Background Image

Arkansas Living November 2010 : Page 6

War Memorial Stadium: The Miracle on Markham III The year was 1948. America, fresh from victory in the most deadly war in history, was poised for growth and prosperity. But underneath the optimism for the future remained the memory of that war and the sacrifices it demanded. As was the case across the nation in those days, Arkansas leaders sought to pay homage to those sacrifices. The way they did it was to build a football stadium in the capital city. “Dedicated to the men and women of Arkansas who gave their lives in the great wars – 1917-1918; 1941-1945,” reads the dedication plaque, which is located on the west wall of the stadium. Sixty-two years later, that venerable landmark, War Memorial Stadium, has been given a new lease on life after undergoing $15 million in renovations. The single largest renovation, a $7.3 million, three-story press box and club facility, officially opened Aug. 26. “We’ve been able to make stadium improvements each year for the past seven, but this year, fans will see the biggest difference of all,” Gary L. Smith, chairman of the War Memorial Stadium Commission, said in a news release issued for the grand opening. “The new press box gives the stadium a whole new look and feel. I think fans will be pleased.” 6 RURAL ARKANSAS Home of the Razorbacks The original stadium was far simpler than its current configuration. It had a natural grass surface and two large grand stand seating areas on the east and west sides. The north and south sides of the stadium were open, which left it “looking more like amphitheater seating than a football stadium,” the stadium’s website says. Its original seating capacity was about 31,000. The first football game at the stadium took place Sept. 18, 1948, between the Arkansas Razorbacks and Abilene Christian. Arkansas won 40-6. Governor-elect Sid McMath and Governor Ben Laney were in attendance at the nearly sold-out game. In the years since, the stadium has hosted more than 200 Razorback games. Arkansas has won or shared 11 Southwest Conference championships here, as well as several Western Division titles in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The first game with lights took place Sept. 20, 1969, when Arkansas defeated Oklahoma State 39-0. The first game with AstroTurf came on Sept. 12, 1970, when Stanford, led by the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jim Plunkett, defeated Arkansas in a heartbreaker, 34-28. Arkansas also bid goodbye to the Southwest Conference here on Nov. 23, 1991. In that game, the Razorbacks handed Rice a 20-0 loss, but were rudely welcomed to the SEC a year later in a 38-11 loss to Alabama on Sept. 13, 1992. The Alabama game set the attendance record for a game at War

