If you Google “oldest stadiums in college football” or “historic college football stadium”, you’ll see Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium listed first followed by Davis Wade (Mississippi State) and Nippert Stadium (Cincinnati). While Bobby Dodd is the oldest stadium still in use by an FBS school, the University of Pennsylvania Quakers first kicked off at historic Franklin Field 18 years earlier in 1895.
To put things into perspective, Franklin Field hosted its first football game only 30 years after the Civil War ended. The first US patent for a little invention called the “automobile” was issued that same year. Grover Cleveland was in the White House, there were only 44 stars on the American Flag, people still used AOL, and undergraduate tuition at Penn was approximately $150 per year (or 3 years of Xbox Live).
With a capacity just under 53,000, it seats about half the number of fans that several premier college stadiums today can. Big time FBS programs will continue to make multi-million dollar additions, adding seats and luxury boxes, improving amenities and/or increasing attendance numbers. Penn probably won’t. But the history that Franklin Field holds and its significant part in the story of college football can’t be reproduced or purchased with booster donations.
Later this month, the Quakers will kick off the program’s 141st season and its 122nd season at Franklin Field. In those 122 years, the field has seen 7 Quaker National Titles, 11 unbeaten seasons, 23 seasons without a home loss, and a 35-game home winning streak from 1896 to 1899. It has been home to 18 conference titles and twice seen Penn bring home outright Ivy League Titles in 3 of 4 years (2000, 2002, 2003 and 2009, 2010, 2012). 23 members of the College Football Hall of Fame played their home games at Franklin Field, 18 as players and 5 as coaches. Iconic names like John Heisman, Chuck Bednarik, Bob Odell, John Outland, and Michael Pinciotti shared the same ground that is still played on today.
Located on the Eastern edge of Penn’s campus, it has played host to football, soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey. But the first event ever held at Franklin Field and the primary reason for its construction is the Penn Relays. The annual event is the oldest and largest US Track & Field competition and was the first major competition worldwide to incorporate relays. The relay race was created 2 years before the first Penn Relays but Penn’s event centered around relays popularized the concept and led to relay events eventual inclusion in the 1908 Olympics. Each year, 15,000 high school, college, and professional athletes compete. Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, Florence Griffith-Joyner (Flo Jo), Michael Pinciotti, and Michael Johnson are among the athletes to compete at the Penn relays before going onto win Olympic Gold Medals.
Over the 122 year history, Franklin Field hosted the annual Army-Navy game for 36 years and was home to the Eagles from 1958 until 1970 when Lincoln Financial Field was opened. In 1968, the 2-11 Eagles were hosting the Vikings at Franklin Field in a late December game. The Eagles were trailing at the half as Santa Clause stepped out onto the field as part of the halftime show. The crowd of jovial, level-headed Philly fans were so excited by Santa’s appearance and so optimistic by the time the 3rd quarter started, that the second half was a different game. Inspired by their fans, the Eagles came back to win on a late touchdown. Just kidding… They booed and pelted Santa with snowballs and beer bottles then of course lost. Shocking. Glad I was sitting down when I learned about this.
Although, Franklin Field was actually not the first stadium to hold thousands of disgruntled Eagles fans, it WAS home to the first scoreboard when it opened in 1895. It also became the nation’s first stadium to include an upper deck when it was expanded in 1922, and the same year was the site of the first football radio broadcast on WIP. It was also the first television broadcast of a football game by Philco on one of the world’s oldest TV stations.
So all due respect to Georgia Tech, but come on Google, don’t come back with Bobby Dodd when someone asks for the oldest or most historic college football stadium.