Second in a two-part series Van originally wrote as a “primary sources research paper” for Anthony Carey’s History Research Methods course in 1996, while working on a History PhD at Auburn. Read Part One here.
IV. JORDAN-HARE: FIFTH-LARGEST CITY IN ALABAMA
1980: The West Deck
Despite a slight decline in on-field fortunes during the 1970s, two more rivals, Georgia Tech (1970) and Tennessee (1974), finally made the trip to the Plains. Auburn had played its home game with each of them in Birmingham’s Legion Field for a number of years, a situation used by Alabama to argue that Legion Field was a “neutral site” for the Auburn-Alabama game, since Auburn already played occasional games there.
Jordan-Hare was an unqualified success, selling out despite a dearth of championships and Sugar Bowl trips during the 1960s and 1970s. With six home games a year by 1970 and revenues increasing, thoughts once again turned to expansion. An upper deck would be added to the west stands by 1980, credited by the Auburn Media Guide as due to the exploits of players such as James Brooks and Joe Cribbs. For whatever reason, the stadium’s success despite the Tigers’ mediocrity and probation during the late 1970s proves that Auburn had finally come into its own.
The Trustees of 1977 were slightly less enthusiastic over the prospect of expansion than their counterparts of earlier years had been. When Coach Lee Hayley, Chairman of the Stadium Expansion Committee, presented the recommendation of the committee for an upper deck and electric lighting for night games to be installed, “a lengthy discussion ensued.” Finally, Coach Jordan, who by now served as a Board member, motioned for a vote, and the Board authorized preliminary working plans by a majority of only six to three. The days of instant unanimous votes for stadium growth had ended.
The Board discussed the possibility of authorizing the president to develop a bond plan for funding the additions on June 5, 1978. Once again Coach Jordan motioned for a vote, and the Board approved the measure, eight to one. The matter came to a head on November 29, 1978. Once again, Coach Jordan asked for a vote of the Trustees, and by a margin of only four to three, the Board authorized the expansion. The resolution stated that expansion and lighting of the stadium were “felt to be in the best interest for a quality athletic program at Auburn University.” The resolution went on to defend its position on the grounds that the move was “recommended by a special committee,” and had obtained the approval of the Auburn Alumni Executive Committee. Approval at last obtained, construction began before the year was out.
The Auburn Bulletin reported specifics on the new addition in late 1979. The completed stadium would hold over 72,000 people, with the additions coming in at a cost of approximately $7 million. The new West Deck towered 150 feet above the field and projected twenty feet out over Donahue Drive. The article describes the West Deck’s combination of press and television area, president’s and athletic director’s boxes, concession and reception areas, and a deck of over 10,000 new seats. Light stands were incorporated into the West Deck while three light towers stood 140 feet over the east stands. These three towers would stand only seven years before making way for the East Deck.
The lights would not be used until Auburn’s first night game, September 19, 1981, against Wake Forest. The stadium itself, however, opened in renovated form to begin the 1980 season and was an immediate success.
1987: The East Deck
Soon after the West Deck was completed, Auburn hired a new head football coach and athletic director: Patrick Fain Dye. A tough competitor who had coached at Alabama under “Bear” Bryant and played at Georgia under Wally Butts, Dye understood the importance of making Auburn’s home game with Alabama a true home game.
Jordan-Hare Stadium, though at this point holding over 72,000 fans, still trailed Birmingham’s Legion Field in capacity. Dye knew that a stadium larger than Alabama’s would be a lever with which he could move the heretofore intransigent Tide. Almost immediately after taking the reins at Auburn, he set out to make that goal a reality.
In late 1984, with a feasibility study completed, Dye’s proposal came before the Board. Though the West Deck had only been completed four years earlier, the Trustees voted (with no totals listed) to establish a budget of not more than $15 million for the project, with none of the funds to come from “the general fund, student fees, nor the full faith and credit of Auburn University.” The resolution specifically mentions Dye’s recommendation, as well as the demand for additional seats in the stadium.
