Commentary

Old rivals, old venues would be gold

Originally Published: May 22, 2009
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Once upon a time, many, many years ago, Notre Dame and Army served as the biggest attraction Yankee Stadium ever hosted, and that included your Ruths and DiMaggios, your Joe Louises and Muhammad Alis.

[+] EnlargeFenway Park
Courtesy of the Boston Public Library/Leslie Jones CollectionBoston College called Fenway Park home for many years.

In 1946, when the Fighting Irish came to New York to play the two-time defending national champion Cadets, a postwar nation hungry for normalcy built the game into spectacle. Scalpers got $400 for 50-yard-line seats, and $200 for those in the end zone, in an era when the average family earned $3,000.

"If Yankee Stadium had a million seats," Army athletic director Biff Jones was quoted as saying, "we would fill it for this game. I have never seen anything like it."

The game ended in a 0-0 tie, which did nothing to cool the fervor. Army coach Red Blaik found the emotion so distasteful that he refused to renew the contract with Notre Dame after the 1947 season. The relationship between the two schools never reached that pitch again.

The Irish and the Cadets might play at Yankee Stadium in 2013 to commemorate the historic Notre Dame upset of Army a century earlier. Odds are that game would be awash in nostalgia, not bowl scouts. Neither Notre Dame nor Army football is the same (for that matter, neither is Yankee Stadium). But in a sport that consumes tradition as its daily bread, the gathering of old rivals in old venues is marketing gold.

With that in mind, here are a few other matches of old foes in old venues. Gentlemen, start your marketing.

Northwestern vs. Illinois at Wrigley Field
The Wildcats and the Illini last met at the home of the Cubs in 1923. The following year, Soldier Field opened in downtown Chicago. Northwestern and Notre Dame played in the first-ever game there, on Nov. 22, 1924. The Wildcats played Tulane and Michigan there the following season, and played as many as three games there in 1933.

We may not have to wait for 2023 and a 100th anniversary game between Northwestern and Illinois. Wildcats athletic director Jim Phillips is in discussions with Cubs chairman Crane Kenney about moving either the Iowa or Illinois game in November 2010. Another possibility for Northwestern to play in Wrigley Field, according to sports information director Mike Wolf, is a home game in November 2011 against either Michigan or Rice.

Auburn vs. Boston College at Fenway Park
In 1940, when second-year coach Frank Leahy led Boston College to an 11-0 record, the Eagles played six games at Fenway Park. In the next-to-last home game, on Nov. 23, Boston College beat Auburn 33-7. That's not much of a historical moment -- the Tigers went 6-4-1 that season -- but the Auburn of today is the best of those six home opponents. Boston University doesn't play football, Georgetown and Holy Cross are FCS schools, and Temple and Idaho are struggling.

Boston College moved its home games from Fenway Park to Braves Field, now part of the Boston University campus, in 1946. Alumni Stadium on the Eagles' campus opened in 1957, and it seats about 8,000 fans more than Fenway. So jack up the ticket prices! For a one-time event, fans would understand.

LSU vs. Ole Miss at Jackson, Miss.
From 1966 through 1991, the Rebels played at least two home games, and usually three, at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. Ole Miss hasn't returned to Jackson since playing VMI there in 1996. It's no coincidence that Vaught-Hemingway Stadium went through an upgrade and expansion in time for the 1998 season.

Ole Miss abandoned Jackson for the same reason Arkansas trimmed its schedule in Little Rock. There's more money to be made on campus, and recruiting is easier at home games on campus than at home games off campus. But for Rebels fans who recall the weekends when the campus packed up and drove 2½ hours down I-55, a one-game renewal would be worth the trouble.

Washington vs. Oregon at Portland, Ore.
Before Autzen Stadium became the toughest place to play west of Lincoln -- actually, before Autzen Stadium (born 1967) -- the Ducks played their top rivals in Portland at what is now called PGE Park. Oregon last played Oregon State in the state's biggest city in 1952, USC in 1958 and Washington in 1965. But Multnomah Field, as it once was known, seated only 28,000. No matter how big it became, it would always be two hours from campus in Eugene.

Today, a renovated PGE Park seats about 19,000. The notion of Oregon's playing there instead of in front of 59,000 screaming Ducks at Autzen is silly. But if the movement to bring major league baseball to Portland ever gains traction …

Florida State vs. Miami at Havana
Let us remove our hats in memory of the 1937 Bacardi Bowl, or, as it was also called, the Rhumba Bowl, part of the Cuban National Sports Festival. Auburn and Villanova played to a 7-7 tie in front of only 9,000 fans, few of whom had any idea of what they had come to see.

The University of Miami has never played a game in Havana, so there's no rekindling of Hurricanes memories to be done in Havana. But if there comes a day when diplomatic relations with Cuba are normalized, it would be only natural for Miami to head 90 miles south and play there. After all, Miami travels 20 miles from campus to play at Dolphins Stadium.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com. His book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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