Nebraska recently announced plans for a new $155 million facility and track to be built right outside of Memorial Stadium. As Nebraska embarks on another renovation to this historic stage of college football, it seems only right to consider how long this stadium has stood on the UNL campus, and how much it has meant to this university.
First proposed by university students and faculty in the fall of 1922, the funds to build the stadium totaled $430,000, worth about $6.5 million today. The stadium was designed by John Latenser, a prominent architect from Omaha who also designed the Douglas County Courthouse and Omaha Central High School. The stadium initially only had east and west stands, each seating roughly 15,000 spectators, with a total capacity of over 31,000. The stadium was named for Nebraskans who lost their lives in the Civil and Spanish-American wars.
Upon the completion of construction, which only took three months, the stadium was dedicated on Oct. 20, 1923, when Nebraska hosted Kansas for a 0-0 tie. The first game ever played at Memorial Stadium was actually a week earlier, as the Huskers hosted the Oklahoma Sooners on Oct. 13 and won 24-0.
In 1946, the Schulte Field House was added to the north end of the stadium, but it did not increase the seating capacity. Due to the success Bob Devaney brought to the program in his first two seasons, the university made the first seating expansion in 1964, which added 17,000 seats to the south stands. This created a horseshoe shape for the stadium and expanded its total seating capacity to 48,000.
In 1966, another 17,000 seats were added to the stadium, this time in the north stands to bring the stadium’s total capacity to 65,000. A modern television-standard press box was added in 1967 on the top of the west stands and in 1970, the grass field was replaced with Astroturf. Before Devaney’s final season as Nebraska’s head coach in 1972, an additional 9,000 seats were added to the south stands, raising the total capacity to 74,000.
Robert Luhrs, a native of Hallam, Nebraska, graduated from the university in 1970.
“To me the sellout streak has to be the most significant aspect of the whole thing, that people have been coming every football Saturday for so long is just amazing,” he said.
Luhrs has also been a season ticket holder since he graduated.
“Since I went to school here, the stadium has changed so much, mostly for the better, and [it’s] amazing to [see] all of the different parts that have changed,” he said.
After a decade of near-constant renovations and changes, the stadium remained relatively unchanged during Tom Osborne’s 25-year tenure as Nebraska’s head coach. In 1994, the university added two new video screens, called HuskerVision to enhance the viewing experience at the stadium. Then, in 1998, the Don Bryant Press Box was completed, which included 42 luxury suites and 1,500 club seats above the west stands. A permanent lighting system was also installed for night games, the first of which was the Oct. 9 game against Iowa State. Additionally, the AstroTurf playing surface was replaced with FieldTurf, and the playing surface was renamed in honor of Osborne.
Kathy and Jack Harootunian have been going to games since they moved to McCook, Nebraska from New Jersey in 1981.
“Even though we now live in Shawnee Mission, Kansas we try and make it up for every Husker home game,” Kathy said. “We drive up our RV and treat it as a little road trip, we just love the game day atmosphere and watching our Huskers play, win or lose. I just think the stadium is beautiful, I love everything they have done, I think it’s the best stadium in all of football.”
In 2006, 6,500 seats were added to the north stands, bringing the total capacity to roughly 81,000. Also completed the same year was the Osborne Athletic Complex, which today houses the Huskers’ football locker rooms, the Ndamukong Suh Strength and Conditioning Center, Athletic Medicine Center and coaches and administration offices. The Osborne Athletic Complex replaced the old Schulte Field House on the north end of the stadium.
The most recent renovation came in 2013, with 6,000 seats and 38 luxury boxes added to east stadium, increasing the total capacity of Memorial Stadium to roughly 92,000. Since then, the capacity has decreased to roughly 90,000 due to bleachers in the upper decks being replaced.
Kim Fandry was born and raised in Colorado, but moved to Lincoln after graduating high school in 1976 and has been a season ticket holder for 11 years.
“Well the first game I went to was in 1979, and what really won me over to becoming a Nebraska fan was the sea of red and positive energy the fans gave not only to the Huskers, but to the opposing team as well,” he said. “To me it's really a cathedral of football, it’s a special place for me and I have really great memories of time I’ve spent at the stadium.”
One of the most important aspects of Memorial Stadium is the record sellout streak of 373 consecutive games that dates back to 1962. The total attendance during that sellout streak is over 28 million, which is almost 15 times the current population of Nebraska. Nebraska’s record at home during the streak is 312-61. Memorial Stadium has also become one of the most recognizable landmarks in the state and has come to represent Nebraska to those around the nation.
Nebraska’s new $155 million dollar project “Go Big” will create a state-of-the-art facility which will give not only the football program, but also the track team new facilities for their athletes.
"Nebraska has been an innovator in college athletics going back to Coach Devaney and Coach Osborne," athletic director Bill Moos said. "We are making the investment to once again be a national leader in facilities, and continue our mission of competing at the highest level and building for championships."
The plans include a new facility for the Nebraska football program as well as a new track for the Husker track program that will be located closer to their indoor track and facilities.
Head coach Scott Frost felt this facility will be a continuation of the effort to build and grow the program’s culture and will help make Nebraska a place recruits want to go for their collegiate careers.
"This new complex will give our football program everything we need to operate efficiently on a daily basis," Frost said. "This building will showcase Nebraska and be a difference-maker as we sell our program to recruits from all parts of the country. It was also important that we design a building that benefits all of our student-athletes and helps position all of our teams to compete at the highest level."
Chancellor Ronnie Green thanked all of Nebraska’s supporters who made the facility a reality and reiterated the Huskers’ desire to make the school a place where students and athletes want to be, and somewhere that leads on the national stage.
"We are investing more than $500 million to lead on a national stage — both in athletics and academics," Green said. "And we appreciate all of the incredible public and private support we have for these efforts. This new facility is an exciting opportunity to 'Go Big' for Husker football and all of our student athletes."