On July 2, 1985, the Board met in a special called meeting in Foy Union, on the Auburn campus, with much of the administration and the media present, in order to clarify the financial aspects of the expansion. The new resolution pledged funds from revenue-generating sports, executive suite revenue, other concessions, and a portion of student fees to underwrite the stadium bond issue. On September 20, by a vote of eight to one, the Board approved issuance of $30,115,000 in bonds.
Clearly the Alabama game figured prominently in the actions of the Trustees as well as in those of Dye. On December 21, 1985, (significantly only days after Alabama had defeated Auburn on a last-second field goal, in Birmingham, and on an Auburn “home” year,) the Board voted unanimously to “endorse the recommendation of the Athletic Director [Dye] and the President of Auburn University and instructs that a contract be negotiated with the University of Alabama to have the Alabama game played in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium when Auburn University is the home team.” The resolution specifically pointed out the planned increase in seating capacity of Jordan-Hare, and declared that “it is in the best interest of Auburn University to play this game in Jordan-Hare Stadium.” The Trustees had taken the step of resolving the game site a vital matter to the University itself, in effect firing a warning shot over Alabama’s bow that Auburn was determined to resolve the matter, once and for all.
With the posturing and paperwork complete, construction of an east upper deck began. This expansion also saw installation of a mammoth new scoreboard, complete with animated display screen and massive public address system, over the south stands. Jordan-Hare, one of the few stadiums in the country with absolutely no interior advertising at that time and for years afterward, would not allow a scoreboard which contained advertising. The Coca-Cola Company proposed in 1985 to erect the new scoreboard, free of any advertising, for $1 million. Coca-Cola made the offer contingent on the right to sole distribution of Coke products in the stadium for the next ten years. The Board agreed.
The eighth expansion, this construction would bring the stadium’s capacity to 85,214. In addition to the deck of seats, more than a thousand scholarship donor seats and seventy-one luxury executive suites were built.
Those skyboxes, expected to be leased by corporations entertaining clients, would figure significantly in the funding of the expansion. Sixty-five of them held twelve persons and rented (in 1987) for $24,000 a season. Four held eighteen guests and rented for $36,000 per year. One held thirty people and rented for $48,000 a year. The University used the seventy-first. The suites were carpeted, with theater seats, a kitchenette, bathrooms, heat and air conditioning, and a closed-circuit television. Food and alcoholic beverages were available in the suites as well (though alcohol was prohibited anywhere else in the stadium).
In addition to the suites and a new section for high school recruits, former Associate Athletic Director Oval Jaynes saw other benefits to the 1987 expansion: “[It] will allow Auburn to move ahead with its scholarship donor program. Last season 160 scholarship donors had to sit in the stands rather than in the special section on both sides of the press box.” Jaynes noted that the scholarship program was nearly deemphasized in the early 1980s because many new donors, who were giving $3,000 a year, could not be guaranteed sideline seats. Room had existed for them within the stadium, but older season ticket holders would have had to be relocated to the end zones. This would not have been a popular move.
Pat Dye called the East Deck “the most positive step we have taken for our total athletic program since we’ve been at Auburn.” He went on to predict that the new income would benefit all aspects of athletics at Auburn, as well as providing much-needed seats for scholarship donors. “It will also give us room to grow in the future. This is the result of four years of coming together by the entire Auburn family, students, faculty, alumni and friends.”
The East and West Decks were indeed designed with future growth in mind; they could have been connected at either end (or both) to create a second “bowl” of seats, similar to the layout of fully expanded Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. Given the width of Auburn’s stadium, however, a double-ringed design would have given Jordan-Hare a larger capacity even than mighty Neyland.
The Auburn Tigers kicked off the 1987 season in newly-expanded Jordan-Hare Stadium against the University of Texas, who had been added to the schedule prior to the season in order to provide a “name” opponent for the opener. Over 80,000 fans filled the stadium (including this intrepid columnist), the largest crowd ever to witness a football game in the state of Alabama at that time. (Auburn utterly dominated the Longhorns and won, 31-3). By the end of the season, the stadium had been nearly filled twice, in games against Florida and Florida State.
