Memorial Stadium is a football stadium located in Champaign, Illinois, on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The stadium is dedicated as a memorial to the Illinois men who died in World War I and World War II. The stadium is primarily used as the home of the Illinois Fighting Illini football team.
In the early 1920s, the old football stadium, Illinois Field, was deemed inadequate. There was some sentiment for retaining the site, but it was too congested to expand the stadium adequately, so a new site was selected, in a largely undeveloped area at the south end of the campus.
Memorial Stadium was completed in 1923 at a cost of US$ 1.7 million. The general contractor of the project was English Brothers of Champaign, who are in business to this day. The name was chosen in honor of the dead from World War I. The original construction was financed with donations from University students, alumni, and others. At the time, the stadium consisted of double-decked stands on the east and west sidelines. The single-decked horseshoe around the south end zone was later completed, and temporary bleachers stand in the north end zone.
Heavy rain during the construction resulted in a bulldozer sinking into the field. It was decided that the expense of removing the bulldozer would have been greater than leaving it buried under the field. It remains there today.
The first game played in the partially completed stadium was the Chicago-Illinois game on November 3, 1923, where Illinois won 7-0.
The stadium is dedicated to the men and woman of the University of Illinois that gave their lives serving in World War I. In 2002, the stadium dedication was extended to those who died in World War II. There are a total of 200 columns on the east and west sides of the stadium. 183 columns display one name of a University of Illinois alum that lost their lives in the first war (182 men and 1 woman).
The stadium was officially dedicated on October 18, 1924, on which the University football team played a homecoming game against the University of Michigan. On way to a 39–14 Illini victory, Red Grange scored six touchdowns in one of the greatest single-game performances in football history. There is an unproved rumor that Red Grange's ashes are spread on the field, taken by his wife at night soon after he died.
- The football playing surface within the stadium is named Zuppke Field, in honor of Robert Zuppke, the University of Illinois head football coach from 1913 to 1941.
- The north end of Zuppke Field hosts The Grange Rock, a tribute to Red Grange. The tribute was dedicated on October 22, 1994, with Mrs. Margaret Grange, Red Grange's wife, in attendance. The rock came from the same Indiana quarry that produced the stadium's columns.
- In 2009, a twelve foot statue of Red Grange was dedicated as the capstone of the stadium's "Illinois Renaissance" renovations.
- The Ray Eliot Varsity Room is named for Ray Eliot, the University of Illinois head football coach from 1942 to 1959.
The seating capacity of the stadium's permanent seating, including the north end zone bleachers, is 60,600. This number was reduced from 62,872 when it was announced on 12 April 2011 that 2,200 south endzone bleacher seats added in 1982 would be removed. The 62,872 number had been reduced from 69,000 as part of the Illinois Renaissance program which was completed in 2008. The east and west grandstands each hold approximately 33,000 patrons on the first level plus 10,000 in each balcony. The south end zone "horseshoe" holds nearly 9,800 (12,000 before the removal of the aforementioned 2,200 seats), while the north bleachers add 1,500 more seats.
The stadium's highest single event attendance was 78,297, for a football game against the University of Missouri in 1984.
- A press box was built at the top of the west balcony in 1967.
- As part of the 1974 Golden Anniversary campaign, artificial turf was installed on the field, along with a new lighting system.
- A $7 million renovation began in April 1985. New AstroTurf was installed, along with new football headquarters in the northeast corner of the stadium.
- From November 1991 to August 1992, an $18 million renovation project replaced all concrete bleachers in both the east and west upper decks, along with the top 25 rows of the main stands. New restrooms were built, and the stadiums electrical and drainage systems were upgraded to meet new building codes.
- A color scoreboard was added to the north end of the stadium for the 1994 season.
- The stadium’s AstroTurf was replaced with AstroPlay in 2001.
2008 "Illinois Renaissance" renovation
A massive renovation project was unveiled for Memorial Stadium in the fall of 2005. The “Illinois Renaissance” project began after the completion of the 2006 football season, and was completed just days before the 2008 season began. The concourse areas on all four sides of the stadium was improved with better concession and restroom facilities. Additionally, the concourse areas were connected all the way around the stadium for easier passage between the east and west stands. A permanent, 5,000-seat structure has been built on the north end of the stadium, and the existing scoreboard and video replay screen was moved to the south endzone. The south horseshoe is planned to be filled in down to field level, and will completely connect the east and west stands. The horseshoe improvements increased seating to 14,000 seats behind the south end zone. The capacity of the west stands will be significantly reduced in order to build a large press box and luxury suite area at the top of the balcony. The new boxes will be three levels tall and will extend the entire length of the field. The new capacity of the stadium after the renovation will be 62,143. This $100 million project will be largely paid for by sales of the stadium’s new suites and luxury seating in the west stands.
Controversy has arisen over the decision to move the bulk of the student section to the north side of the stadium. Some student overflow seating is set aside on the north end of the east stands. The location may hamper the view of the student section when the ball is at the south end of the field. Critics of the plan suggest this is a move to sell the seats currently occupied by the student section at a higher price to the general public. The planners assert that they are trying to make the field noise louder and cater to the student's needs by giving them separate concessions and amenities.
The renovated stadium was rededicated at the 2008 season home opener against Eastern Illinois University on September 6, 2008.
- It is the site of the field show of the annual Illini Marching Band Festival, hosted by the Marching Illini and usually the largest high school marching band competition in Illinois.
- In 2002, the stadium also hosted the NFL's Chicago Bears while Soldier Field was being renovated; thus the stadium hosted two famous orange-and-blue teams that season. The Bears' team colors had originally been inspired by the Illini's colors.
- During the winter months, an inflatable practice dome known as "the bubble" was inflated over the field, to allow for semi-indoor practice facilities. This usage stopped in 2001, when the Irwin Indoor Football Practice Facility was built northeast of the Stadium.
- On September 22, 1985 it hosted the first ever Farm Aid concert.
- Since 1999, it has hosted the IHSA football state finals.
- Memorial Stadium page at the University of Illinois Athletics site
- Memorial Stadium history/timeline
- General History. Retrieved on September 28, 2007.
- Campus Tours: Memorial Stadium. Retrieved on October 17, 2007.
- Illinois Historical Scores
- Illinois Renaissance. Retrieved on September 30, 2007.
- Editorial: Memorial Stadium student section moves. Retrieved on September 30, 2007.