COLUMBIA — In the center of Columbia, at the intersection of Providence Road and Stadium Boulevard, sits one of MU’s finest gems.
For 90 years, Missouri’s Memorial Stadium has brought countless memories — good and bad — to loyal fans everywhere. The stadium is more than Columbia’s geographical heart. It’s at the heart of the city’s identity and culture.
When you enter Memorial Stadium, gaze at the north end zone’s Rock M and listen to the crowd roar, you can feel MU’s very pulse.
Perhaps one of Memorial Stadium’s most important qualities is that it’s been able to define Columbia despite going through a series of changes. Since hosting its first game in 1926, the stadium has seen several renovations and has nearly tripled its original capacity of 25,000.
The stadium has changed, but fans still call it home.
1925-48: Humble beginnings
Construction on Memorial Stadium began in December 1925. The inaugural game at the completed stadium, which cost $525,000, took place the following October.
It was a forgettable one; Faurot Field wasn’t sodded at the time, and the Tigers tied visiting Tulane University 0-0 on a sloppy mud pit of a surface on Oct. 2, 1926.
The following year, the Rock M appeared for the first time. MU freshmen decided to use leftover rocks from stadium construction to build it, and the incoming class has continued to whitewash it every year since then.
The stadium went largely unchanged throughout the next two decades, and the Tigers saw mediocre football until Don Faurot — the field’s namesake — led the Tigers to Big Six championships in 1939, 1941 and 1942.
1949-77: Early expansion
The stadium’s first expansions came in 1949 and 1950, when a new press box and upper-level seating were added to bring the stadium’s capacity to 35,000. It stayed at that capacity for a decade.
Then, in 1960, Missouri posted one of its most successful seasons to date. The Tigers went 10-1 — the only loss being to a Kansas team that used an ineligible player and would later forfeit the result — and finished the season ranked No. 5 by The Associated Press.
With the Tigers’ success, more expansion followed. Missouri added 12,628 seats to the northeast to fill out the stadium’s second deck between 1961 and 1963.
“After they added on some more, they could probably pack more fans in there than you could today when they really wanted to,” 1965 MU graduate Russ Stokes said. “It wasn’t as nice, though. The lots outside the stadium were gravel, and the few roads they had used railroad ties instead of curbs.”
The press box was redone in 1969, and by 1971, another expansion put capacity to 51,223. In the years to come, the Tigers would also see an increase in attendance.
Unfortunately, the Missouri football program’s impending decline meant that the increased fan interest wouldn’t last long.
1978-95: The dark years approach
There’s no point sugarcoating what the state of Missouri football was toward the end of the 21st century: The team was bad, fans were frustrated, and the atmosphere around Faurot Field was lukewarm at best.
Although the Tigers posted record attendance marks and decent win-loss records between 1978 and 1983 after the addition of the stadium’s south end zone, everything fell apart after that. Missouri didn’t make a single bowl game between 1984 and 1996, and Memorial Stadium began to see fewer and fewer fans within its walls.
“It just stunk,” said Tom Whelihan, who kicked for Missouri from 1984 to 1987. “I mean, football was still a big thing, but what it was in the stadium during those games— I mean, it just wasn’t what it is today. Those were some bad teams.”
Perhaps most notable during this time was the arrival of the sand-filled artificial surface known as Omniturf in 1985. Fans hated Omniturf, which caused both Missouri players and opponents to fall all over the field.
Unlike Missouri’s first ever game, the Omniturf was better when it rained.
“When it was dry, there would be this big dust film over the top,” said Bob Stull, who coached the Tigers from 1989 to 1993. “People slipped everywhere, and it was hard to gain a grip unless it was wet. It was a bad field. Other coaches would complain about it all the time.”
The Omniturf was removed after the 1994 season, two years before Memorial Stadium and the Missouri football team began to resemble what they are today.
1996-2015: Entering the modern era
Memorial Stadium could certainly hold a lot of fans prior to 1996, but it wasn’t quite up to modern standards. Over the next few years, Missouri would change that by adding permanent light fixtures, expanded stadium concourses, a video board and 6,151 seats.
A new press box came in 2000, and Gary Pinkel took the helm as head coach the following season. Under Pinkel, the Tigers kept winning, and the amenities kept coming. The stadium added FieldTurf in 2003, a modern scoreboard in the south end zone in 2005 and another new video board in 2009.
When Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference, expansion began once again. Memorial Stadium updated its old FieldTurf to an emerald shade in 2012, moved the Rock M closer to the field in 2013 and added another tier to the east side stands in 2014.
The stadium now seats 71,168, though that figure could change if further renovations are made to the south end zone.
“Even in the past 10 years or so, the changes here have been amazing,” said University Hospital employee Les Foyto, who graduated from MU in 2003. “The scoreboards, the field and the east side are so different now. It’s really been keeping up nicely.”
As old as Memorial Stadium might be — the 2015 season marks its 90th as the home of Missouri football — it shows no signs of deteriorating. It’s drawing as many passionate Missouri fans as ever before, and its legacy and meaning to the city and university endure.
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.