of the Atlanta Journal wrote a story describing the Alabama-Ole Miss football game. He described the Alabama players’ size and power:

“At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped the Alabama varsity. It was the fist time that I had seen it, and the size of the entire eleven nearly knocked me cold; men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size.”

From then on, he and other writers continued to refer to Alabama’s linemen as the “Red Elephants,” beginning the long association of UA and the elephant.

In 1979, the University saw a need for a mascot. At that time, the cheer coach, Dr. Kathleen Cramer, visited Coach Paul W. Bryant’s office and asked for permission to implement a mascot program. He initially said no, because elephants were known as slower animals. After observing his office, they pointed out the number of elephants he had on display. He had no choice but to agree.

The SGA allowed the student body to vote on a name. The three names were “Dixie,” “Tusk,” and “Big Al.” The students chose Big Al, and he made his first appearance at the 1979 Sugar Bowl against Penn State.

Alabama Football
Alabama’s first football game was played in 1892 in Birmingham against a team of selected students from Birmingham high schools. Alabama won, 56-0.

Originally, the stadium had a capacity of 12,000. The first of a long series of expansions took place in 1937. Currently Bryant-Denny is one of the largest on-campus football stadiums in the nation and holds more than 101,000 fans.

Million Dollar Band
Made up of more than 400 students, the nationally recognized “Million Dollar Band” is a very prominent part of the Crimson Tide spirit and tradition.

The “Million Dollar Band” was named in 1922 after Alabama played Georgia Tech. Alabama football struggled during the year and lost to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 33-7. During the game, an Atlanta sports writer asked W. C. “Champ” Pickens, an Alabama alumnus, “You don’t have much of a team; what do you have?” Pickens responded, “A Million Dollar Band.”

At every game, many Alabama fans dress in houndstooth-patterned attire. Some wonder where this pattern came from and why it has become synonymous with The University of Alabama.

When Alabama fans think of houndstooth, they think of coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant, who led the Crimson Tide to a record six national championships. Coach Bryant always wore suits and hats on the sideline, but it was not until Sonny Werblin, owner of the New York Jets, gave him his first houndstooth hat in 1964 that the trend began.

The Capstone Creed
This statement of values, written by the Student Leadership Council, is the pledge made at convocation by each incoming freshman class at the start of the academic year.

“As a member of The University of Alabama community, I will pursue knowledge; act with fairness, honesty, and respect; foster individual and civic responsibility; and strive for excellence.”

Fight Song

Yea, Alabama! Drown ‘em Tide!
Every ‘Bama man’s behind you,
Hit your stride.
Go teach the Bulldogs to behave,
Send the Yellow Jackets to a watery grave.
And if a man starts to weaken,
That’s a shame!
For Bama’s pluck and grit have
Writ her name in Crimson flame.
Fight on, fight on, fight on men!
Remember the Rose Bowl; we’ll win then.
Roll on to victory,
Hit your stride,
You’re Dixie’s football pride,
Crimson Tide, Roll Tide, Roll Tide!

History of The University of Alabama

  • April 18, 1831 – Inaugural ceremonies were held and the University was opened. By May 28, 52 students had enrolled.
  • 1860 – UA became a military school.
  • 1865 – Union troops spared only seven of the buildings on the UA campus, including the President’s Mansion, during the Civil War.
  • 1871 – During the Reconstruction era, a reorganized University opened with 107 students enrolled.
  • 1892 – The University’s first football team assembled – the “Thin Red Line” that later became “The Crimson Tide.”
  • 1893 – The first women students enrolled for the fall semester at the University due to successful lobbying of the UA Board of Trustees by Julia S. Tutwiler.
  • 1894 – The student newspaper, The Crimson White, makes its first appearance.
  • 1903 – The Alabama Legislature decreed that the military system of organization at the University be abandoned.
  • 1912 – Dr. George H. Denny became University president; the campus consisted of 652 students and nine principal buildings. His presidency began an era of unprecedented physical and enrollment growth. When he retired in 1936, there were more than 5,000 students and 23 major buildings, which form the central core of the modern campus.
  • 1914-1915 – The University band organized (later to be named the “Million Dollar Band”).
  • 1963 – The first sustained enrollment of African-American students was achieved.
  • 1986 – University Honors Program established. University’s enrollment was at approximately 19,000.
  • 2011 – University enrollment reaches 30,000 students.
Recent Topics

Get our newsletter

Email Submitted

Weekly Tips to Help Your Student Succeed