For all the legendary players and memorable moments it has hosted on its bluegrass turf over the past 361 games, Notre Dame Stadium has unquestionably developed a lore all its own. Now in its 73rd year of service to Irish football, the stadium continues to be one of the most recognizable and revered structures in the world of sport.
But the Notre Dame Stadium that Irish fans have visited and viewed since 1997 underwent the most involved expansion and remodeling since the facility was first built. More than 21,000 new seats are now available, bringing capacity to 80,795.
It was the success of Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame football teams – plus the legendary coach’s own personal building blueprint – that prompted the addition of the original Notre Dame Stadium to the University’s athletic plant back in 1930.
The spirit that was imbued by the Rockne era – and has been sustained by seven Heisman Trophy winners and dozens more All-Americans who have competed on that turf – has changed little in more than seven decades of football at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Irish first played their games on Cartier Field, then located just north of the current stadium site. But as the University’s national football reputation expanded, thanks to the coaching of Rockne, the need for a new home for the Irish was voiced since no more than 30,000 fans could squeeze into the Cartier facility.
Architectural blueprints and bids were received from prominent contractors throughout the nation once plans became more specific by 1929. The Osborn Engineering Company, which had designed more than 50 stadia in the country – including Comiskey Park in Chicago, Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds in New York City, and facilities at Michigan, Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota – was awarded the contract and excavation began that summer.
Actual labor on the foundations of the Stadium did not commence until April, 1930, but four months later Notre Dame Stadium opened its 18 gates for its first use.
The Stadium measured a half-mile in circumference, stood 45 feet high and featured a glass-enclosed press box rising 60 feet above ground level and originally accommodating 264 writers plus facilities for photographers and radio and television broadcasters. There were more than 2,000,000 bricks in the original edifice, 400 tons of steel and 15,000 cubic yards of concrete. The total cost of construction exceeded $750,000, and architecturally the Notre Dame Stadium was patterned, on a smaller scale, after the University of Michigan’s mammoth stadium.
Though Rockne had a chance to coach in the new facility only in its initial season of use, he took a personal hand in its design. The sod from Cartier Field was transplanted into the new Stadium, but Rockne insisted on its use for football only. He kept the area between the field and the stands small to keep sideline guests, as he called them, to a minimum – and he personally supervised the parking and traffic system that remained much the same until the 21,150-seat addition in 1997.
With a crowd on hand far less than the 54,000 capacity, the Irish opened the facility by defeating SMU 20-14 on Oct. 4, 1930. Official dedication ceremonies came a week later against traditional foe Navy. This time, more than 40,000 fans cheered a 26-2 triumph over the Midshipmen. Frank E. Hering, captain of the 1898 team and the first Notre Dame coach as well as president of the Alumni Association, delivered the major speech during the ceremonies.
It took another year before the Irish played before their first capacity crowd (50,731 for the ’31 USC game), but full houses and Notre Dame victories have been the rule rather than the exception. Since that 1930 opening, the Irish have compiled an impressive 276-80-5 (.771) mark in Notre Dame Stadium, while an average of 54,857 spectators have watched.
During 25 of those seasons the Irish did not lose at home. Beginning with a 27-20 win over Northwestern on November 21, 1942, and ending with a 28-14 loss to Purdue on Oct. 7, 1950, Notre Dame won 28 straight games in Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish went 4-2 at home in 2001, and just missed out on a perfect 6-0 home record in 2000, after losing to Nebraska 27-24 in overtime. Notre Dame was 5-2 at home in ’99 after completing the 1998 campaign with a 6-0 mark, their first undefeated season at home since 1989.
Notre Dame’s largest crowd ever to witness a game in the Stadium prior to the expansion was 61,296 in a 24-6 loss to Purdue on Oct. 6, 1962. However, attendance figures since 1966 have been based on paid admissions, rather than total in the house, thus accounting for the familiar 59,075 figure every week prior to ’97.
Since that 1966 season every Irish home game has been a sellout, with the exception of a Thanksgiving Day matchup with Air Force in 1973. That game, won by the Irish 48-15, had been changed to the holiday to accomodate national television and was played with students absent from campus.
Navy again was the opponent in 1979 when Notre Dame celebrated the 50th season of service of Notre Dame Stadium. Commemorative edition tickets which were authentic reproductions used for the 1930 dedication game were used.
The final home game of 1991 against Tennessee saw two more stadium milestones reached. The 100th straight sellout crowd entered the stadium, which was hosting its 300th game since the 1930 opening.
Since that day, 272 of the 361 games (including 209 of the last 210) played in Notre Dame Stadium have been viewed by capacity crowds for a .753 percentage.
On the road the Irish have played before 236 capacity crowds among the 400 games (.590). The total .668 percentage includes 508 capacity crowds of 761 games.