Memorial Stadium
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Memorial Stadium

Memorial Stadium was built in 1923 as a memorial to Illinois men and women who gave their lives for their country during World War I. Their names appear on 200 columns that support the east and west sides of the stadium.

Donations of approximately $1.7 million by more than 200,000 students, alumni and other friends of the University made the construction possible. The Athletic Association (now known as the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics) later allocated $509,805 to the project for the construction of the south stands and other stadium additions.

The stadium opened Nov. 3, 1923, when Illinois defeated Chicago, 7-0, in a Homecoming victory. The stadium was dedicated officially Oct. 18, 1924, a day that Illinois not only defeated Michigan, 39-14, for a Homecoming victory, but Harold "Red" Grange accounted for six touchdowns in what remains as the single greatest performance in Memorial Stadium history. In the first 12 minutes of that game, Grange ran for a total of 265 yards and scored four times. He had his hands on the ball only six times and left the field before the end of the first quarter.

In the third quarter, Grange returned and ran 13 yards for his fifth touchdown, and in the final period he passed to Marion Leonard for his sixth score of the day. In 42 minutes of playing time, Grange gained a total of 402 yards, carried the ball 21 times and also completed six passes for 64 yards. Legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg called it "the most spectacular single-handed performance ever delivered in a major game."

The 1994 season represented the 70th anniversary of Memorial Stadium's dedication and the historic Illinois-Michigan game. To celebrate the event, Red Grange's wife, Mrs. Margaret Grange, attended the Fighting Illini's Oct. 22 game against Michigan. She helped dedicate The Grange Rock which sits at the north end of Zuppke Field as a tribute to her husband. The rock came from the same Indiana Stone quarry that produced the granite columns of the stadium.

Permanent seating capacity of Memorial Stadium is 70,904 including the bleachers at the north end of the playing field.

During the 1980s, Memorial Stadium saw 27 consecutive sell-outs. The single-game attendance record is 78,297 for a 1984 victory over Missouri.

Approximately 71 percent of Memorial Stadium seats are between the goal posts with 18,000 in each stand, 10,000 in each balcony and 12,246 in the south stand horseshoe.

Installation of the first artificial turf and a new lighting system was made possible through a 1974 Golden Anniversary campaign drive. The lights have made games and practices, as well as intramural competition possible after sunset. Even though the field is lit only from the towers on the four corners of Memorial Stadium, the light intensity is easily sufficient for major network telecasts of night games.

Other stadium improvements include the 1967 installation of a press box, located at the top of the west balcony; construction of the Ray Eliot Varsity Room, a training table and trophy display area at the southeast corner of the stadium that was built with funds donated by friends of the Athletic Association; a million-dollar stadium renovation project in 1972, which included the addition of aluminum seating and other improvements; and a 1977 renovation of the varsity locker rooms and trainer facilities.

In April 1985, $7 million worth of improvements began. Out of this project came installation of new artificial turf and expansion of the football headquarters in the northeast corner of the stadium. The current artificial surface has the largest vertical drainage system of any synthetic surface in the United States and is the largest collegiate synthetic playing surface in the nation. The portion of it between the goal lines was replaced in the fall of 1989 after vandals burned a 40-yard swath in the middle of the field in the early-morning hours of Sept. 24. Employees from AstroTurf Industries began removing the destroyed pad and turf on the 26th, and worked around the clock to install a new surface in time for Illinois' scheduled Oct. 7 game against Ohio State.

Memorial Stadium's most recent renovations occurred between November 1991 and August 1992. The $18 million project included the replacement of all the concrete bleachers in both upper decks, as well as the replacement of the top 25 rows of the main stands. The stadium's electrical and drainage systems were also brought up to code and new restroom facilities, for both men and women, were installed in the corner towers and great halls. The project was financed through the issuance of revenue bonds by the UI Auxiliary Facilities System.

Before the start of the 1994 season, a new color matrix scoreboard was added to the north end of Zuppke Field. Measuring 23x34 feet, the large message board is capable of displaying color and animated messages.

The Memorial Stadium practice dome, more commonly known as "The Bubble," was inflated for the first time in December 1985, and the Fighting Illini's new locker room facilities opened before the 1986 season.