LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 12, 2012) — In celebration of the University of Kentucky's upcoming sesquicentennial in 2015, the 27th of 150 weekly installments on the university looks at the history of the game of football at the institution.
In 1880, the first college football game ever played in the South was held at a field that once pastured President James K. Patterson’s cows, on State College, Lexington, Kentucky’s campus. That field was to become UK's Stoll Field.
In 1892, after years of unorganized efforts, the students determined to make something of the game of football on the State College campus. They scheduled games with neighboring colleges and as an organized team got a geology (now the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences) professor, Arthur Miller, to coach the team.
That same year, the official colors were chosen by a group of students. A football fan suggested blue and white — "blue like Dick Stoll's necktie." Judge Richard C. Stoll was an alumnus and long-term Board of Trustee member.
Before the next season the colleges across Central Kentucky formed the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Association (KIAA) mainly for making rules. In 1893, State’s Coach John A. Thompson led his team to Knoxville where they beat Tennessee 56-0, the most lopsided score in the history of the rivalry between the schools. That game would kick off the Kentucky-Tennessee rivalry in football.
As recorded in "University of Kentucky, A Pictorial History" by Carl Cone, "The magic of football as a spectator sport exerted itself almost at once. Main Street businessmen and some faculty members, most of them strangers to the game, formed a stock company. From the proceeds of stock sales, with labor donated by engineering students, and with Patterson’s cows evicted, the grounds were improved and enclosed by a fence, and wooden stands were erected on both sides of the field. The college authorities assigned supervision of football, baseball, and track to a faculty committee of three, though the active management of the teams devolved upon three student managers, one for each sport, elected by students who became members of the athletic association by buying season tickets."
The institution's greatest team of that era was the 1898 squad, known as "The Immortals." To this day, the Immortals remain the only undefeated, untied and unscored upon team in UK football history. The Immortals were coached by W.R. Bass.
In 1909, the Wildcat was adopted as the official nickname after the cadet commandant attended a football game and commented afterward that the team "fought like wildcats."
Stoll Field was officially dedicated in 1916 at the Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt game and was named in honor of Judge Richard C. Stoll.
In 1924, McLean Stadium, named for Price McLean, an engineering student who was fatally injured in a football game the year before, opens. The stadium held 15,000 and was built on Stoll Field.
The year 1946 would mark football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's first season at UK. Bryant would coach at the university until 1954, coaching UK to Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl victories in 1951 and 1952 respectively.
In 1973 the football team played their first game at Commonwealth Stadium, which had seating for 57,800 fans. UK defeated Virginia Tech that day, 31-26. Today's UK football team still plays at Commonwealth under the direction of Coach Joker Phillips.
This story on UK's history is presented by UK Special Collections. Special Collections is home to UK Libraries' collection of rare books, Kentuckiana, the Archives, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, the King Library Press and the Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center. The mission of Special Collections is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
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