of Jordan-Hare Stadium
by Van Plexico
vplexico (at) gmail.com
V. SIXTY YEARS AND GROWING
"The Last Brick in our House"
The Florida game in 1989 hosted the commemoration of Jordan-Hare's fiftieth anniversary. Florida was chosen because it had been the very first opponent, way back in 1939, to play in Auburn Stadium. This should have been the premiere event of the season, yet another game that year attracted much more attention from all concerned. On December 2, Alabama would be coming to Auburn.
By the late 1980s, with all of Auburn's other opponents now playing in Auburn, Alabama's longstanding argument that Legion Field represented a "neutral site" had lost much of its grounding. No longer a second home for the Tigers, as it still was for the Tide, Legion Field only served as a home field for Auburn once every two years. Even then, the tickets were split down the middle, with half to Auburn and half to Alabama. The only real sign that it was a home game for Auburn was the fact that on odd years the team wore blue jerseys.
Jordan-Hare Stadium was now the largest football facility in the state, and the Tide could no longer deny the truth: They must play the Tigers in Auburn. A change of coaches and athletic directors in Tuscaloosa in 1987 smoothed the way, but the move had at this point become inevitable. Former Tide Coach Ray Perkins had said, "It won't happen," shortly before leaving the Capstone for Tampa Bay in 1986. A scant year later, on paper at least, it happened.
The move would be incremental, with 1987 seeing the last of the fifty-fifty split of tickets at Legion Field. The next year would be a true Alabama home game in the stadium that had always been home to them anyway. At last, in December of 1989, Auburn's nemesis, the Crimson Tide, finally visited Jordan-Hare Stadium. The fact that Auburn won the game almost takes a backseat to the fact that it was played there at all.
It was an event unlike any before on the Plains. Pat Dye, referring to the completion of the second upper deck two years earlier and the subsequent capitulation of Alabama to come to Auburn, called that day, "the last brick in our house." The task was completed. Auburn finally hosted all of its home football games. As one observer put it, this was "the story of how a people and a football program wandered across the Southeast in search of a home, and how they came to find that home."
The Tide had one final degredation in store for their rivals. They insisted that although the 1989 game could be played in Auburn, the 1991 Auburn home game must be played in Birmingham. Exhausted with the bickering, Auburn agreed, simply to put the matter to rest. Thus in 1991, Auburn came to decorate Alabama's beloved Legion Field in orange and blue, or as close to it as the Tide-oriented electronics on the scoreboard could come. A giant AU was painted on the cheap AstroTurf at midfield, a pale mockery of the one gracing the lush grass of Jordan-Hare. Alabama won the game, but Auburn fans almost didn't care. It was over. Legion Field from then on was just another place to visit.
Jordan-Hare's story has been one of constant growth and expansion from the beginning. What of the future? How soon until Jordan-Hare expands again?
Until the 1990s, the stadium averaged an expansion every eight years, and is now among the top ten on-campus facilities of its kind, yet may still lack the capacity to meet the demand for seats. In 1990, for the second year in a row, Auburn sold all 75,000 season ticket books and turned away still more applicants. Ticket manager Bill Beckwith envisioned the addition of more enclosed and air-conditioned club level seats, which would sell for more than $2,000 apiece, in the south end zone. "The revenue from those additional club level seats could be used to fund future construction of an upper deck in the south end zone to handle the overflow of students and demand for regular tickets." The stadium is designed in such a way that the upper decks can be connected above either end zone stand, as are the decks at Tennessee and Georgia. With student ticket purchases up by 4,000 between 1985 and 1989, demand for seats only increases.
The 1990 sellout was achieved without the added "hook" of a home Alabama game, as there had been for the first time in 1989. Beckwith found this aspect "particularly gratifying." For many years, officials and supporters of the University of Alabama claimed Auburn was incapable of supporting a major football program without the draw of playing Alabama every year. Many felt Jordan-Hare would fall far short of selling out its many seats on years without a visit by the Crimson Tide. Consistent sellouts since 1989 prove that Auburn football has become a tremendous draw in its own right. "We have reached the point where we no longer need something like the Alabama game to help us sell out," Beckwith says.
"We've gone up to a higher level. Auburn football is selling itself."