Peden Stadium marks diamond anniversary as centerpiece of many Bobcats' fall weekends
By Corinne Colbert
When Kermit Blosser started his first game as a freshman end for Ohio University in 1928, football still played second fiddle to baseball.
"We played on the old baseball field - the outfield was the football field," Blosser recalls. Because the baseball bleachers were so far from the gridiron, "spectators would follow the team up and down the field," Blosser adds.
Less-than-ideal facilities didn't prevent the team from succeeding: The 1928 Bobcats lost only two games, and among the team's victories was a 65-0 thumping of Cincinnati at Homecoming. But as Ohio football entered its fourth decade, alumni and fans felt it was time the Bobcats had a more permanent home.
For 75 years now, that home has been Peden Stadium, a campus landmark and site of many a Bobcat's fall-quarter memories.
Alumni in the late 1920s offered to raise money for a stadium, but University President Elmer Burritt Bryan urged them to focus on an auditorium instead. Meanwhile, Bryan and O.C. Bird, head of the School of Physical Education, convinced the Board of Trustees to back the sale of $150,000 in bonds to build a stadium. The final cost: $185,000. The University bought 35 acres of land along the Hocking River and hired Cleveland's Osborn Engineering Co. - designers of Yankee Stadium and the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium - as architects. Contractor Fred Beckler of Athens began construction in March 1929.
And so it was that just seven months later, on Oct. 5, 1929, Blosser and his teammates took the field of the new 14,000-seat facility - then named Ohio Stadium - for the first time.
"It was a big step up for Ohio," Blosser says. "It put football in a different light. It was a thrill - and a lot better situation than playing on the baseball field."
The Bobcats beat West Liberty State College 26-0 to kick off what would be an undefeated season. (They scored 305 points that year and allowed their opponents just 13.) Coach Don Peden, who had been a standout football player at the University of Illinois, had come to Ohio University in 1923 as assistant football coach. The next year, Peden was named head coach, a position he would hold with much success for more than two decades. (He also was head baseball coach for 25 years and director of athletics for 12.)
Between 1927 and 1937, no Bobcat football team lost in Ohio Stadium, and Peden's players knocked off such powerhouses as Illinois, Indiana, Rutgers and Navy. The Bobcats became known as "the little green jinx," and when Peden was honored with Don Peden Day in 1939, a local sculptor gave the coach his own interpretation of a little green jinx.
A diamond jubilee
Come celebrate Peden Stadium's 75th birthday Nov. 13, when the Bobcats face Akron in the final football game of the 2004 season. That's also Football and Cheerleader Alumni Day, so if you've ever played or cheered in the stadium, it's a perfect time to come back to Athens.
Tickets for the game are $12. To purchase tickets, call the Ohio Athletics ticket office at 740-593-1300 or 1-800-575-CATS. For more information about Bobcat football and a schedule of this year's games, visit www.ohiobobcats.com.
"It looks like a totem from Hawaii or something," says Peden's daughter, Ann Urbach, who still has it.
Ohio won the Ohio Buckeye Athletic Association football championship in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1933, 1935 and 1939. By the time he retired from coaching in 1947, Peden had amassed a record of 121 wins, 46 losses and 11 ties. He had only one losing season, in 1945.
"He was ahead of a lot of the coaches we played against," says Blosser, who at age 93 is believed to be the only surviving member of the '29 team. "He was a great coach."
Peden's family attended every home football game - as did everyone in town, it seemed to Urbach.
"I don't remember ever not going," says Urbach, BSCOM '48. "There was a lot more spirit in those days for college football - the old college rah-rah." Still, an afternoon at Ohio Stadium was as much a social event as an athletic one.
"At least half of (the fans) were not into the game," acknowledges Urbach, who lives in Athens and still attends games. "But that's where the action was on Saturday afternoons."
One of those in action was Don Eskey, BS '53, a World War II Navy veteran who lettered twice in four years as a Bobcat player. He remembers the team traveling all over the Midwest but always being glad to return to its home turf. By the time Eskey was in college, Peden had retired and moved to Iowa. He returned in 1960 to watch the Bobcats beat Miami 21-0 on the day the stadium was renamed in his honor. "He was so proud of that," Urbach recalls.
Nine years later, though, as the stadium approached its 40th anniversary in 1969, Athens Messenger columnist Rowl Congdon noted the landmark's state of disrepair. It had never been renovated, Congdon wrote, and newer, finer stadiums at Bowling Green, Kent State and other Mid-American Conference schools had eclipsed it.
Original plans from the 1920s had called for a horseshoe-shaped stadium with 25,000 seats. Economics led the University to scale back the seating to 14,000 until, according to the official position at the time, "development of the school makes a need." No such need was acted upon, and into the 1980s spectators sat on rotting wooden bleachers set in crumbling concrete. The stadium, once among the state's finest, looked shabby.
Not until 1986 did Peden Stadium get its long-overdue facelift. New aluminum bleachers, accommodating an additional 5,000 fans, were added. In subsequent years, the stadium received an electronic scoreboard at its south end, ticket booths and entry gates. The stadium tower - which features locker and weight rooms for athletes as well as sports medicine facilities, health and fitness laboratories, classrooms and offices - opened in 1992. In 2001, the track was removed and the field lowered 6 feet to bring total seating to 24,000. A new FieldTurf surface, identical to those found in several NFL stadiums, was installed in 2002.
To Eskey - who returned to the area in 1957 as Athens High School's head football coach and remains a steadfast Bobcat fan - the improvements were important, especially for recruiting players.
"When the coaches bring in those recruits and their parents, what a nice place it is to show them," he says. More important, perhaps, is the impact on fans. "When I talk to people who come (from out of town for games), they just love it."
Indeed, today's game days offer something familiar (the Marching 110, the Bobcat mascot) and something new (Pepsi Tailgreat Park and jumbo video scoreboards) for everyone to enjoy.
And, as Eskey points out, football and Peden Stadium remain touchstones for Bobcats everywhere.
"I don't think alumni come back for baseball or other sports like they do for football," he says. "It gives people something to come back to."
Corinne Colbert, BSJ '87 and MA '93, is a freelance writer living in Amesville, Ohio. This article appeared in the fall 2004 edition of Ohio Today.