of Jordan-Hare Stadium
by Van Plexico
vplexico (at) gmail.com
IV. JORDAN-HARE: FIFTH-LARGEST CITY IN ALABAMA
1980: The West Deck
Despite a slight decline in on-field fortunes during the 1970s, two more rivals, Georgia Tech and Tennessee, finally made the trip to the Plains. Both had played Auburn's home game in Birmingham's Legion Field for a number of years, a situation used by Alabama to argue that Legion Field was a "neutral site" for the Auburn-Alabama game.
Jordan-Hare was an unqualified success, selling out despite a dearth of championships and Sugar Bowl trips. With six home games a year by 1970 and revenues increasing, thoughts once again turned to expansion. An upper deck would be added to the west stands by 1980, credited by the Auburn Media Guide as due to the exploits of players such as James Brooks and Joe Cribbs. For whatever reason, the stadium's success despite the Tigers' mediocrity and probation during the late 1970s proves that Auburn had finally come into its own.
The Trustees of 1977 were slightly less enthusiastic over the prospect of expansion than their counterparts of earlier years had been. When Coach Lee Hayley, Chairman of the Stadium Expansion Committee, presented the recommendation of the committee for an upper deck and lighting to be installed, "a lengthy discussion ensued." Finally, Coach Jordan, who by now served as a Board member, motioned for a vote, and the Board authorized preliminary working plans by only a six to three majority. The days of instant unanimous votes for stadium growth had ended.
The Board discussed the possibility of authorizing the president to develop a bond plan for funding the additions on June 5, 1978. Once again Coach Jordan motioned for a vote, and the Board approved the measure, eight to one. The matter came to a head on November 29, 1978. Once again, Coach Jordan asked for a vote of the Trustees, and by a margin of only four to three, the Board authorized the expansion. The resolution stated that expansion and lighting of the stadium were "felt to be in the best interest for a quality athletic program at Auburn University." The resolution went on to defend its position on the grounds that the move was "recommended by a special committee," and had obtained the approval of the Auburn Alumni Executive Committee. Approval at last obtained, construction began before the year was out.
The Auburn Bulletin reported specifics on the new addition in late 1979. The completed stadium held over 72,000 people, and cost approximately $7 million. The deck towers 150 feet over the field, and projects twenty feet out over Donahue Drive. The article describes the west deck's combination of press and television area, president's and athletic director's boxes, concession and reception areas, and a deck of over 10,000 new seats. Light stands were incorporated into the west upper deck while three light towers stood 140 feet over the east stands. These three towers would stand only seven years before making way for the east deck.
The lights would not be used until Auburn's first night game, September 19, 1981, against Wake Forest. The stadium itself, however, opened in renovated form to begin the 1980 season and was an immediate success.
Jordan-Hare, though at this point holding over 72,000 fans, still trailed Birmingham's Legion Field in capacity. Dye knew that a stadium larger than Alabama's would be a lever with which he could move the heretofore intransigent Tide. Almost immediately after taking the reigns at Auburn, he set out to make that goal a reality.
In late 1984, with a feasibility study completed, Dye's proposal came before the Board. Though the west deck had only been completed four years earlier, the Trustees voted (with no totals listed) to establish a budget of not more than $15 million for the project, with none of the funds to come from "the general fund, student fees, nor the full faith and credit of Auburn University." The resolution specifically mentions Dye's recommendation, as well as the demand for additional seats in the stadium.
On July 2, 1985, the Board met in a special called meeting in Foy Union, on the Auburn campus, with much of the administration and the media present, in order to clarify the financial aspects of the expansion. The new resolution pledged funds from revenue-generating sports, executive suite revenue, other concessions, and a portion of student fees to underwrite the stadium bond issue. On September 20, by a vote of eight to one, the Board approved issuance of $30,115,000 in bonds.
Clearly the Alabama game figured prominently in the actions of the Trustees as well as in those of Dye. On December 21, 1985, (significantly only days after Alabama had defeated Auburn on a last-second field goal, in Birmingham, and on an Auburn "home" year,) the Board voted unanimously to "endorse the recommendation of the Athletic Director [Dye] and the President of Auburn University and instructs that a contract be negotiated with the University of Alabama to have the Alabama game played in Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium when Auburn University is the home team." The resolution specifically pointed out the planned increase in seating capacity of Jordan-Hare, and declared that "it is in the best interest of Auburn University to play this game in Jordan-Hare Stadium." The Trustees had taken the step of resolving the game site a vital matter to the University itself, in effect firing a warning shot over Alabama's bow that Auburn was determined to resolve the matter, one way or the other.
With the posturing and paperwork complete, construction of the east upper deck began. This expansion also saw installation of the mammoth scoreboard, complete with animated display screen and massive public address system, over the south stands. Jordan-Hare, one of the few stadiums in the country with absolutely no interior advertising, could not allow a scoreboard which contained advertising. The Coca-Cola company proposed in 1985 to erect the new scoreboard, free of any advertising, for $1 million. Coca-Cola made the offer contingent on the right to sole distribution of Coke products in the stadium for the next ten years. The Board agreed.
The eighth expansion, it would bring the stadium's capacity to its current level of 85,214. In addition to the deck of seats, more than a thousand scholarship donor seats and seventy-one luxury executive suites were built.
These skyboxes, expected to be leased by corporations entertaining clients, would figure significantly in the funding of the expansion. Sixty-five of them hold twelve persons and rented (in 1987) for $24,000 a season. Four would hold eighteen guests and rent for $36,000 per year. One would hold thirty people and rent for $48,000 a year. The University uses the seventy-first. The suites are carpeted, with theater seats, a kitchenette, bathrooms, heat and air conditioning, and a closed-circuit television. Food and alcoholic beverages are available in the suites as well.
In addition to the suites and a new section for high school recruits, former Associate Athletic Director Oval Jaynes saw other benefits to the 1987 expansion: "[It] will allow Auburn to move ahead with its scholarship donor program. Last season 160 scholarship donors had to sit in the stands rather than in the special section on both sides of the press box." Jaynes noted that the scholarship program was nearly deemphasized in the early 1980s because many new donors, who were giving $3,000 a year, could not be guaranteed sideline seats. Room had existed for them within the stadium, but older season ticket holders would have had to be relocated to the end zones. This would not have been a popular move.
Pat Dye called the east upper deck "the most positive step we have taken for our total athletic progam since we've been at Auburn." He went on to predict that the new income would benefit all aspects of athletics at Auburn, as well as providing much-needed seats for scholarship donors. "It will also give us room to grow in the future. This is the result of four years of coming together by the entire Auburn family, students, faculty, alumni and friends."
The Auburn Tigers kicked off the 1987 season in newly-expanded Jordan-Hare Stadium against the University of Texas, who had been added to the schedule prior to the season in order to provide a "name" opponent for the opener. Over 80,000 fans filled the stadium, the largest crowd ever to witness a football game in the state of Alabama at that time. By the end of the season, the stadium had been nearly filled twice, against Florida and Florida State.
The next season, against Georgia, it sold out. Yet the story still lacked an ending.