Commonwealth Stadium, Through The Players And Coaches: 40 Years Of Reflection

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The Kentucky Wildcats football program started the 1970′s with a new head coach, John Ray, entering his second season. It was just a few years later that the Kentucky Wildcats football program would have a total makeover, with a new head coach, Fran Curci, and a new home field. John Ray amassed a record of just 10-33 through his four seasons at Kentucky, and the program needed some energy put back into the fan base. The stadium was a problem as well. Stoll Field/McLean Stadium had been the home of Kentucky Wildcats football since 1916 and its age was catching up to it. But more than just age, the size of the stadium was making the football program fall behind as well. The capacity of Stoll Field/McLean Stadium, in its final years, was at 37,000. That was not up-to-par with the rest of the SEC and the athletic department knew that there needed to be a change to level the playing field. Here were the stadium capacities of the SEC stadiums entering the 1972 season, Stoll Field/McLean Stadium’s final season as the home field for the Kentucky Wildcats:

  • 70,650 Neyland Stadium (Tennessee)
  • 67,510 Tiger Stadium (LSU)
  • 62,800 Florida Field (Florida)
  • 61,261 Cliff Hare Stadium (Auburn)
  • 60,210 Denny Stadium (Alabama)
  • 59,200 Sanford Stadium (Georgia)
  • 37,000 Stoll Field/McLean Stadium (Kentucky)
  • 35,000 Scott Field (Mississippi State)
  • 34,500 Hemingway Stadium (Ole Miss)
  • 34,000 Dudley Field (Vanderbilt)

As a result, the Wildcats brought in some young energy in head coach Fran Curci, 35 years old at the time of his hire at Kentucky. To top it all off, the program built a nice, new, bigger stadium at the opposite end of campus. The capacity for the Kentucky home games increased 56.8%, from 37,000 to 58,000. The new stadium closed the gap with the top of the SEC and the fans were re-energized. The stadium was named Commonwealth Stadium and the finished product was the picture posted above. The first game in the new Commonwealth Stadium was on September 15th, 1973 against the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Wildcats went on to win the game 31-26. This past Sunday was the 40th anniversary of that first game at Commonwealth Stadium. If you’ve been a true fan of Kentucky football throughout these past 40 years, then you’ve literally seen it all, especially at Commonwealth Stadium. There have been great wins, defeating #1 LSU in 2007, and embarrassing losses, losing to first-year Division I-A program Northeast Louisiana in 1994. There have been blowout wins, beating UTEP by 60 points in 2002, and blowout losses, losing by 48 points to Tennessee in 1993. There have been thrilling wins in the final seconds, a last-second field goal to beat Cincinnati in 1991, and heartbreaking losses in the final seconds, Wuerffel to Doering in 1993 and Randall to Henderson in 2002. There have been great Kentucky teams, the 10-1 squad in 1977 and 11 bowl teams, and great opponents, 5 national champions: 1980 Georgia, 1981 Clemson, 2007 LSU, 2009 Alabama, and 2010 Auburn. There have been great Kentucky players, Heisman Trophy finalist and #1 pick Tim Couch, eleven First-Team All-Americans, and six first round draft picks, and great opposing players, four Heisman Trophy winners: Herschel Walker, Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram, and Cam Newton, and 17 College Football Hall of Fame inductees.

To look back at the past 40 years, I decided to talk to the great players and coaches that have come through the Kentucky Wildcats football program and pick their brain concerning their favorite, and least favorite, moments at Commonwealth Stadium. It was amazing, to me, to get to interview the players and coaches that I idolized growing up and was extremely fun, and enlightening, to learn which game, play, etc. was their favorite during their time at Commonwealth Stadium. So, without further ado, relax and take a trip down memory lane as we, as fans, relive the past 40 years of Commonwealth Stadium through the players and coaches:

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Tags: Football Kentucky Wildcats

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