Home of Champions, Part II
Yankee Stadium's rich history includes more college football games than you might think
While games that featured Notre Dame or Army account for many of the most memorable moments in Yankee Stadium's college football history, there was no shortage of gridiron drama involving other schools.
From 1923 through 1948, New York University used Yankee Stadium as a secondary home field, playing 96 games in the Bronx and amassing a 52-40-4 record in those contests. Nearby Fordham University compiled an impressive 13-5-1 record at the Stadium between 1923 and '46.
Fordham and NYU faced each other regularly at the Stadium between 1923 and 1946. The 1936 NYU team defeated a Fordham team known for its offensive line, which was nicknamed "Seven Blocks of Granite." Before Vince Lombardi led the Green Bay Packers, he was part of that famed group of blockers.
The annual Army-Navy game was also played at Yankee Stadium in 1930 and 1931 before being moved to Philadelphia.
The Stadium hosted its first postseason college football game on Dec. 15, 1962, when the University of Nebraska defeated the University of Miami (Fla.) 36-34 in the Gotham Bowl. Only 6,166 fans were in attendance, as many fans were deterred by the frigid weather. A newspaper strike in New York City also didn't help in drumming up publicity for the game.
"It was 14 degrees when we got to the Stadium, and by kickoff, it was 9 degrees," said Don Bryant, who was the sports editor at the Lincoln Star (Neb.). "They played on frozen turf and had to wear tennis shoes. But it was one of the greatest games ever. In the fourth quarter, I remember being on the sidelines and there was a garbage can with a fire in it where cheerleaders were trying to keep warm.
"They shut off the power after the game," said Bryant, who later became sports information director at the University of Nebraska. "It was so cold in the press box that we went back to the hotel to file our stories."
In the late 1960s, Grambling State University publicist Collie Nicholson urged school officials to follow Notre Dame's lead in scheduling football games at large stadiums in big cities. Located in rural northwest Louisiana, Grambling played its home games in a 13,000-seat stadium.
Nicholson and Grambling's legendary coach Eddie Robinson convinced Yankees officials that a black college football game would draw fans to Yankee Stadium. In 1968, Grambling played its first game at The House That Ruth Built in front of more than 60,000 football enthusiasts.
Grambling was defeated by Morgan State University 9-7 in that game, but emerged victorious in the each of the following 10 contests between the schools at Yankee Stadium.
That 1968 matchup evolved into the New York Urban League Classic, which was established in 1973 and later renamed the Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Classic. The annual game raised funds for college scholarships for low-income students from New York. Save for 1974 and 1975, when Yankee Stadium underwent renovations, the game was played in the Bronx every year through the 1987 season. In the final Classic at Yankee Stadium - the final football event of any kind there - Central State University defeated Grambling 37-21.
Nov. 20, 2010, was a landmark date for college football. Notre Dame and Army rekindled this great tradition in the Bronx, playing the first football game at the new Yankee Stadium. Notre Dame freshman quarterback Tommy Rees, who was making just his second career start, threw for 214 yards in a 27-3 Fighting Irish win.
"Well, New York is a lot of things," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said after the game. "But it was a college football town tonight."
With the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, New York City once again becomes a college football town every December.