Rebirth of the Blazers

UAB football was pronounced dead on December 2, 2014.

On Monday, it was reborn, as those who refused to walk away earned a stunning victory.

There's a lot to take from these seven months of the #FreeUAB saga. First and foremost, there's a great story; full of hope and triumph and community spirit.

Sports, at best, can be Utopian. There are few, if no other places on Earth, where those rich and poor, male and female, young and old, liberal and conservative and various races can gather together and rally for a common cause. Sometimes, it takes a catastrophe to unite people so strongly. Sports can do this in a more frequent and positive manner.

The #FreeUAB movement was in a word, inspiring. It wasn't violent. It didn't hurt others, save maybe the pride of one Dr. Ray Watts. It was simply a united front of students, faculty, alumni, and fans who gathered together and refused to let Watts have his way. They questioned his rationale, gave him several votes of no confidence and kept the issue on the forefront in Birmingham.

They rallied the city and its suburbs like never before. In a nation that seems more divided than ever, the city of Birmingham began to grow closer and more united. One can look at their gold basketball jerseys, which spell out the name of their city instead of the school's acronym and realize that they want a different identity from the Alabama system. They want out of the shadows of Tuscaloosa and the Capstone. They want to be all that is their city. As many of their signs read, it wasn't about the U or the A. It was about the B.

So, at a university that features one of the nation's top medical schools, they forced Dr. Watts to get a second opinion.

Their win sends a fantastic message: fight tirelessly. Care deeply. Work relentlessly. Good things can happen from great efforts that come from unified spirits.

While their efforts bore fruit, their victory comes with a serious asterisk. The movement must not perish. The passion must stay strong, if not stronger. The moment it wanes; the very sliver of decline and Watts will have no hesitation in pulling the plug yet again.

There is no doubt, even in his remarks to bring the football program back, that Ray Watts is not a fan of the sport. His remarks to the football team on that December afternoon made that clear, when instead of showing empathy, he informed them defiantly that he loved UAB more than anyone. His financial challenge to boosters and fans added more fuel to that fire.

It's not going to be easy; not only because of the lack of support from the president's office but also because Bill Clark has the unenviable task of building a FBS winner in incredibly fast time. He has to do so to keep his own program. He has to sell a vision to guys that realize they could lose their football dreams in a moment's notice. He has to find enough talent, in rapid time, to produce a product worth selling. Needless to say, I expect Clark to work every JUCO in the nation and every high school in Alabama and its neighbors, combing talent to aid in his gargantuan challenge.

UAB will finish undefeated in 2015, having defeated the death sentence imposed upon their Blazers. The next five seasons, however, will reveal if all of the work was still for vain. Those who are connected to UAB won a chance to redefine their university. Ray Watts is watching.

It's a must win situation. But at least, this time, the game can be played.

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