BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The wait is finally over for UAB fans. Protective stadium opened its gates for the first time Saturday as the Blazers hosted Liberty in their home opener.

A dream became reality for UAB fans Saturday night at Protective Stadium. After years of discussion and construction, fans and players were able to step foot in their new home.

Construction started on the nearly $200 million stadium in 2019 and finished just in time for UAB’s home opener.

“The community paved the way to build this stadium, it was a public-private partnership, the state legislature, the county commission, two different mayors and the business community raised over $40 million,” said Hatton Smith of the UAB Athletic Foundation.

Fans say Protective Stadium is the beginning of a new chapter.

“To everyone who helped us build UAB Athletics from Coach Bartow and Scotty McKellen, countless others, a lot of them will be here today and a lot of them won’t, today is for them,” said Brad Hardekopf, UAB Department of Athletics.

“Just a lot of gratification to see how far UAB has come and to see how far the city has come and to me it’s an indication of the future,” said Smith.

New traditions are beginning for UAB fans. Prior to kick-off, thousands of people flocked to uptown to celebrate.

“Tailgating in the past at Legion was in a gravel lot, we didn’t have our home spot, we always used Legion, it was never our own stadium,” said Lauralee Benson, UAB student.

“We have our own stadium now and it’s just so exciting, tailgating life is different, we’re in Greek Life, it’s just a whole different feeling you know,” said Grace Cole, UAB student.

Blazer fans are paving a new path and they are eager to see what the future will hold on their new turf.

“This is a crowd that will continue to grow. We are building that tradition at UAB we’ve built a winning tradition our players expect to win now. Which is a great thing and I think our fans will expect a win and come to support it week after week,” said Byrant Turner Jr., UAB alumni.

The next home game is set for next Saturday, October 9. UAB will take on Florida Atlantic.