The next season, against Georgia, Jordan-Hare sold out. Even so, one matter remained to be settled. The Alabama Crimson Tide had to play in Auburn.
On December 2, 1984, Auburn’s Sports Information Department had issued a press release first announcing the expansion of the stadium. Dye’s unannounced goal, even before then, was to bring Alabama to Auburn to play. Five years to the day after that announcement, he would have his wish.
V. THE LAST BRICK IN OUR HOUSE
1989: First Time Ever
The Florida game at Auburn late in the 1989 season featured the commemoration of Jordan-Hare’s fiftieth anniversary. Florida was chosen because it had been the very first opponent, way back in 1939, to play in Auburn Stadium. (At halftime, the two players who scored Auburn’s first touchdown in that game re-enacted their feat with a touchdown pass.) The Tigers went on to win that game in dramatic (and remarkably similar)fashion with a last-second touchdown pass from Reggie Slack to Shane Wasden. In any other year, this might have been the premiere event of the season. But another game that year attracted much more attention from all concerned. On December 2, Alabama would be coming to Auburn.
By the late 1980s, with all of Auburn’s other opponents now playing in Auburn, Alabama’s longstanding argument that Legion Field represented a “neutral site” had lost much of its grounding. No longer a second home for the Tigers, as it still was for the Tide, Legion Field only served as a home field for Auburn once every two years. Even then, the tickets were split down the middle, with half to Auburn and half to Alabama. The only real sign that it was a home game for Auburn was the fact that on odd years the Tigers wore blue jerseys.
Jordan-Hare Stadium was now the largest football facility in the state, and the Tide could no longer deny the truth: They must play the Tigers in Auburn. A change of coaches and athletic directors in Tuscaloosa in 1987 smoothed the way, but the move had at this point become inevitable. Former Tide Coach Ray Perkins had said, “It won’t happen,” shortly before leaving the Capstone for Tampa Bay in 1986. A scant year later, on paper at least, it happened.
The move would be incremental, with 1987 seeing the last of the fifty-fifty split of tickets at Legion Field as Auburn was the home team. The next year would be a true Alabama home game in the stadium that had always been home to them anyway, and they kept most of the tickets for themselves. At last, in December of 1989, Auburn’s nemesis, the Crimson Tide, finally visited Jordan-Hare Stadium, in a game that quickly became known simply as “First Time Ever.” The fact that Auburn won the game—knocking off a second-ranked and undefeated Crimson Tide in the process—almost takes a backseat to the fact that it was played there at all.
It was an event unlike any before on the Plains. Pat Dye, referring to the completion of the second upper deck two years earlier and the subsequent capitulation of Alabama to agree to come to Auburn, called that day, “the last brick in our house.” The task was completed. Auburn finally hosted all of its home football games. As one observer put it, this was “the story of how a people and a football program wandered across the Southeast in search of a home, and how they came to find that home.”
The Tide had one final degradation in store for their rivals before they would agree to come to the Plains in 1989. They insisted that although the 1989 game could be played in Auburn, the following Tigers home game (in 1991) would have to be played back in Birmingham. Exhausted with the bickering, Auburn agreed, simply to put the matter to rest. Thus in 1991, Auburn came to decorate Alabama’s beloved Legion Field in orange and blue, or as close to it as the Tide-oriented electronics on the scoreboard could come. A giant AU was painted on the cheap AstroTurf at midfield, a pale mockery of the one gracing the lush grass of Jordan-Hare. Alabama won the game, but Auburn fans almost didn’t care. It was over. Legion Field was history; from then on it would be just another place to visit—and that not for very much longer.
VI: FURTHER EXPANSION
Jordan-Hare’s story has been one of constant growth and expansion from the beginning. And yet, in all the years following the 1987 expansion with the East Deck and related facilities, only slight and mostly cosmetic upgrades have been undertaken.
