Great, odd and downright screwball moments in 100 years of Ohio Stadium history
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Stadium turns 100 this week, and there’s reason to pay homage. It is so much more than just a building of concrete and turf and lights and noise where Ohio State plays football, and almost always wins. It is also something about love.
Look at the endless masses through the rolling years who have posed for pictures by the rotunda on the north end of the stadium, a feature that is an echo from ancient Rome. Some, it has been said, are buried with those photos.
Watch the man who now runs the stadium pull out the folder of the century-old notes and drawings of the guy who designed it — pages from the past so he can once again hear the architect’s voice. Especially this year.
Listen to the football historian who has not missed a Michigan game in Ohio Stadium in 72 years — except the 2020 COVID season — describing the time he attended only because his terminally ill wife insisted he go. She might not survive, but his streak certainly would.
To appreciate Ohio Stadium on its 100th birthday, we should remember how and why it started. World War I had just ended and Ohio State needed a new football home. The old field a half-mile east was so small, fans were climbing trees and sawing off parts of the fence to get a look at their Buckeyes. The school, driven by the big-stadium visions of athletics-minded engineering professor Thomas French, turned to an alum for ideas. That was an architect from Dayton named Howard Dwight Smith, who had grown up not far from the bicycle shop of Orville and Wilbur Wright.
How’d that turn out? Don Patko reached into the lower right drawer of his desk this week for Smith’s drawings and notes from back then. Officially, Patko is the assistant athletics director for facilities and capital building projects. He’s been here 33 years. In reality, he’s the keeper of the flame at Ohio State; the man who watches over, tends to — and treasures — Ohio Stadium.
“It’s our crown jewel, it’s our monument, it’s our responsibility during our time period (to take care of it),” he said. “Every boss before me and every boss after me has to have that feeling.”
“I walk this place most of the time when it’s empty. To look at the construction and how they did that, I’ve never done anything this good in my life and I’ve done a lot of very nice modern buildings. But to build an all-concrete reinforced stadium in 1921…”
Patko’s collection includes this thoughtful line that Howard Dwight Smith wrote more than a century ago after studying the Ohio State situation: “The popularity of football during the recent season has shown that great crowds will have to be accommodated at the game.”
More than 100 years later, nothing has changed about that. Ohio State was so determined to fund the project that parades were held on downtown streets. Officials were hoping for public donations to reach $600,000. They passed $1 million in three months. Among Smith’s thinking was a unique horseshoe-shape for the stadium, an upper deck and more than 60,000 seats. If put end-to-end, the wooden bleacher seats would have stretched 21 miles. Critics thought such a size was silly and extravagant, but not for long.