Big Ten Countdown 23: Memorial Stadiums - Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois

The groundbreaking ceremony for Nebraska's Memorial Stadium occurred on April 23, 1923. It's not the only Memorial Stadium around, there are 15 total in the FBS, including two in the Big Ten - at Illinois and Indiana. Illinois' stadium was partially built in 1923 and officially dedicated on October 17, 1924, the day before Red Grange made history against Michigan.

Put yourself in the period, and it's not difficult to understand why so many were built. The 1920s are considered the "Golden Age" of college football. Crowds had increased, and universities fully understood that getting more people to watch the game increased the dollars they brought in because of the sport. It's not just today that the game is a lot about money - that idea has been around since the sport's inception. 

Approximately 116,000 Americans died in World War I (751 Nebraskans), with anther 205,000 being wounded. Considering that the United States was roughly involved for only 19 months, that's an appalling number, but then again, World War I was an incredibly appalling war. Trench warfare sent waves of men running straight into water-cooled machine gun fire, poison gas was used as a weapon, and modern medicine, even something as simple as penicillin, had not yet been invented. (Consider that during the Battle of the Somme, over one million men were killed - the British lost 425,000, the French 200,000, and the Germans 500,000. The numbers are truly galling.)

Given the environment, it's no wonder so many people around the country dedicated money to build the stadiums. Nebraska's Memorial Stadium originally cost $430,000 and was funded through donations, $100,000 of it pledged by students. 

Husker fans know the history of Memorial... or at least they know the inscriptions on the columns:

Inscribed on the four corners of the stadium are the following words, written by former Nebraska professor of philosophy Hartley Burr Alexander.

  •   Southeast: "In Commemoration of the men of Nebraska who served and fell in the Nation's Wars."
  •   Southwest: "Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory."
  •   Northwest: "Courage; Generosity; Fairness; Honor; In these are the true awards of manly sport."
  •   Northeast: "Their Lives they held their country's trust; They kept its faith; They died its heroes."

The stadium originally seated around 31,000 fans. It would stay that way until 1964, when it was expanded to 48,000, and expanded again a few times until it reached a seating capacity of around 74,000 in 1972. The current expansion project, due to be completed in 2013, will provide seating for around 90,000 fans. 

According to Mike Babcock's Stadium Stories

The main entrance...  would be located on the stadium's east side, where the facade still provides evidence of Nebraska's membership in the Missouri Valley Conference when the stadium was constructed. The seals of eight other schools also are embedded in the concrete. In addition to those of longtime conference rivals Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, and Oklahoma, those of Drake, Grinnell, and Washington University of St. Louis, Missouri, have been preserved there. 

I'll confess - I guess I never noticed the seals, whether they're still there or not. By now, I'm guessing they're covered by the construction on the new addition on the east side. (If someone has the live construction cams link, please share it). 

You can see a photo gallery of Memorial Stadium's history here

I'll also confess that I wanted to include more information about Indiana's and Illinois stadiums here, but I've been pressed for time this week, so I've asked that Hail to the Orange (Illinois) and Crimson Quarry (Indiana) sites have their members come over and comment on their stadium. I'd love to hear about their history, and what their fans like (or maybe dislike) about their stadiums. 

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