Until the 1990s, the stadium averaged an expansion every eight years, eventually ranking among the top ten on-campus facilities of its kind. In 1990, for the second year in a row, Auburn sold all 75,000 season ticket books and turned away still more applicants. At that time, ticket manager Bill Beckwith envisioned the addition of more enclosed and air-conditioned club level seats, which would sell for more than $2,000 apiece, in the south end zone. “The revenue from those additional club level seats could be used to fund future construction of an upper deck in the south end zone to handle the overflow of students and demand for regular tickets.” With student ticket purchases up by 4,000 between 1985 and 1989, demand for seats was seen as continuously rising.
Importantly, the 1990 sellout was achieved without the added “hook” of a home Alabama game, as there had been for the first time in 1989. Beckwith found this aspect “particularly gratifying.” For many years, officials and supporters of the University of Alabama had claimed Auburn was incapable of supporting a major football program without the draw of playing Alabama every year. Many felt Jordan-Hare would fall far short of selling out its many seats on years without a visit by the Crimson Tide. Consistent sellouts in the years after 1989 served as evidence that Auburn football had become a tremendous draw in its own right. “We have reached the point where we no longer need something like the Alabama game to help us sell out,” Beckwith said at the time. “We’ve gone up to a higher level. Auburn football is selling itself.”
1996: The World’s Largest Classroom: Dr. Kicklighter Fulfills a Dream (or a least an idle fancy)
On June 3, 1996, squirrels knocked out Auburn’s campus electricity (they were forever getting into the transformers and blowing them up), just as Dr. Joseph Kicklighter prepared to administer final exams for his freshman history class. As he later put it, he was “fulfilling my lifelong fantasy to teach in the stadium” when he led his 325 students out of their darkened classroom and across the street. There, in the bright sunshine, he turned Jordan-Hare Stadium into the world’s largest classroom.
1998: Murals, Upgrades and Ads
As part of an overall stadium upgrade prior to the start of the 1998 season, and in conjunction with upgrades to Plainsman Park (the baseball facility), the long ban on interior advertising gave way to a “corporate sponsorship package” that included a variety of ads for companies such as Alabama Power and HealthSouth. During this time, the concourses were somewhat upgraded, including the addition of small televisions overhead along the walkway, and the interior of the stadium experienced a new paint job.
This overhaul also included the addition of a big-screen television to the scoreboard (all the big programs were adding them that year), within an attractive display filling nearly the entire width above the South Stands. The display included pictures of past Auburn greats such as Bo Jackson, Tracy Rocker, Pat Sullivan, and Pat Dye, above featured advertisers’ logos. The stadium’s sound system enjoyed an upgrade that year, too—a custom-built, computer-driven system that filled a small room and was capable of directing roughly the same level of sound to any point within the stadium (though admittedly, at times, it fluctuated due to wind conditions and computer readjustments).
Ten giant (eleven by twenty-nine foot) murals covering Auburn’s football history to that point, by artist Michael Taylor, were also added to the exterior of the East Stands that year.
2001: Reconfiguring the Locker Rooms and Restoring the End Zones
The capacity of Jordan-Hare Stadium actually increased by a relatively small amount, to 86,063, prior to the 2001 season, as Coach Tommy Tuberville ordered the locker rooms to be reconfigured. This operation moved the visitors’ locker room from underneath the South Stands to a new location in the northeast corner, giving the visitors a new tunnel from which to emerge onto the field. The home locker room was dramatically upgraded and expanded, and a new tunnel was added, allowing Auburn’s team to come onto the field from the center of the South Stands. A giant “AU” logo in the center of the home locker room floor was declared off-limits to foot traffic by that year’s seniors, and has been roped off ever since.
2002-Present: A North Upper Deck, or What?
The plan assembled during the Dye years had called for the eventual enclosure of each end of the stadium by connecting the Upper East and Upper West decks across the end zones. Had this been done, Jordan-Hare would surely have surpassed even Neyland Stadium in Knoxville in capacity, given the wider distance between the decks in Auburn. The University came very close during the 1990s to enclosing the south end in this manner, which would have taken the capacity to 91,714, making it the fourth-largest stadium in the country at that time, but for various reasons this never came to fruition.
