These ageless walls hold more than just magnificent trophies and withering photos of past heroes. The old coarse surface may feature jagged cracks and uneven blemishes formed by the passage of time, yet it adds nothing but character.
In America, places such as these serve, not only as stadiums, but as sanctuaries, secure areas to escape the confines and struggles of a hard life. Perhaps anywhere else, you would introduce the man sitting next to you on these rickety bleachers as your neighbor, but here, amongst the rooting and hollering, surrounded by the alluring aroma of fresh popcorn and witnessing the most astonishing comeback your team has ever pulled off, he is your brother. In the oldest stadiums in America, the joy you may find in a childhood remembrance may be the same joy experienced by your grandfather.
Franklin Field has witnessed its fair share of history. For 123 years and counting, this Philadelphia arena has remained in use and is the oldest running football field in the country. Not only is it the oldest, it also is the first American stadium to feature a scoreboard and upper-level seating, and was the site of the first radio and television broadcast of football games. Today, it continues to host home games for the University of Pennsylvania football team and is the site of the Penn Relays. With respect to these two events, stadium use has been continuous, save for some missed time during World War II.
The Penn Relays, America’s oldest and largest track-and-field competition, was a catalyst for the construction of Franklin Field. The first race was held on April 21, 1895, and an annual tradition was immediately born. Today, the Penn Relays attract more than fifteen thousand participants a year, including athletes from other countries, most notably Jamaica. The contestants compete in over 300 events that span over five days.
In football, the Penn Quakers have established a history of their own. Heading into the 2018 season, the Quakers have played 1,364 games, the most of any collegiate football team. The year 1895 was not only the first year the Quakers used the arena, but it is also the year the university claims to have won one of its seven national championships. The Quakers finished the season with a notable record of 14-0.
Besides the home stadium of the University of Pennsylvania, Franklin Field has witnessed other pigskin spectacles. The classic Army-Navy Game was played sporadically at Franklin Field between 1899 and 1935. For 18 games, the Black Knights and Midshipmen fought in this stadium for bragging rights. Army leads the series on this field, 11-7.
This historic stadium also has NFL ties. It was used as the home stadium of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1958 until 1970. Across these years, the Eagles won 69 games under four different head coaches: Buck Shaw, Nick Skorich, Joe Kuharich, and Jerry Williams.
But none of the others ever attained a season quite as successful as Shaw in 1960. It was at Franklin Field that Buck Shaw led the Eagles to a remarkable 17-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship game. This game continues to live in Packers infamy as Vince Lombardi’s only career playoff loss. H&A
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Cover image courtesy Penn Athletics.