Miracle On Markham III

<b>The year was 1948</b>. America, fresh from victory in the most deadly war in history, was poised for growth and prosperity. But underneath the optimism for the future remained the memory of that war and the sacrifices it demanded. As was the case across the nation in those days, Arkansas leaders sought to pay homage to those sacrifices. The way they did it was to build a football stadium in the capital city.<br /> <br /> “Dedicated to the men and women of Arkansas who gave their lives in the great wars – 1917-1918; 1941-1945,” reads the dedication plaque, which is located on the west wall of the stadium.<br /> <br /> Sixty-two years later, that venerable landmark, War Memorial Stadium, has been given a new lease on life after undergoing $15 million in renovations. The single largest renovation, a $7.3 million, three-story press box and club facility, officially opened Aug. 26.<br /> <br /> “We’ve been able to make stadium improvements each year for the past seven, but this year, fans will see the biggest difference of all,” Gary L. Smith, chairman of the War Memorial Stadium Commission, said in a news release issued for the grand opening. “The new press box gives the stadium a whole new look and feel. I think fans will be pleased.” <br /> <br /> <b>Home of the Razorbacks</b> <br /> <br /> The original stadium was far simpler than its current configuration. It had a natural grass surface and two large grand stand seating areas on the east and west sides. The north and south sides of the stadium were open, which left it “looking more like amphitheater seating than a football stadium,” the stadium’s website says. Its original seating capacity was about 31,000.<br /> <br /> The first football game at the stadium took place Sept. 18, 1948, between the Arkansas Razorbacks and Abilene Christian. Arkansas won 40-6. Governor-elect Sid McMath and Governor Ben Laney were in attendance at the nearly sold-out game. In the years since, the stadium has hosted more than 200 Razorback games. Arkansas has won or shared 11 Southwest Conference championships here, as well as several Western Division titles in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The first game with lights took place Sept. 20, 1969, when Arkansas defeated Oklahoma State 39-0. The first game with AstroTurf came on Sept. 12, 1970, when Stanford, led by the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jim Plunkett, defeated Arkansas in a heartbreaker, 34-28.<br /> <br /> Arkansas also bid goodbye to the Southwest Conference here on Nov. 23, 1991. In that game, the Razorbacks handed Rice a 20-0 loss, but were rudely welcomed to the SEC a year later in a 38-11 loss to Alabama on Sept. 13, 1992. The Alabama game set the attendance record for a game at War Memorial at 55,912. Throughout the decades, the stadium was also home to many thrilling games between the Razorbacks and their once arch rival, the Texas Longhorns, several of which were nationally televised.<br /> <br /> Among the most memorable Razorback games at War Memorial took place in the last decade. On Nov. 29, 2002, Arkansas won the SEC Western Division Championship when quarterback Matt Jones threw a last-second touchdown pass to DeCori Birmingham to defeat Louisiana State University (LSU) 21-20. That game was dubbed, the “Miracle on Markham.” Six years later, Arkansas again beat LSU in the waning seconds of the game with a touchdown pass from Casey Dick to London Crawford. The pass was in the same end zone that Birmingham had caught the pass in 2002. Arkansas won 31-30 and this game was dubbed the “Miracle on Markham II.” <br /> <br /> In addition to exciting games, the atmosphere at War Memorial is renowned. It is known for its spirited tailgating parties and a supportive crowd who love to “Call the Hogs” at every opportunity they get. The tailgating, always popular at the stadium, has gotten even more popular in recent years with many fans who don’t even have game tickets hosting tailgating parties. Charlie Staggs, stadium manager, attributed the growth to the addition of reserve tailgating spots and corporate tailgating.<br /> <br /> “The corporate tailgating has really taken off, ” Staggs said, adding that stadium officials are considering adding additional tailgating space, if there is enough interest.<br /> <br /> <b>From Billy Graham to the Rolling Stones</b> <br /> <br /> Although the stadium is best known as the second home for the Arkansas Razorbacks, whose flagship stadium is located on the Fayetteville campus, other historic events have taken place here. On Nov. 11, 1994, the Rolling Stones took the stage as part of their “VooDoo Lounge” tour, followed in 1995 by Elton John and Billy Joel. That same year, the popular rock band, the Eagles, brought their “Hell Freezes Over” reunion tour to another packed house at the stadium. The Rev. Billy Graham hosted one of his famous crusades at the stadium in 1989, a week-long event that brought about 270,000 to the stadium. In 1991, Bob Hope hosted “Hope Across America,” which drew a crowd of 49,000.<br /> <br /> Besides the Razorbacks, other Arkansas colleges have played games at War Memorial, including Arkansas State University, the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Several NCAA Division II teams have played here as well.<br /> <br /> High school football is another mainstay of the stadium. The Arkansas Activities Association hosts the high school state football championship games at the stadium. Little Rock Catholic High school plays its home games at War Memorial while Saline County-based Benton and Bryant high schools play the “The Salt Bowl” there each September in a game that regularly draws about 20,000 fans. High school marching bands from around the state also gather at the stadium each fall for competitions.