Kentucky Football: Shades of the Past - Stoll Field and McLean Stadium

Stoll Field - Wikipedia

If you weren’t born before 1973, you never saw a game at Stoll Field in McLean Stadium. You missed out on a long history. If you weren’t born before 1973, you never got to experience an old style stadium. If you think Kentucky football has no tradition, you would be wrong.

Stoll Field was the site of the first football game in the South. A historic marker was placed at the site which reads, " STOLL FIELD: In 1880 the first college football game ever played in the South was held here at what was eventually named Stoll Field. It was dedicated in 1916 at the Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt game and was named in honor of alumnus and long-term Board of Trustees member Judge Richard C. Stoll. The field was the setting of early football games and an integral part of student life."

The historic marker says this about McLean Stadium. "MCLEAN STADIUM This field, which once pastured President Patterson's cows, was used for military training during World War I and in 1924 it held McLean Stadium. It was named for Price McLean, an engineering student who was fatally injured in a football game in 1923. McLean Stadium was the site of Kentucky football games until they were moved to Commonwealth Stadium in 1973." You can see a photo of the historical marker here.

McLean Stadium was the site for the first game played in the newly formed Southeastern Conference on September 30, 1933. Kentucky beat Sewanee 7-0. And you thought Kentucky has no tradition.

Here is a photo and write-up of a 1915 game against Purdue which was played on Stoll Field, obviously before McLean Stadium was built.

Kentucky was one of the first teams to play "under the lights." In 1929, the Cats played their first night game in Lexington and defeated Maryville (TN) 40-0. Kentucky was also one of the first teams to throw a forward pass when it became legalized in 1906. The game was against the Eminence Athletic Club at Stoll Field. In 1970, my junior year, Kentucky held Kansas St. to minus 93 yards (yeah, you read it right) rushing at Stoll Field as UK beat those other Wildcats 16-3. Lynn Dickey was the K-State quarterback and was one of the first players to wear white shoes, which UK fans booed. Kentucky's first Homecoming game was in 1915 at Stoll Field as the Cats beat the Tennessee Volunteers 6-0. Homecoming parades began on Main Street and ended at the practice field next to the stadium. The UK marching band still uses that field for practice. And you've been told Kentucky has no tradition. You can read about these things in the 2012 UK Football Media Guide on pages 115-119, which you can find in the links section at the bottom of the article.

My friends and I began sneaking into UK football games when I was in the 5th grade which would be 1955. We did it once or twice a season for three years. Once we moved out of elementary school into Morton junior high, our interest waned. Lexington kids didn't follow UK football or basketball much. We had too many other things to do: Little League football, church league basketball, just hanging out, bike trips down Tates Creek Pike (a 2-lane road back then) to the Kentucky River. We were pretty much unsupervised in those days and our lives were like "Our Gang" adventures. Sneaking into the UK football games was always a spur of the moment decision.

Houses lined Rose Street and the people who lived there parked cars in their front and back yards for the outrageous price of a dollar. Parking was premium and yards were full of cars from Rose St. to Transylvania Avenue. Some even parked as far away as Woodland Avenue. That was true free-market capitalism at its smallest.

Between Euclid and Maxwell Street, Rose Street was packed with some notorious dumps, dives and bars which were packed on game day. Where the basketball courts are today on the other side of Memorial Coliseum was the infamous Sigma NU house and the Wildcat Bowling Lanes. The Avenue of Champions was closed to traffic on game days, but Rose Street, Euclid and South Limestone Street were all traffic nightmares.

The UK Marching Band was called The Marching 100 and the Band Director was Warren Lutz. The UK band hasn't been as good since Lutz retired, in my opinion. The halftime show always ended with the band marching down the field in a UK formation playing a version of "Dixie" which transitioned into "On, On U of K". The university banned Dixie sometime in the mid to late 1960's. Some claimed it was a racist song, yet it was less racist than the original version of "My Old Kentucky Home." I always viewed Dixie as a song about Southern pride, but times were changing. Men wore suits and ties to the games and women dressed as if going to church. There was no tailgating because there was no place to tailgate.

The public address announcer at Stoll Field was John G. Heber who had a most sarcastic voice and was all business. He was my homeroom teacher at Henry Clay High School and was also the football coach and track coach for many years. He was feared by most of the Henry Clay students and particularly the football players. He had already retired as football coach when I went to Henry Clay, but he was still the track coach. He was one of the first to announce, "Flags all over the place." His voice dripped irritation.

The Greeks would gather at their houses and walk together with their dates to the stadium and gather back at the fraternity houses for some wild partying and dancing. I was a Kappa Alpha social affiliate and I heard Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs almost as many times as I've heard the Cosmo and the Counts, The Monarchs, The Torques 1 and The Magificent Seven. (I once beat Cosmo in a limbo contest at Joyland, but that's another story) .

One of my fondest memories was Bernie Scruggs and the quarterback draw he ran from the UK 2 yard line against the Georgia Bulldogs in 1970. He galloped 88 yards and fell down inside the 10 yard line from exhaustion... and fumbled to Georgia on the next play. He was the recipient of two straight very loud groans from 33,000 fans after hearing equally loud cheers as he raced down the field before dropping. There was no Georgia player within 25 yards. That's how out of shape our players were. Kentucky already had a reputation of "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory." That was just another spectacular episode of UK football futility.

That's my version of memories of McLean Stadium and Stoll Field. I would love to hear what our readers remember.

Links:

Footnotes:

1. The lead guitarist for the Torques' is one of the top Neurosurgeons in the South - Bill Brooks.

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