Commentary

Football's Oldest Stadiums (continued)

Updated: October 2, 2008, 2:47 PM ET
By Tony Guadagnoli | Special to ESPN SportsTravel



• Photo gallery: Oldest stadiums | Harvard-Yale rivalry a tribute to the student-athlete

Two of the nation's most prestigious collegiate athletic awards – the Heisman and Outland trophies – are named after former Penn athletes John Heisman and John Outland.

Harvard Stadium also was the first with a horseshoe shape – a layout that led to other famous designs in the country, most notably Ohio Stadium, home turf of the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Harvard Stadium
by the numbers

Harvard's all-time record at Harvard Stadium: 407-215-34 (.646)

4: National football championships after opening in 1903 (1910, 1912, 1913 and 1919)

4: Months it took to build the stadium

42: Seconds it took to score 16 points to tie Yale 29-29 in 1968

1906: The stadium sees its first forward pass thrown

1919: Last year Harvard won a national football championship – its 10th overall.

22,000: Original seating capacity

30,898: Seating capacity today

57,750: Seating capacity in 1929

250,000: Cubic feet of concrete in the stadium

Also of note: Perhaps the most dramatic change to Harvard Stadium took place as part of a 2006-07 upgrade to the facility that included replacing the natural grass surface with FieldTurf, the addition of lights to allow for nighttime use of the field, and the installation a removable domelike "bubble," which allows for the year-round use of the facility. The first night game in Harvard Stadium's history is scheduled for Sept. 21 against Brown.

Source: Harvard University

"I've often heard people say, 'Wow it looks like the Coliseum in Rome or some other great European design,'" said Bernie Corbett, play-by-play announcer for the Harvard Crimson.

"Well there is a very good reason for that. It was the first permanent stadium of its kind in North America. You had to look to Europe to find something to design it after.

"It exudes an atmosphere of history, and it is still functional after 100 years." Corbett calls Harvard Stadium a living heirloom, with its plaques and other emblems offering visitors a peek into history.

Likewise, the Yale Bowl spawned similar bowl-shaped stadiums, such as the Rose Bowl, Michigan Stadium and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Harvard Stadium, the Yale Bowl and the Rose Bowl are the only stadiums recognized as National Historic Landmarks.

"The most significant historical aspect of the Bowl is that it is the original bowl-shaped stadium," said Steve Conn, Yale sports information director, who has been going to Bulldogs home games at the Yale Bowl since the 1970s. "All other bowls in the early part of the century were modeled after Yale's version, which has been restored to its original splendor.

"When you walk through a portal on a college-football Saturday, you are walking through a time capsule that takes you back almost a century on the gridiron. You can feel the rich football heritage."

Franklin Field is known for its famous firsts, everything from the scoreboard to radio and TV broadcasts. The stadium also was the site of Vince Lombardi's only championship loss, when Bednarik sat on Jim Taylor and the Eagles won the 1960 NFL Championship.

But the stadium also has a reputation for several infamous incidents, especially when the "Iggles" took the field.

During halftime of a game Dec. 15, 1968, against Minnesota, some fans booed Frank Olivo, who wore a Santa Claus suit to the home finale during a miserable 2-12 season. Olivo was taken from the stands as the scheduled Santa couldn't make it to the stadium after being snowed in. Fans wound up pelting the replacement St. Nick with snowballs.

This incident, made famous when broadcast nationally by Howard Cosell, is often referred to in denigrating Philadelphia sports fans as so mean they booed Santa Claus.

(Cosell later was part of another famous first at Franklin Field. He reportedly got drunk, threw up on co-host Don Meredith's cowboy boots and missed the second half of the first "Monday Night Football" game in Philadelphia on Nov. 23, 1970.)

Yale Bowl facts

Yale's all-time record at the Yale Bowl: 359-188-21 (.651)

The Yale Bowl is 930 feet long and 750 feet wide, covering 12 acres. More than 320,000 cubic feet of earth was moved to form the bowl, and the stadium now contains 22,000 cubic yards of concrete and 470 tons of steel. The capacity of the bowl is 64,269 (it was 70,869 before alterations) and every seat has an unobstructed view of the playing field.

The Bowl has held crowds of more than 70,000 on 20 occasions, most recently on Nov. 19, 1983, for the 100th playing of the Yale-Harvard Game. The crowd of 73,300, which attended the Yale-Harvard showdown in 1981, was the largest at a sporting event in New England in more than 50 years.

The scoreboard, added in 1958, is notable because the time clock is arranged vertically instead of horizontally.

The Yale Bowl had significant restorations completed last fall, including rebuilding the interior and exterior walls, the repair or replacement of 17 miles of wood seats and upgrading of all drainage and utilities. The 30 tunnels, including the entrances and wing walls at the exits, were refurbished. Each portal at the Bowl honors a class, team or individual.

Source: Yale University

As a sign of Penn pride, crowds of Quakers fans perform a unique ritual. After the third quarter, fans unite in the singing of "Drink a Highball." As the last line is sung, "Here's a toast to dear, old Penn," those in the stands send toasted bread hurling through the air to the sideline.

The toast throwing was adopted after alcohol was banned from the stadium in the 1970s. At times, 20,000 to 30,000 pieces of toast are thrown per game, along with bagels and cream cheese and about any other breakfast bread.

"I think that also started during the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show,' when they would throw toast in the theaters during that part of the movie," said Dave Johnson, director of the Penn Relays. "But really I don't think anyone knows. It's kind of a chicken-and-egg thing. There seems to be a desire to see who can throw the toast the farthest."

When it is over, a "toast zamboni" drives along the track to help the school get out of a jam.

Columnist Stan Hochman, who has been with the Philadelphia Daily News since 1959, said Franklin Field hardly has a bad seat and is cherished for its design.

But, he adds, it's "not so cherished by the sportswriters who had to climb to the top to get to the press box and then grumble their way through the fans with two or three minutes left to play in an Eagles game in order to get to the cramped, musty locker rooms for postgame interviews."

One of Hochman's worst memories is when Bert Bell, then NFL commissioner and Eagles co-founder, died of a heart attack on Oct. 11, 1959, while sitting in the stands at Franklin Field.

But Hochman's favorite sports memory in his 48 years dates to the field's original purpose, track, and the Dream Mile.

Said Zachary: "You walk around the concourse and see the outside of the building with its architecture. It has character and when you think about all that has transpired here … they just don't make them like this anymore. They really don't."

Tony Guadagnoli, a free-lance writer from western Washington, says experiencing the atmosphere on college football Saturdays is one of life's great, simple pleasures.

Editor's note: This article originally was published in December 2007.

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