By John Hirn
CSU Athletics Historian
This is the third of a five-part series exploring the history of CSU football at visiting stadiums in Colorado and Wyoming. Part 3 of the series explores the two stadiums in Colorado Springs where the Aggies/Rams have played since 1901. The opening of the new stadium at CSU marks a new era in college football stadiums in the Rocky Mountain region and we look back at the stadiums of the past and present. Part 1: Boulder / Part 2: Denver
Intercollegiate football was born in Colorado on April 11, 1885 when Colorado College took on the University of Denver at the Colorado Springs Athletic Park for the first football game between two colleges west of the Mississippi River. Although the CC Tigers no longer play football today, Colorado Springs remains the home of the Air Force Falcons, holding the distinction of being the city in Colorado where football has been played for 132 years.
It was not until 1901 when Clarence Griffith’s CAC Aggies traveled to Colorado Springs to play their first football game there. Just three years earlier, in 1898, Colorado College opened a new football, track and baseball stadium named Washburn Field. Named after Rev. Phillip Washburn, rector at Grace Episcopal Church and an avid CC football fan. The Aggies played 23 games on Washburn Field between 1901 and 1951 coming out with an 11-9-3 record during that span.
Washburn Field was built on the west side of the CC campus using the slope toward Monument Creek to make up the east stands, which served as the grandstands. Washburn is unusual in the respect that most football stadiums have their main grandstands on the west side of the field.
Photos of Washburn Field show a very distinct view of two buildings above the east grandstands; both are women’s residence halls and usually in view of the camera’s eye. On the north portion of the stadium is McGregor Hall, built in 1903. It is a women’s residence hall and the first women’s athletic facility on the CC campus. On the south portion of the field is Bemis Hall, built in 1908 and visible in a 1927 photo of the field you can see women sitting on the fire escapes watching the Aggies and Tigers battle for the championship game.
Two of the most memorable games ever played between the Aggies and Tigers occurred in 1915 and 1927 when both teams had the championship of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference on the line. The 1915 tilt, played on a cold and windy Nov. 13 day pitted the two best teams in the conference. The Aggies’ star player, Ralph “Sag” Robinson, was injured early in the game, but that made no difference as CAC easily beat CC 24-13 for its first conference championship.
The 1927 contest again pitted the two teams that would decide the conference championship. With future pro football hall of famer Earl “Dutch” Clark leading the Tigers, the Aggies had an uphill battle. Again, the Aggies came out the winners of the game and championship by a score of 20-7. Photos from the Colorado College Special Collections captured the popularity of this game with a packed stadium for the final game of 1927.
The Tigers were the earliest rivals of the Colorado Aggies dating back to 1910 when former CAC coach Claude Rothgeb bolted Fort Collins for the same position at Colorado College. After the 1915 championship, fans forgot about Rothgeb’s lack of loyalty to the Aggies and concentrated on Harry Hughes’ teams playing some of their best games against the Tigers.
Through their rivalry, the Tigers were known to play spoilers to the Aggies and in 1919, after wrapping up their third conference championship in five seasons, the game at Washburn Field prevented a perfect 8-0 season. Due to a blizzard, the Aggies’ train from Fort Collins arrived at Washburn Field at game time (tracks used to be within a few blocks of Washburn). The Aggies had no time to warm up and ran directly onto the field and lost 13-0 to the Tigers – their only loss of the 1919 season.
The Aggies had a different loss at Washburn Field in 1949 when star halfback Eddie Hanna collapsed and died on the team train shortly after their win over the Tigers. Hanna’s death is still felt today and his No. 21 is one of three officially retired jersey numbers at CSU.
The last time the Aggies played at Washburn Field was on Oct. 6, 1951, which is the last time any CSU team has played Colorado College. The 54-13 drubbing received by the Tigers showed why the two schools decided to go in different directions with their football programs.
At the end of the 2008 football season, Colorado College dropped its football program, ending the football life of Washburn Field, which had been one of the oldest football fields in the nation. Today Washburn Field still plays home to the CC soccer, lacrosse and track teams, and remains as one of the oldest athletic stadiums in the country.
Colorado State did not return to Colorado Springs to play football again until 1962 when the Air Force Falcons opened their new 40,000-seat stadium. Coach Mike Lude and his Rams were the first team to play in the new Falcon Stadium, on Sept. 22, 1962. It was Lude’s first game as the new head coach of CSU football and amidst the worst losing streak in school history CSU lost 34-0.
The Rams have played 27 games at Falcon Stadium, holding a 10-17-1 record with the last win in Colorado Springs back in 2002. The lone tie was in 1967 following the first win in 1966 when the Rams upset the Falcons in a very memorable game that propelled them to their best football season since 1955.
There have been some other memorable games at Falcon Stadium, with the 1990 game being one that helped jump-start the year that led them to the Freedom Bowl championship. Coach Earle Bruce opened the 1990 season with a 35-33 thriller that included a blocked punt by Rams senior Dolf Renaud that was recovered by Bob Stratman in the end zone for the touchdown that proved to be a winner.
However, no game at Falcon Stadium has been more memorable than the 1996 come-from-behind victory staged on national television. With the Rams down 41-14 late in the third quarter, Sonny Lubick’s team scored 28 unanswered points to beat the Falcons 42-41. The game was decided on a 4th-and-10 play where Jeremy Calhoun made a fingertip catch in the end zone to tie the score with less than a minute to play. After an excessive celebration penalty, Matt McDougal kicked the longer-than-usual PAT and the Rams’ amazing upset was complete.
The Rams should continue to play the Falcons for many years to come and many more memories will be made in the city where college football began 132 years ago.
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