UAB football is gone. And it isn't coming back anytime soon, if ever.
But the people at UAB still exist. They didn't just go away. There are still all of those folks who work in the athletic department who have experienced a miserable past month as the reality of the situation became clear and the anger spread and the tears were shed.
And then came a small ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak time on campus. And it came in the most unlikely of forms -- a 5-year-old from Dublin, Ohio, with no prior connection to the school.
It all started a couple of months ago when a little football fanatic named Bennett Williams had his parents print out a big sheet of the 125 FBS team logos so he could learn all of the nicknames and schools. He follows after his parents and is a huge Buckeyes fan, but one logo on the sheet really caught his eye: the colorful, fire-breathing dragon of UAB. Almost immediately, he said, "I really like that team, Dad."
And so it began -- his, as it turns out, short-lived fandom of Blazers football. Bennett would follow along at home on fall Saturdays and faithfully watch that ticker on the bottom of the TV screen to look for updates on UAB and catch a glimpse of that cool dragon.
And then, just like that, the school decided to ax its football program. And a preschooler in suburban Columbus took the news hard. Really hard.
So one day last week, while in the car quizzing his dad about the situation and being told it was a complicated money situation, Bennett came up with an idea.
"He looked at me and said, 'How much money do they need? Would a dollar help?'" his father Brad recalled to ESPN.com. "I said, 'Bud, that's about $22 million short, but why not, we can try.'"
So Bennett wrote a letter. And sent the only money he had -- a $1 allowance he had just made by doing some dishes and chores around the house.
— B-Will (@BWill614) December 10, 2014
What happened next, they did not expect. A longtime staffer at UAB named Reid Adair was alerted to Brad's tweet by a friend and reached out to the family via Twitter. Adair, an assistant AD in charge of athletic operations and facilities, wanted to make sure Brad had the right address and that the letter would end up in the right hands. In an email exchange with Bennett's dad, the 24-year veteran of the school's athletic department learned more about the backstory, and it touched him deeply, writing the following to Brad:
Please tell your son that people who work at UAB saw the picture and are very excited about his letter. We’ve had some rough times around here the last week. I’m e-mailing a picture of the letter to other staff so they can also have their day brightened. The outpouring of concern from all over the country has been overwhelming, but for a child to do this truly touches all of us. Thanks so much for sharing the picture, and we look forward to the letter.
"There's been so much negativity and people have been so disappointed and upset," Adair told ESPN.com. "So something like that -- a little kid in Ohio who knew nothing else but our dragon logo giving up his allowance to help us -- I think we all look at something like that and really appreciate what a bright spot it's been in a bad time."
Bennett's good deed came with a reward, too.
The folks inside the UAB athletic department were so impressed that they sent him all sorts of swag, including a game-used football, a signed picture of Blaze the Dragon, a couple of shirts and a variety of Blazers gifts.
— B-Will (@BWill614) December 15, 2014
"We just wanted to show a kid that looking out for others has its advantages," Adair said.
There was a note inside the care package, too.
"Bennett was happy about the gifts, but he was even more excited about the letter," Brad Williams said. "He was yelling, 'Dad, Dad, they told me they saw my message! They told me I was their No. 1 fan in Ohio!'"
On Tuesday, Adair shared the letter with everyone at an administrative staff meeting, including interim athletic director Shannon James Ealy, who was so moved by the gesture that he requested the note, the dollar and a picture of Bennett be framed and hung on the wall in the department's main conference room.
"As our AD said, it will be a reminder to us of the good people out there in the world -- and of our No. 1 fan in Ohio," Adair said. "All of us can look at it and remember the positive things that happen every day and that there are plenty of reasons to smile."
According to his dad, Bennett has been just about all smiles since.
"We were not expecting this [kindness from UAB] at all," he said. "The whole thing has been so amazing to us. Like all parents, my wife and I try to teach him to do the right thing, but then to see him do it on his own, it's special. We're so proud of him. He really wants that dollar to help. He really does.
"It would be nice if us adults could look at the world like 5-year-olds do."