For all the legendary players and memorable moments it has hosted on its bluegrass turf over the past 437 games, Notre Dame Stadium has unquestionably developed a lore of its own. The stadium, which celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2010, continues to be one of the most recognizable and revered structures in the world of sport.
It was the success of Knute Rockne's football teams that prompted the addition of the original Notre Dame Stadium to the University's athletics plant back in 1930. The spirit that was imbued by that 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 eight decades of football at Notre Dame Stadium.
Originally designed by Osborn Engineering Company - the same firm that designed Comiskey Park in Chicago and New York's Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds - the total cost of construction exceeded $750,000 and it was patterned on a smaller scale after the University of Michigan's stadium. The 1996 season was the final one played with the customary 59,075 fans at Notre Dame Stadium. A $50-million expansion adding over 21,000 seats was completed before the 1997 kickoff, bringing capacity to its present-day 80,795.
The Stadium measures a half-mile in circumference, stands 45 feet high and features 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 are more than 2,000,000 bricks in the edifice, 400 tons of steel and 15,000 cubic yards of concrete. The total cost of construction exceeded $750,000.
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 basically is the same one in use today.
Notre Dame Stadium, maybe the most renowned college football facility in the nation, now qualifies as one of the most up to date as well, thanks to a major addition and renovations that boosted its capacity to more than 80,000 beginning with the 1997 campaign.
The 1996 season was the final one played with the customary 59,075 fans at Notre Dame Stadium. A $50-million expansion adding over 21,000 seats was completed before the 1997 season kickoff. To upgrade on the 1997 renovation, two new scoreboards were installed in both end zones before the 2009 season that utilize the latest in LED-screen technologies.
Elements of the construction included:
- All field seating and the first three rows in the permanent stands were eliminated to improve sight lines.
- A new natural-grass field and a new drainage system were put in place.
- Two new scoreboards were erected on the north and south ends of the Stadium.
- A Jim and Marilyn Fitzgerald Family Sports and Communications Center, a new three-tier press box with views of both the field and the campus, was constructed on the west side - with seating for 330 media in the main portion of the press box, three television broadcast booths, five radio broadcast booths and an overall increase in square footage almost four times the original space.
- New landscaping created a park-like setting on the periphery of the Stadium.
- The locker rooms for both Notre Dame and the visiting team more than doubled in size - with the Irish locker area also serving as a permanent area used by Irish players all year long for both games and practices. In addition, a new, expanded training room was constructed adjacent to the locker room.
- Lights were installed in each corner of the Stadium bowl and on top of the press box in time for use in the final month of the '96 season.
- Material for the project included 240,000 concrete blocks, 700,000 new bricks, 500 cubic yards of mortar, 25,000 cubic yards of cast-in-place concrete, five miles of new handrails and guardrails - and eight and a half miles of redwood seating.
- More than 3,500 sheets of drawings were used to build the project.
- Eleven new openings, for a total of 31, were cut into the old Stadium brick exterior to allow fans to connect the old and new lower concourse areas.
- The lettering at the north and south canopy as well as the interlocking ND logo at the top of the press box west face are gold laminate.
- Within the design of the entry gates, fans may notice the diagonal stripes of the end zone, hash marks and a football.
- All existing urinals were refinished as part of the renovation, and there are approximately two-and-a-half times more new women's toilets.
- Each of the approximately 44,000 old seating brackets was sandblasted and recoated with an epoxy primer.
- Glazed brick was salvaged and reused in the expanded varsity locker area.
- Notre Dame players continue to enter the field down a set of stairs past the "Play Like A Champion" sign, but stairs to the visiting locker room have been eliminated, with the top of the processional tunnel ramp now serving as the visiting team entrance.
Casteel Construction Corp. of South Bend was the general contractor for the project. Ellerbe Becket, Inc., of Kansas City, Mo., was the architect.
The project was financed primarily by the November 1994 issuance of $53 million in tax-exempt, fixed-rate bonds. The bonds were sold in 26 states and the District of Columbia, with more than 20 percent sold to retail buyers and almost 80 percent to institutional buyers.
The incremental revenues from the expansion will exceed the debt service on the bonds by $47 million over the next 30 years, allowing the project not only to pay for itself, but also to generate $47 million for academic and student life needs.
Entering 2014, the Irish have played before a sellout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium in 237 consecutive games and 285 of the last 286 home contests have been played before a capacity crowd. Every home game since 1966 has been a sellout except one - a 1973 Thanksgiving Day matchup with Air Force. Notre Dame has played 437 games inside Notre Dame Stadium and compiled a 325-107-5 record (.749).