Bearcat football was founded by Dr. Arch Carson in 1885. In 1895, plans for a stadium at the site of Nippert were conceived. The cost of the field would be $4,650 ($133k in 2016), and despite Cincinnati Mayor Julius Fleischmann contributing $2,000 ($57k in 2016), the fundraising effort took five years to complete. In 1901, work began on the facility, and UC won its first game at the site, beating Hanover 18–0. Wooden bleachers lined the playing field, along the sides of “conveniently located hills.”
In 1910, the university officially named the field “Carson Field,” in honor of the father of Cincinnati football. It was then that they hatched a plan for a permanent, concrete stadium. In 1916, the first nine sections of the stadium were financed by a city bond. In 1920, two more sections were added with war reclamation funds. In 1921, another three sections were added thanks to student subscriptions. It was then, according to The Cincinnatian, that it appeared the well had dried up. The stadium wasn’t done and there was no feasible way to find the money to finish it.
In 1923, during a Thanksgiving game against “ancient enemy” Miami, center Jimmy Nippert was gashed by a cleat in the muddy conditions. His wound filled with mud, but he finished the game. He later developed an infection, fell ill, and found himself fighting for his life. On Christmas Day 1923, he died of blood poisining.
Six days later, Jimmy’s grandfather — James N. Gamble, son of the Procter & Gamble co-founder —wrote a letter to UC president Frederick Hicks, offering to pay for completion of the stadium, adding an additional 18 sections of seats to the 14 that had already been constructed. Original cost estimates were between $125,000 and $150,000, but the final sum paid by Gamble was $250,000 ($3.52M in 2016). The stadium included state-of-the-art training rooms (one for UC and another for visitors) that would allow for on-site medical care for injured players, essentially preventing other athletes from suffering the same fate Jimmy did.
Nippert’s final words, “Five more yards to go — then drop!” were carved into his memorial at the south end of the stadium, just above a 10-foot etching of Jimmy himself.
The dedication ceremony took place on November 8, 1924, before the game against Oberlin. More than 10,000 fans were in attendance, according to the Enquirer. Among them were Jimmy’s parents, as well as representatives from colleges and universities in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and West Virginia.
The Cincinnatian dared to dream that games would be played at Nippert Stadium “long after we, our sons, and perhaps our grandsons” passed through the halls of UC. At the ceremony, James N. Gamble delivered a similar message in his address to the crowd:
In presenting the completed stadium to the University of Cincinnati, I feel deeply that this structure includes far more than mere brick, stone, and mortar — but that, like the invisible iron rods and steel girders which bind these concrete walls into indestructible solidarity, there is here a certain invisible but ever-present spirit of a noble, loyal, democratic youth who played the game of life according to the rules of that game and in recognition of the rights of his fellow men.
I should be, indeed, very happy in the assurance that, in this vast structure, in these tons of iron, concrete, brick, and stone, erected here on Carson Field, if there might be embodied all that is fine and noble in our American youth, so that each successive generation of students might be mindful, at all times, that the primary object of this athletic field is to develop sound minds in sound bodies, so that at the conclusion of life’s race, each contestant may truly say:
“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith!”
The walls of this stadium will now and in future years resound with the joyful shouts of victories fairly won, as, no doubt, they will also witness heartbreaking defeats and bitter disappointments; but, remember, that whatever may be the result to the contending teams on this field, may it always be said that either in victory or defeat, good, clean sportsmanship is the sine quo non on the campus of the University of Cincinnati.
In this spirit, President Hicks, I deem it a great privilege to offer this stadium to the university, with the fond hope that victories in untold number may crown its loyal teams, and bring fame, honor, and glory to the fair name of the university and the city of Cincinnati.
It’s remarkable to me that any of this happened.
One thing you’ll notice looking back through UC history is the number of times that the football program nearly folded. Finances were tight. Talent was thin. War debts piled up. Fan support disappeared. Facilities were crumbling or non-existent. Each time the Bearcats had their backs against the wall, something happened. In 1923, it was the unexpected passing of one of UC’s brightest stars, who just so happened to be from one of the city’s wealthiest families. A freak accident on Thanksgiving in 1923, and suddenly the University of Cincinnati was gifted a stadium that’s hosted students and fans for nearly a century.
There’s no way James Gamble could’ve anticipated this on the chilly afternoon of November 8, 1924, yet here we are. Gamble died at his home in Westwood in 1932, but I can’t help but wonder what he’d think if he could see crowd of better than 40,000 people pack a stadium bearing his grandson’s name — tucked beneath a spaceship-looking structure filled with fans and press — and win a game broadcast to millions on ESPN. He wished for it in his address that afternoon, but he couldn’t have possibly imagined it happening, right?
Happy 92nd Birthday, Nippert. I love you.