<br /> <br /> In addition to sporting events, the stadium’s website said the stadium can be “booked for most every event imaginable,’” including birthday parties, corporate events, trade shows, teleconferences and races.<br /> <br /> <b>The “Great Stadium Debate"</b> <br /> <br /> After decades as the Razorbacks’ home away from home, change was in the air in 2000. Then Athletic Director Frank Broyles announced that he wanted to move a home game from War Memorial to the newly expanded Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. He also said that all home games might be moved to Fayetteville. That announcement raised the ire of Little Rock city leaders, prompting the “Great Stadium Debate.” The issue kept radio talk show phone lines buzzing before an agreement was reached for a long-term Contract to keep two to three games each year in Little Rock.<br /> <br /> Although an agreement had been made and there was strong support to keep games at War Memorial, it was also clear that the stadium was in need of a major facelift. In 2003, the War Memorial Stadium Commission, led by Chairman Gary L. Smith, stepped up to the challenge and began raising funds for major renovations.<br /> <br /> <b>Miracle on Markham III</b> <br /> <br /> Work had begun on the stadium in 1995 with the addition of offices on the west side of the stadium, Staggs said. In 2000, several bleachers were replaced because they were sinking into the ground, he added. The renovation effort continued under Smith’s leadership and included the repair of structural problems with the façade, the addition of concession stands, new artificial turf, two scoreboards with video-screens, new lights, as well as the remodeling of the concourse and visitor dressing rooms. In addition, the stadium’s exterior was sandblasted, and repainted and the seats were also repainted.<br /> <br /> In keeping with its status as a memorial to Arkansans who gave their lives in service, the Sturgis Veterans Plaza was built on the west side of the stadium. It features the sculpture, “Stars and Stripes,” and is designed to be a place of remembrance and reflection. It opened in 2008 as part of the 60th anniversary celebration of the stadium.<br /> <br /> “I think a lot of people forget that it is a memorial to the dead of the great wars,” Staggs said. “We’ve just got to keep that out in front of the people.” <br /> <br /> In 2008, in the midst of the renovation project, stadium officials got good news when Athletic Director Jeff Long announced a two-year extension of the contract with the stadium. Under that extension, the Razorbacks would play two games each year at the stadium through 2016.<br /> <br /> Beginning on Dec. 14, 2009, work began on the press box and club facility, which replaced the original one built in 1966. The facility is 112 feet tall and 172 feet long and has two floors of suites and club seating for 582. The press box has been expanded with a covered deck on the rooftop for photographers and videographers. In addition, 260 outside seats were added, which expanded the capacity to more than 54,000.<br /> <br /> The new press box, located on the third floor, was named after Orville Henry, former sports editor for the Arkansas Gazette and later a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat. Henry, who died in 2002, was an Arkansas legend whose coverage of the Razorbacks was a must-read for fans. Also on this floor is the Jim Elder and Paul Eells Broadcast Booth, named for two of Arkansas’ legendary radio announcers. Eells was the play-by-play “voice of the Razorbacks” at the time of his death in 2006.<br /> <br /> The press box also features the Sports Media Legends Wall of Honor designed to salute outstanding members of the sports media. Plaques of Henry, Elder, and Eells are on the wall, along with those of Jim Bailey, sports columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; Wally Hall, sports editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Harry King, sports columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau.<br /> <br /> The University of Arkansas’ Lettermen’s Club and Recruit Room received renovations totaling more than $500,000 and the field received a new surface known as Field Turf, which is the same surface used by the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.<br /> <br /> The field is named for stadium sponsor AT&T, which installed a 3G network at the stadium to provide wireless capability for fans attending events there.<br /> <br /> The renovations were completed in time for Arkansas’ Sept. 11 game against the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The Razorbacks won that game, capping off yet another milestone in the history of the stadium. On Nov. 27, the Razorbacks will return to War Memorial to host LSU with hopes of keeping the Golden Boot trophy, which goes home each year with the winner of the game. LSU won last year’s game.<br /> <br /> Arkansas fans, no doubt, hope that another miracle won’t be required to win the upcoming LSU game. But, if it does,<br /> <br /> It wouldn’t be the third one. That one, according to Kevin Crass, a War Memorial Stadium commissioner, has already occurred. And the credit for it goes to Smith, who led the renovation project and for which the entrance to the press box and club facility is named.<br /> <br /> “Gary has been the major catalyst in transforming War Memorial Stadium from a deteriorating structure into a remarkable facility,” Crass said. “The commission wanted to honor him for his extraordinary leadership and efforts that have resulted in a rebirth of this historic place. One might call it the Miracle on Markham III.”

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here