Not surprising to a Louisville football fan that the woman checking cars at the entrance to the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center is with an RV convention. For almost 50 years UofL fans had to compete with recreational vehicles for parking.

The RV’s are still there, hundreds of them this week, along with rows and rows of horse barns and an abandoned amusement park as the observer makes a nostalgic visit to old Cardinal Stadium.

The lines on the artificial turf have faded slightly and only one goal post remains. The seats under the roof are discolored and in disrepair. Weeds are growing in the bare spots where the bases and home plate used to be. Clutter from the most recent event, probably held months ago. litters the stands. The space between the goal post and the football office is a storage area, replete with stacks of iron gates and golf carts for maintenance.

The aluminum seating on the east side isn’t near as shiny or bright as they were during the hay days of Lee Corso, Vince Gibson, and Bob Weber, the chair backs in the premium seating long since removed. The stomping of thousands of feet on metal during exciting moments a distant echo.

The post in Section 212 under the roof that used to block much of the action between the 20 and 40-yard lines is still there, as is the seat in Row G. The seats around us, though, are in all states of disrepair, a few of them laying on the concrete. The scoreboard a victim of neglect, still bearing an old Cardinal logo.

The comforts of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium are but a stone’s throw away yet so far away in this setting. The dream came true 14 years ago after so many years of waiting. Now it’s difficult to believe that UofL football fans once revered a facility built for baseball.

Fairgrounds Stadium was all we knew, all we had, but it was ours. The place where Lee Corso threw the white flag onto the field; the field where such greats as Bret Favre and Otis Wilson played; where Bevo grazed during a Howard Schnellenberger-coached romp over the University of Texas. The birthplace of the Crunch Zone, the place where Schnellenberger raised our sights, envisioning something more grand, daring us to challenge the old guard.

Schnellenberger would get fans excited about the prospects for a new stadium and inspire John Shumaker, Malcolm Chancey and Bill Olson to make a 42,000-seat stadium happen. Jim Ramsey and Tom Jurich would greatly enhance the stadium a decade later, increasing the capacity to 55,000 seats. And they would surround it with other great new athletic facilities, getting UofL into the Big East and further positioning the program for even greater things.

The old stadium will be torn down some day if and when the Fair Board finally gets its act together. But for now it serves as a visible reminder of where we came from and how far Louisville football has advanced in a relatively short period of time. A concrete and metal remainder of why we need to set our sights high, never again settling for second rate.

An observer crosses the field in the shadow of the remaining goal post.

Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

12 thoughts on “Louisville football legacy at Fairgrounds, where we come from

  • June 22, 2012 at 8:52 am
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    Thanks Charlie. I have so many great football memories from old Cardinal Stadium or, as Coach Schnellenberger referred to it, “The Snake Pit.” I’m glad that we have the fantastic football facilities that we now have, but it all goes back to the Fairgrounds.

  • June 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm
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    Thanks Charlie,
    I read your article and smiled the entire time. I moved away from Louisville 16 years ago, I had a lot of fun at Cardinal Stadium. Thank you……

  • June 22, 2012 at 1:55 pm
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    Lots of memories in that place. I hope they sell off the seats when it comes down. Those would be awesome in a mancave. I would love to be sitting in one in my living room if the Cards ever play for a national championship.

    When naming the greats that have seen that field don’t forget Ted Nugent and Peter Frampton and all the Redbirds! 🙂

  • June 23, 2012 at 8:38 am
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    For me, the two most prominent images of attending U of L football at the Fairgrounds involved Otis Wilson appearing to be twice the size of any other player, and of an earlier game when I was able to watch from the press box.

    First, let me say it another way, Wilson was absolutely the most dominant figure I ever witnessed on a football field.

    The other story goes to the mid to late sixties when my Dad somehow engineered us seats in the press box. Seating among the reporters, and all the endless chatter than provided was something amazing on its own. But, what I remember best was my moment of superior knowledge about U of L. At halftime, to much fanfare and on the announcer’s cue, students lit a fireworks display, (set against the far wall, as there were only seats on one side and one end in those days, and walls enclosed the remainder), which consisted of essentially flares mounted on a superstructure and forming an image. Not one reporter recognized the shape they had created, or that the announcer had provided the name of the inspiring image. The reporters were incredulous, and some decried at as a waste of money, etc, and it came to me to let them know that it was the profile of Minerva as seen on the University seal. Though they still had no idea what I was telling them, they gave me my dues for knowing something they did not, a very cool experience for a kid in his pre-teen years, to best a bunch of adults like that. On that night, for that moment, Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom allowed me to shine. And, it has been all down hill ever since.

    That was a no frills place to watch a game, maybe they should are be like that; let the time spent there be about the game not the experience. Unless the Gods intervene to create a memory.

    • June 23, 2012 at 10:57 am
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      Thanks, Rick, good memories. How did you like the trip up to the press box? And those press boxes used to sway a little in the wind.

  • June 23, 2012 at 5:14 pm
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    It was so long ago, but I do recall a sense of unease getting up there. (a narrow metal walkway,open guard rails? does that like the real thing?) Wind was not a factor that night.

  • June 26, 2012 at 12:12 pm
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    I spent many of the best years of my childhood cheering on the cards at old cardinal stadium. My very first experience was the UofL Memphis state game where the fight happened. My mother was in the marching band near the end zone where it broke out and we were scared that our mom was in the middle of it. Once we saw that she was ok we screamed our heads off for the cards to kick some more butt! And they did the rest of the game too! My first experience and i never missed another game until after college when we moved to papa johns….

    So many big moments, Beating Texas, David Acres 54 yard field goal against Texas A&M, A Ron Cooper coached team that threw a bomb for the first touch down against #1 Penn State…. It got so loud after that td, I thought the place was going to collapse! All those good memories and even the not so good ones like the rest o the Penn St game and that year lol. Thanks for giving me that walk back down memory lane today!

    • June 26, 2012 at 1:12 pm
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      Great story, Matthew. I had forgotten about the fight coming out of the locker rooms. The Penn State touchdown was a great start, could have saved Cooper but, alas, no way.

  • June 27, 2012 at 10:21 pm
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    Like Matthew’s mom, I too was in the band in the middle of the fight with Memphis State (I was a freshman and it was my first game with the band; I remember the Cards trailed most of the game, the refs screwed up the clock on a timeout, then the Cards blocked a punt and late scored to win in the final minutes).

    The irony of that Penn State game in 1997 is the starting QB that day for the Nittany Lions was none other than Mike McQueary.

  • July 1, 2012 at 8:05 am
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    Two of the worst memories of the old Cardinal Stadium that I have have to with Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles came in to ol’ballpark one evening and just started taking in to the Cards right off the bat. Touchdown after touchdown. Sometime in the second half, they broke a play for about 30 or so yards and the Southern Miss ball carrier was forced out on the Louisville sidelines and proceeded to run right over coach Howard Schnellenberger…knocking him flat on his back on the astroturf. To his credit, Howard popped right back off, picked up his pipe and straightened his black suit out.

    The second one involved a Cardinal team the had the Golden Eagles beat late in the game, but the USM quarterback threw a late pass that bounced off a player’s helmet and into the arms of a USM receiver who took it to the end zone to give USM the lead and the game.

    That Southern Miss QB was no other than Brett Favre.

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