In Major League Baseball, they have Wrigley Field. In college football, there’s Notre Dame Stadium. In college basketball, Allen Fieldhouse and Cameron Indoor Stadium are fan favorites.
Regardless of the sport, each has at least one facility that stands out above the others as historic. These are the places diehards will travel thousands of miles just to see in person on a non-game day.
However, there also are the many other facilities that do not evoke the same thoughts and feelings in most fans.
On a recent trip to the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Ill., I made a stop at Ryan Field. While the Wildcats’ football stadium wasn’t nearly as impressive as a trip to Notre Dame Stadium, I did manage to find my way onto the playing field and take a look around.
A football field in the dead of winter is an interesting place. Rather than larger-than-life offensive lineman and purple-clad students and band members, the field was filled with a flock of geese that had used the 30-yard line as their personal restroom.
Nevertheless, as I walked out to the “N” at midfield, the simple beauty of the empty stadium struck me. Ryan Field doesn’t have the storied history of Ohio Stadium or The Big House, but it has had its share of memorable moments.
The first thing that came to mind as I stood on the field with the wind blowing out of the north end zone was Northwestern’s historic 1995 season.
As I looked at the empty grandstand, I wondered what it must have been like to be in what was then Dyche Stadium on Oct. 21, 1995. I imagined the Wildcat fans who witnessed the first sellout since 1983 — a 35-0 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers — and the Wildcats’ first shutout since 1986.
The win earned Northwestern a No. 8 ranking in the AP poll, the first time it had cracked the top 10 in more than 30 years.
After reliving that historic season in my mind, I walked off the field and toured another Northwestern athletic facility, Sharon J. Drysdale Field. The National Fastpitch Coaches Association recently recognized the Wildcats’ softball field as the nation’s best playing surface.
Knowing this, and being a former UW softball beat writer, I was excited to get a chance to see the field for myself. To my surprise, I was easily able to walk on the field here as well. I walked out to the pitcher’s circle where I found a softball inauspiciously lying before my feet. As I picked it up and walked out to leftfield, I thought back to the last game the Wildcats played there last season.
After No.18 DePaul forced a third game in the NCAA Evanston Regional, No. 11 Northwestern earned a 3-2 victory to reach its fourth consecutive super regional. As I stood in left field, I pictured freshman Jordan Wheeler crushing a two-out double to left center to score the eventual game-winning run.
After firing the ball to the plate on one hop from the warning track, I finally entered Welsh-Ryan Arena, the true reason for my trip. When I walked out to the court, I had to double-check to make sure I was in the right place, as it appeared no bigger than a typical high school gymnasium.
Yet, to my surprise, I learned the arena was the home of the 1956 NCAA Final Four. The 1956 national champions were the San Francisco Dons, coached by Phil Woolpert and led by Hall of Famer Bill Russell. The Dons won their second consecutive championship in 1956, becoming the first undefeated champions with a 29-0 record.
Despite a capacity of just over 8,000, the Wildcats’ arena played host to one of the most historic NCAA championship games of all time.
It wasn’t until learning about the 1956 Final Four that I realized what all these memorable events had in common. With the exception of Sharon J. Drysdale Field, the aforementioned Northwestern athletic facilities are anything but state of the art.
However, despite the unimpressive physical attributes of these facilities, it’s the events that have occurred in the structures that make them awe-inspiring.
Something similar can be said of the facilities at the University of Wisconsin. Although the Kohl Center and Camp Randall Stadium are among the nicest facilities in their respective sports, they would not be nearly as impressive if it weren’t for the games played there.
Both facilities are routinely sold-out for football and men’s basketball games, but prior to the Barry Alvarez era for football and Dick Bennett’s arrival as head basketball coach, tickets were readily available for home games in both sports.
It would be impossible to list the most historic and defining games at both facilities, but Camp Randall and the Kohl Center have been home to the three Barry Alvarez-era Rose Bowl teams and the back-to-back women’s hockey national champions, respectively.
Since Bo Ryan took over as head coach in 2001, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team has been nearly unbeatable at home, posting a 115-8 record at the Kohl Center.
The sports world often is caught up in a “what have you done for me lately?” mentality, but when you remember the historic games at any given field or arena, it’s then you realize why everyone cares so much about something that is “just a game.”
Jordan is a junior majoring in journalism and political science. Have any memorable Camp Randall or Kohl Center moments? Jordan can be reached at [email protected]