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Memorial Stadium (Champaign)

Memorial Stadium
Zuppke Field
Location 1402 South 1st Street
Champaign, Illinois 61820
Owner University of Illinois
Operator University of Illinois
Capacity 55,524 (1923–1929)
71,119 (1930–1963)
71,227 (1964–1982)
70,906 (1983)
70,563 (1984–1986)
70,153 (1987)
69,200 (1988–1990)
70,053 (1991)
70,904 (1992–2001)
69,249 (2002–2006)
57,078 (2007)
62,870 (2008–2010)
60,670 (2011–present)[1]
Surface Grass (1923–1974)
AstroTurf (1975[2]–2000)
AstroPlay (2001–2007)
FieldTurf (2008–present)
Broke ground September 11, 1922[3]
Opened November 3, 1923
Renovated 1985, 2008, 2013
Expanded 1930
Construction cost $1,700,000
($23.5 million in 2016 dollars[4])
Architect Holabird & Roche

HNTB (renovation)
General contractor English Brothers[5]
Illinois Fighting Illini (NCAA) (1923–present)
Chicago Bears (NFL) (2002)

Memorial Stadium is a football stadium located in Champaign, Illinois, in the United States, on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The stadium is dedicated as a memorial to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students who died in World War I; their names are engraved on the nearly 200 pillars surrounding the stadium's façade.[6] The stadium is primarily used as the home of the University's football team.


  • Construction 1
  • General history 2
  • Dedication 3
  • Tributes 4
  • Capacity 5
  • Past renovations 6
  • 2008 "Illinois Renaissance" renovation 7
  • 2013 renovation 8
  • Other uses 9
  • Gallery 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


In the early 1920s, the old football stadium, Illinois Field, was deemed inadequate. There was some sentiment for retaining the site, but it was too congested to expand the stadium adequately, so a new site was selected, in a largely undeveloped area at the south end of the campus.[7]

Original plan for Memorial Stadium circa 1921. Caption from Popular Mechanics Magazine, 1921

Memorial Stadium was completed in 1923 at a cost of US$1.7 million. Its original U-shaped design borrows some form from the earlier constructed Harvard Stadium. The general contractor of the project was English Brothers of Champaign, who are in business to this day. The name was chosen in honor of the dead from World War I. The original construction was financed with donations from University students, alumni, and others. At the time, the stadium consisted of double-decked stands on the east and west sidelines. The single-decked horseshoe around the south end zone was later completed, along with a large student section near the north end zone.

Heavy rain during the construction resulted in a bulldozer sinking into the field. It was decided that the expense of removing the bulldozer would have been greater than leaving it buried under the field. It remains there today.[8]

The bell of the USS Illinois (BB-65), an Iowa-class battleship that was never completed, is on loan to the university and is currently in use. It is traditionally rung when the Fighting Illini score a touchdown or goal during home games.

General history

The first game played in the partially completed stadium was the Chicago-Illinois game on November 3, 1923, where Illinois won 7-0.


The stadium is dedicated to the men of the University of Illinois that gave their lives serving in World War I. In 2002, the stadium dedication was extended to those who died in World War II. There are a total of 200 columns on the east and west sides of the stadium. 183 columns display one name of a University of Illinois alum that lost their lives in the first war (182 men and 1 woman).

The stadium was officially dedicated on October 18, 1924, on which the University football team played a homecoming game against the University of Michigan. On way to a 39–14 Illini victory,[9] Red Grange scored six touchdowns in one of the greatest single-game performances in football history.


Memorial Stadium during Illinois' game against Iowa in 2008.
Memorial Stadium during Illinois' game against Iowa in 2008.

  • The football playing surface within the stadium is named Zuppke Field, in honor of Robert Zuppke, the University of Illinois head football coach from 1913 to 1941.
  • The north end of Zuppke Field hosts The Grange Rock, a tribute to Red Grange. The tribute was dedicated on October 22, 1994, with Mrs. Margaret Grange, Red Grange's wife, in attendance. The rock came from the same Indiana quarry that produced the stadium's columns.
  • In 2009, a 12-foot statue of Red Grange was dedicated as the capstone of the stadium's "Illinois Renaissance" renovations.
  • The Ray Eliot Varsity Room is named for Ray Eliot, the University of Illinois head football coach from 1942 to 1959.


The seating capacity of the stadium's permanent seating, including the north end zone bleachers, is 60,670.[1] This number was reduced from 62,870 when it was announced on 12 April 2011 that 2,200 south endzone bleacher seats added in 1982 would be removed. The 62,870 number had been reduced from 69,249 as part of the Illinois Renaissance program which was completed in 2008. The east main holds approximately 18,000 with the east balcony adding 10,000. The west main holds less than 13,000 on the first level plus 5,000 in the balcony. The south end zone "horseshoe" holds nearly 9,800 (12,000 before the removal of the aforementioned 2,200 seats), while the north bleachers add 5,000 more seats.

New scoreboard above the South Horseshoe in 2013

The stadium's highest single event attendance was 78,297, for a football game against the University of Missouri in 1984.

Past renovations

  • A press box was built at the top of the west balcony in 1967.
  • As part of the 1974 Golden Anniversary campaign, artificial turf was installed on the field, along with a new lighting system.
  • A $7 million renovation began in April 1985. New AstroTurf was installed, along with new football headquarters in the northeast corner of the stadium.
  • From November 1991 to August 1992, an $18 million renovation project replaced all concrete bleachers in both the east and west upper decks, along with the top 25 rows of the main stands. New restrooms were built, and the stadium's electrical and drainage systems were upgraded to meet new building codes.
  • A color scoreboard was added to the north end of the stadium for the 1994 season.
  • The stadium’s AstroTurf was replaced with AstroPlay in 2001.

