Achieving the Impossible

Timothy Alexander is an MPV at UAB.

By Joey Kennedy

So fitting that Timothy Alexander can be seen as, in a way, an analogy of Birmingham, the city he loves and calls home.

The former UAB football star—and make no mistake, Alexander is a former college football star—uses a wheelchair because a 2006 car crash (in which he was a passenger) left him paralyzed from the waist down.

That was a half dozen years before he joined UAB’s football team during former coach Garrick McGee’s last year, the season before current coach Bill Clark turned the Blazer program around—again, with Alexander on the squad.

And that was the season when UAB football, bowl eligible for only the second time in its existence, learned that the university’s President Ray Watts and the University of Alabama Board of Trustees were killing the team altogether.

But Alexander’s story didn’t end with UAB’s football program.

In a 2016 essay in B-Metro about Alexander’s tireless efforts to help bring back UAB’s football program, Clark said this: “Tim Alexander was integral in the return of UAB football. He personally met with many city councils and county commissions to receive support for our program.”

Alexander didn’t work solo, by any means, but in football, somebody has to be the Most Valuable Player, and in the return of UAB football, Alexander is as much a candidate as anybody.

Like Birmingham’s checkered history, Alexander’s story is rich, both heartbreaking and heart lifting. That story, to this point, is well documented in the just-released book Ever Faithful, Ever Loyal: The Timothy Alexander Story by Alexander and sports executive Tim Stephens (Hilltop30 Publishers, $19.95).

Stephens, too, played a big role in helping to resuscitate UAB football. But probably nobody, on an individual level, did more than Alexander.

There will be no spoilers in this column. Any curious person will buy the book.

“I’ve never met anybody with the drive and passion and energy Tim has,” Stephens says. “I’ve come to see what a visionary mind he has, what big-picture thinking he has. What’s beautiful about that vision is he’s all about lifting up others.”

Oh, Alexander can lift, that’s for sure. At 6-feet-5, 260 pounds, Alexander is physically strong. It’s easy to miss that wheelchair.

Still, Alexander can be lifted, too, and it is that fact which may have been the turning point for UAB football, nearly a year before the program was deleted.

The Blazers’ resurgence occurred on Valentine’s Day 2014, during a cold, early morning workout at Legion Field. Bill Clark was new to the team, and he was working the players hard, no matter the weather.

As Stephens tells it, the athletes were running Legion Field’s stairs: To the top, back down to the bottom, and back to the top again. Over and over.

“It’s a brutal workout,” Stephens says.

At the end of the workout, with the team gathered around Clark at the bottom of the stands, Clark told the young men to once again, run to the top one more time.

Alexander was down at field level, doing hand and arm workouts, when former UAB and NFL player Zak Woodfin, who was the new conditioning coach, asked Alexander if he wanted to go to the top of Legion Field, too. Alexander did.

Woodfin vowed to carry Alexander himself, and hoisted the big man into a firefighter’s hold and started up the stairs. After several steps, though, Woodfin realized he had, perhaps, over-promised. Other players and coaches saw what was happening, and they all took turns helping Alexander up those Legion Field stairs.

That was the bonding moment, Stephens says. “Everybody I spoke with says this was the turning point,” that this program that had struggled only to mediocrity in the “good” seasons would settle for nothing less than much better from then on.

Then, Stephens says, the December disaster: “As soon as this program tasted a little bit of success, it was killed.”

But did Alexander give up? Nope.

“(Alexander) was the voice for the students and the student athletes,” Stephens says. “He was the voice for those who felt they had no voice. Tim Alexander was the perfect person to lead that moment.”

As we know, UAB football did return in 2017 and went 8-4 in the regular season, its best record ever, and played in the Bahamas Bowl. Bill Clark was named Coach of the Year.

Now, stronger than ever, the UAB football program looks as if it’ll have a new home field by 2020 or 2021. Jefferson County, the city of Birmingham, UAB, and others have joined in a pledge to build an open-air stadium at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

Birmingham has talked about building a multipurpose stadium for decades, but plan after plan never got off the ground. This time, it looks like it’s going to work.

Of course, there are the Citizens Against Virtually Everything—the CAVE people—and they’re out there again. They dissed Railroad Park when it was being developed. They took shots at the Barons before ground was ever broken for Regions Field. They doubted the renovation of the historic Pizitz Department Store and many other reclamation projects downtown.

The fact is, despite many false starts over the years, Birmingham pretty much has its act together these days.

Stephens worked for 15 years in Orlando and southern Florida before returning to Birmingham last year. He’s had stints as sports editors of major publications, like the Orlando Sentinel, where he also led CBS Now, he is CEO of Tim Stephens Media LLC, right here in Birmingham.

When we think of Orlando, we think of the city’s major theme parks. But Stephens says that not long ago, if you took out the theme parks,  you’d have been left with a city much like Birmingham over the past few decades: A struggling city watching its infrastructure deteriorate with not much going on, outside Disney World and the other fantasy resorts.

“In Orlando, they used Birmingham as an example of what not to do,” Stephens says. Orlando decided to invest in itself, to refurbish the Citrus Bowl, to back its college team, the University of Central Florida (which was undefeated in 2017, including a bowl win over Auburn University), to save its NBA franchise, to bring in pro soccer.

All of that improvement, Stephens says, “happened in a decade when Orlando decided to invest in itself.” The lesson for Birmingham is that it demonstrates what happens when a city decides to move forward with purpose instead of holding back.

Today, Birmingham is investing in itself, and the payoff is big.

“Everywhere there’s someone who says this won’t work in Birmingham, I’ll show you newly built lofts,” Stephens says. “Everywhere there’s someone who says this won’t work in Birmingham, I can show you full restaurants.”

The CAVE people are still there, but now we don’t care.

A big part of Birmingham’s resurgence is UAB and, in no small part, UAB football’s return. That brought the city together in ways we’re still trying to understand. That impossible return will be among Tim Alexander’s amazing legacy.

But Stephens is clear: Alexander’s story, like Birmingham’s, is by no means at an end. Indeed, in many ways, it may have just begun.

(Order Ever Faithful, Ever Loyal from Amazon or an autographed copy from

One Response to “Achieving the Impossible”

  1. Doyle Blankenship says:

    Good read. Thanks for recognizing two giants in making our (UAB) return and existence possible. Hopefully the stadium issue will get thru Montgomery and our future and the city of Birmingham’s future will be boosted immensely. Keep up the good work.

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