Stadium Spotlight: Tradition keeps Nebraska's Memorial Stadium filled
At Nebraska, fans wrap themselves in history and tradition, especially when it comes to Memorial Stadium.
With the nation’s longest sell-out streak -- at 335 games before Miami comes to Lincoln -- still active since it all started on Nov. 3, 1962, the Big Red has recorded tradition for the last 50 years. But the tradition that is Memorial Stadium started over 90 years ago, a key piece of Husker life that wasn’t lost, even in a 2013 expansion that wrapped the historic domed Gate 20 and original exterior with a new towering facade.
“The new east facade really helped emphasize maintaining that view,” Tim Ripp, architect for Lincoln-based The Clark Enersen Partners, tells SI.com. “We created a concourse corridor right along the existing stadium so you can still see the entire east façade inside the new east expansion. Maintaining the history of the original stadium, not touching it structurally, were two key factors.”
Three-story glass windows let fans see the historic exterior from the outside. Ripp says they used brick -- a common material campus wide in Lincoln -- to break up the concrete of the new exterior and tie the new portions of Memorial Stadium to the campus. The upper towers were set back from the lower façade to give the new design a “wedding cake” style effect.
The importance of tradition at Memorial Stadium passes down from generation to generation. From fans who don’t have to be told to wear red in what becomes the state’s third largest city at 87,000 capacity every time it fills up (only Lincoln and Omaha are larger on game days), to the Husker Tunnel Walk serenaded by the tunes of The Alan Parsons Project’s “Sirius,” to the thousands of red balloons that release following the first Huskers score, Memorial Stadium fills with tradition. And it started that way too.
The original stadium opened in 1923 with 31,000 seats. It bumped to 48,000 in 1964 and within the next couple years had reached 65,000. A major 1999 addition boosted seating to over 74,000 and more recent north and east stadium expansions have grown Memorial Stadium to 87,000, one of the 15 largest NCAA homes in the nation.
Ripp, a season-ticket holder near the south end zone on the east side, says the architecture of Memorial Stadium helps the Sea of Red to get plenty loud. “Memorial Stadium is very loud because it is almost a canyon shape compared to a lot of bowls that have wider bowls,” he says. “The entire west façade goes from the outer edge of the original bowl pretty much straight up.” And on the east side, he pulled the suite level over the top the club level to get the seats closer to the field and then maintained a steep rake to give quality sight lines.
The steep rakes continue on the north end, where seats rise over the Osborne Athletic Complex, a facility that houses all things Nebraska football, including offices, locker rooms, performance centers, an indoor practice field and a strength complex.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.