2008 "Illinois Renaissance" renovation

Memorial Stadium under the renovation (2007)

A massive renovation project was unveiled for Memorial Stadium in the fall of 2005.[10] The “Illinois Renaissance” project began after the completion of the 2006 football season, and was completed just days before the 2008 season began. The concourse areas on all four sides of the stadium were improved with better concession and restroom facilities. Additionally, the concourse areas were connected all the way around the stadium for easier passage between the east and west stands. A permanent, 5,000-seat structure has been built on the north end of the stadium, and the existing scoreboard and video replay screen was moved to the south endzone. The south horseshoe was planned to be filled in down to field level, and would have completely connected the east and west stands. The horseshoe improvements, which were not implemented, would have increased seating to 14,000 seats behind the south end zone. The capacity of the west stands will be significantly reduced in order to build a large press box and luxury suite area at the top of the balcony. The new boxes will be three levels tall and will extend the entire length of the field. The new capacity of the stadium after the renovation will be 62,143. This $100 million project will be largely paid for by sales of the stadium’s new suites and luxury seating in the west stands. The field also got a new FieldTurf playing surface.

Controversy has arisen over the decision to move the bulk of the student section to the north side of the stadium.[11] Some student overflow seating is set aside on the north end of the east stands. The location may hamper the view of the student section when the ball is at the south end of the field. Critics of the plan suggest this is a move to sell the seats currently occupied by the student section at a higher price to the general public. The planners assert that they are trying to make the field noise louder and cater to the student's needs by giving them separate concessions and amenities.

The renovated stadium was rededicated at the 2008 season home opener against Eastern Illinois University on September 6, 2008.

2013 renovation

View of the new lettering and one of two new ribbon video boards at Memorial Stadium

For the start of the 2013 Fighting Illini season, the athletic department replaced the main scoreboard with a new Daktronics video board that measures 36 by 96 feet (11 by 29 m). Additionally, the stadium's sound system was updated and two 420-foot-long (130 m) ribbon video boards were installed along the façade between the upper and lower decks of the stadium's sideline seating.[12]

To recognize the Illinois Fighting Illini football's historical accomplishments, the athletic department also installed new lettering along the outside of the luxury suites and press box. The lettering lists National Championships, Big Ten Championships, Retired Numbers, and also reads Welcome to Memorial Stadium Home of the Fighting Illini.[13]

Other uses

  • Memorial Stadium was the site of the 1977 and 1979 NCAA Men's Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships
  • From December 1985 until the Spring of 2000, an inflatable practice dome known as "The Bubble" was inflated over the field, to allow for indoor practice during the winter months. "The Bubble" was replaced by the Irwin Indoor Football Practice Facility in 2001 which is just northeast of the stadium.[6]
  • On September 22, 1985, it hosted the first ever Farm Aid concert.
  • It is the site of the field show of the annual Illini Marching Band Festival, hosted by the Marching Illini and usually the largest high school marching band competition in Illinois.[14]
  • Since 1999, it has hosted the IHSA football state finals.
  • In Alma Mater's school colors.[15]
  • Since the marathon's creation in 2009, Memorial Stadium has served as the finish line for the Illinois Marathon, which is held the fourth weekend each April.


A panorama facing east from the Colonnades Club at Memorial Stadium


  1. ^ a b "Illinois Taking Out 2,200 Seats".  
  2. ^ I was a member of The Marching Illini in these years, we marched on grass in 1974. AstroTurf was installed for the 1975 season
  3. ^ "Start Work on Stadium". Christian Science Monitor. September 12, 1922. Retrieved September 28, 2011. 
  4. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  5. ^ Memorial Stadium Dedication Plaque
  6. ^ a b "2012 Illinois Football Game Day Staff Handbook" (PDF). University of Illinois Department of Athletics. Retrieved December 31, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "General History". University of Illinois Department of Athletics. Archived from the original on July 3, 2008. Retrieved September 28, 2007. 
  8. ^ "Campus Tours: Memorial Stadium". University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Retrieved December 31, 2013. 
  9. ^ Howell, James. "Illinois Historical Scores". College Football History Database. Retrieved December 31, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Illinois Renaissance". University of Illinois Department of Athletics. Archived from the original on May 9, 2013. Retrieved September 30, 2007. 
  11. ^ "Editorial: Memorial Stadium Student Section Moves".  
  12. ^ "Memorial Stadium to Get New Daktronics Video Display for 2013". University of Illinois Department of Athletics. January 30, 2013. Retrieved December 31, 2013. 
  13. ^ Birkhead, Brandon (August 24, 2013). "New Addition to Memorial Stadium".  
  14. ^ "Illini Marching Band Championships". Illinois Bands. Retrieved December 31, 2013. 
  15. ^ "University of Illinois-Chicago Bears Form Partnership". University of Illinois Department of Athletics. October 22, 2001. Retrieved December 31, 2013. 

External links

  • Memorial Stadium page at the University of Illinois Athletics site
  • Memorial Stadium history/timeline
  • University of Illinois Memorial Stadium view from above
Preceded by
Soldier Field
Home of the Chicago Bears
Succeeded by
Soldier Field
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