A study after the 2002 season, however, revealed that scholarship seating and additional skyboxes were the real items in demand, not more general seating. In response, Auburn prepared new plans to build a free-standing smaller deck and skybox enclosure above the North Stands within the next couple of years, in a configuration similar to what Florida added to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during the 1990s. This addition would have taken Jordan-Hare’s capacity closer to 90,000, though probably not much over that total. (The section numbers 62-99 had been saved for any newly-constructed seating in that manner.)
At the end of the 2004 season, work began on a compromise solution to the need for more skyboxes. The existing East Deck was expanded slightly, lengthening it at each end. This provided more space underneath for additional skyboxes, while also adding a relatively modest number of general (open air) seats above. The stadium’s capacity following this modest project reached 87,451.
At the Alabama game at the end of the 2005 season, the field itself was named in honor of former Head Football Coach Pat Dye—the man most responsible for bringing the Alabama game to Auburn on a permanent basis.
Between the 2006 and 2007 seasons, a major renovation of the walkways and related facilities underneath the stadium was set to overhaul the appearance and capacity of the pedestrian areas. A major portion of this project included the addition of many new, and much-needed, women’s restrooms.
Before the 2007 season, a massive, $2.9 million, thirty-by-seventy-four foot high definition video display replaced the existing large scoreboard above the south stands. Jordan-Hare thus became the first SEC stadium to feature an HD video display and the second in all of the NCAA after Texas.
Following the 2010 National Championship season, Coach Gene Chizik and Athletics Director Jay Jacobs had the stadium’s external decorations renovated to reflect Auburn’s various football achievements, including conference and national titles and Heisman and other individual trophy winners.
The issue of possible further major expansions to the stadium remained an open question.
The evidence shows the main motivation for expanding the stadium over the years has been to persuade larger or more prestigious schools to come to Auburn to play Auburn’s home games. This in turn increased Auburn’s prestige and share of the profits. Unfortunately, accomplishing this was never easy. Visitors such as Georgia and Tennessee and especially Alabama much preferred to play at nearby neutral sites, especially if as many or more seats were available there.
To bring the teams to Auburn, the stadium was expanded. To secure the Alabama game, Pat Dye virtually forced through a second deck only seven years after the first was added. Eventually all of the teams, even the Crimson Tide, could no longer refuse to come. All of their excuses had evaporated.
Yet even as Auburn’s stadium grew to a size competitive with the others, Auburn still needed fans buying tickets and sitting in the seats. Anyone can build a large stadium only to have it stand half-empty on game day. Auburn built a large stadium to attract big home games, but for the program to be successful, the seats had to be filled. To fill the stadium, the team’s success on the field became a priority. The Tigers have indeed been successful on the field, winning conference and national titles and many individual honors. The one factor has fed the other. The teams have been competitive, the fans have come, and the stadium has grown.
This history of Jordan-Hare Stadium was originally written as part of my coursework in Auburn’s History PhD program, back in 1996. Most of the research involved sifting through boxes of original items (primary sources) held by the Auburn University Archives at Ralph B. Draughon Library. Additional information has been added over the years. Sources consulted for this project are listed here.
At the same time I was in the Archives room, digging through old press clippings and game programs, the great Auburn Journalism prof, Jack Simms, was seated at the next table over, preparing his wonderful Auburn: A Pictorial History of the Loveliest Village. Talk about inspiration!
Top photo courtesy Allen Spain; 1981 Glomerata.
Van Allen Plexico managed to attend Auburn (and score student football tickets) for some portion of every year between 1986 and 1996. He realizes that’s probably not something one should brag about, but hey. He teaches college near St Louis (because ten years as a student was somehow just not enough time to spend at school) and writes and edits for a variety of publishers. Find links to his various projects at www.plexico.net.
Related: The secret history of Pat Dye Field.
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