Sacred Alabama football tradition ‘just eroding away’ with little hope of preservation –

A workout class met on the steps of Denny Chimes one evening this week. Waiting to get started, the Alabama students stretched on the worn concrete next to the iconic structure on the campus quad.

Nobody seemed to take note of the history on which they stood.

It’s hard to blame them.

After years of natural punishment, the cemented hand and footprints of Alabama football legends have seen better days.

The Walk of Fame, which will get four new members before Saturday’s A-Day game, turns 70 this year.

Harry Gilmer was the first to put his hand and cleat print in wet cement just off the University Boulevard sidewalk in 1947. Since then, the tradition has progressed to the chimes steps, gone around the east and west sides and continued south toward Gorgas Library.

At this point, some of the names — Jim Loftin from 1957, for example — are nearly unreadable.

IMG_1477.JPG Jim Loftin’s name from 1957 is almost completely unreadable.  

Constant exposure to the weather and a lack of uniformity over the years took a toll.

“Honestly,” said Alabama assistant athletics director for facilities Brandon Sevedge, “we try to not pressure wash them and try to leave them alone as much as we can because anything you do further degrades them and makes it harder to read them.”

It’s clear uniformity wasn’t a concern in the early days of this tradition. The size of each players’ concrete squares varies greatly. The basic layout wasn’t consistent until the practice was a few decades old. Even the type of concrete would change — some years had a mixture heavy on sea shells.

“Yeah, they’re just eroding away,” Sevedge said. “They’re kind of all … they’re real inconsistent from a concrete and the quality of the handprint — how deep it is. But they’re really in different states, all of them.”

The fragility of the patchwork tributes makes repairs difficult.

“We’ve looked at stuff but there’s really nothing,” Sevedge said. “If you start messing with them, they just look worse.”

All they can do now is focus on each new class as they arrive. A new row of uniform squares was added to the north side for Saturday’s ceremony. A few thousand A-Day fans will pile in around the quad to bear witness.

Eddie Jackson, Reuben Foster, Jonathan Allen and Cam Robinson will add their hand and footprints to the 180 already enshrined. The ceremony is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. CT before the 2 p.m. kickoff in Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

A special set of all-capital letters were purchased several years ago to assure all the new captains would have a uniform look. Walk through the area and the different eras of footwear also become obvious. The old-fashioned spikes eventually became logoed cleats that preserve the shoe sponsors along with the captains.

Sevedge, who is always out there on A-Day, said the same crew has supervised the process to assure quality work in recent years.

“They’ve been a lot more consistently sized and the quality of the concrete,” he said. “It’s still hard trying to time it and get everything timed perfectly with the weather so the concrete doesn’t (set).”

That doesn’t always go as planned.

Just take a look at the 2009 captain hand and foot prints. That was a particularly warm A-Day in Tuscaloosa with a bright sun beating down on the drying cement. Add in the late arrival of the players and the facilities crew got anxious.

A few minutes longer and the whole thing would’ve been blank. As it is, Javier Arenas and Rolando McClain have hand and foot prints that are visibly shallower than a few of the neighbors.

“It’s crazy,” McClain said at the time. “It’s all still surreal to me.”

The perfect prints aren’t easily achieved, as that class proved.

“There really are lots of factors,” Sevedge said. “Pressure, weather, even the consistency of the concrete. You have to know when they mix it and when they put it on the truck. So yeah, there are a lot of factors.”

As cameras surround the imprint process, some of the burden falls on the captains themselves.

“You’re also relying on the guys not pushing too hard,” Sevedge said. “That’s something that’s a problem too. Some of them get a little heavy-handed, I guess.”

Kindal Mooreland’s trench of a footprint is the best example of this issue. His impression from 2002 reaches a few inches into the earth.

IMG_1488.JPGKindal Mooreland’s deep footprint from 2002. 

For the most part, everything north of Denny Chimes is in good condition. There’s a crack down the middle of 1994 captain Sam Shade’s print, but nothing that threatens the future readability.

Others aren’t as fortunate.

Runoff from nearby sprinklers left Joe Namath’s square in a puddle Tuesday evening. Other big names were fading faster.  

At a certain point, they won’t look any different from an average sidewalk. Simply redoing the prints simply isn’t possible for everyone on the Walk of Fame.

That isn’t lost on the keepers of the quad tradition.

“We’ve looked at other ways of identifying them,” Sevedge said, “and that might be something we look at in the future.”