Nippert Stadium: A HISTORY


Historic James Gamble Nippert Memorial Stadium has been home to Cincinnati Bearcats football for more than a century. It’s named for Jimmy Nippert, a center on the 1923 team who died after complications from an injury suffered during a game against ancient enemy Miami (OH). The tragedy birthed a stadium. This origin—the passing of a Bearcat martyr—has been the bedrock for a winding and storied history that has seen Cincinnati football through days of obscurity and nights on primetime; a season in Division 2, and a top-10 finish.

It’s been called “The Wrigley Field of College Football.” Its cozy confines are anything but for opponents, as the stadium’s location, in a hole in the middle of the university’s Clifton campus, traps any and all noise produced by its capacity crowds of 40,000.

When UC officially completed it in 1924, fans and alumni dared to dream that it could be a home for decades to come. None of them could have imagined that it would be standing as the university celebrates its 200th birthday.

Nippert Stadium’s story is an arduous one, and it started in 1885.






Bearcat football was founded by Cincinnati athletic director Dr. Arch Carson in 1885. The team played its early home games off campus, in venues like the Reds’ League Park—the future site of Crosley Field. By 1895, Carson realized the program needed a venue at its home in Clifton. Carson hatched a plan to construct a playing field in UC’s Burnet Woods home, and the university chose the location based on feedback from students who had held the traditional Flag Rush in a lagoon at the heart of campus. The sunken, marshy plot of land was filled in with soil from other campus construction projects, and served as a perfect place for a stadium because of the way the surrounding hills served as natural walls.

Estimated stadium costs came it at $4,650 (about $142k , adjusted for inflation). Despite a $2,000 ($61k) donation from Cincinnati mayor Julius Fleischmann, the fundraising efforts took five years to complete. Work began with wooden bleachers on the sideline hills in 1901, and Cincinnati football played its first game in Clifton that year.

They beat Hanover 18-0—their first of many victories on that patch of grass they continue to call home more than a century later.

Carson Field [UC Libraries]

Carson Field [UC Libraries]

A 1909 topographical map shows the lagoon where Carson Field was placed. [ Maps]



With so many of its student-athletes enrolled in the University of Cincinnati’s pioneering co-op program—working in downtown factories during the day—the football team needed a way to practice at night. At the time, students worked one week and returned to class the next, alternating back and forth. (Dean Schneider made sure to put any student who wanted to play football in the same scheduling section, meaning the entire team would be at the factory one week and on campus the next.) In 1909, UC arranged for temporary arc carbon lights at Carson Field, paving the way for nighttime practices every other week, after the workday. A more permanent lighting setup followed in September 1910. It was a revolutionary idea at the time, but the technology wasn’t quite perfect, and they had to paint the ball white to see it, even with the lights.

On November 2, 1921, the university upgraded to incandescent lights. Fittingly, the lighting system was designed by a co-op student: Jack B. Silverman. He was an engineering student, and the project was his thesis.

Years later, in a September 1923 game against Kentucky Weslyan, the Bearcats played the country’s first football game under the lights.* They won 17-0. The Enquirer account of the game describes the lighting arrangement as something extraterrestrial:

Substituting a great battery of searchlights for the sun, the University of Cincinnati eleven introduced a new game to pigskin followers and one which was the first to be played in gridiron history under similar conditions, when it defeated Kentucky Wesleyan at Carson Field last night, 17 to 0.

With the huge lights turning the night into bright daylight, every play could be followed in every detail, and punts and passes were as plain to the 5,000 spectators as if the game was being conducted with the sun shining brightly.

While those in the first three or four rows were bothered a bit by the lights directly across the field from them, those in the upper tiers and at the end of the rows never missed a move, and announced that the new game was a great success.

Never at any time during the contest were the players of either team bothered by the bright rays. This was shown particularly by the fact that the contest was marked by few fumbles. Few punts were misjudged, and when they were it was the player’s fault.

*It should be noted that other teams had played under the lights, but those were either in unofficial, exhibition contests or in lower leagues. UC was the first “major” team to host a night game.

A 1914 game showing the light posts erected around Carson Field. [UC Libraries]



In 1910, the university officially named the field “Carson Field,” in honor of the father of Cincinnati football. It was then that UC began planning for a permanent, concrete stadium. Original plans called for the seats to be installed in an oval [pictured below] but that plan was abandoned due to other oval-shaped stadiums struggling with air circulation. Surely Carson Field, set deep into the ground, would not fare well. They went with a horseshoe.

Construction on permanent structures began in 1915. 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—a story in its own right. 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.

The east side of Carson Field, and the new concrete stands—1915. [UC Libraries]

The east side of Carson Field, circa 1918. [UC Libraries]

1922 illustration depicting the original plan for an oval arrangement. [UC Libraries]

1922 Nippert Stadium model depicting the original plan—seats arranged in an oval. [UC Libraries]



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 poisoning.

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 18 sections of seats to the 14 that the university had already constructed. Original cost estimates were between $125,000 and $150,000, but the final sum paid by Gamble was $270,000 (about $4 million with inflation). 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 a 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.

Nippert Stadium construction, 1924 [UC Libraries]

James N. Gamble (left) and UC President Frederick Hicks, Nippert dedication ceremony—November 8, 1924. [UC Libraries]

Completed Nippert Stadium, 1924. [UC Libraries]

Nippert Stadium seating chart, 1925 [Enquirer]



Just 12 years after opening, Nippert underwent its first major overhaul. Numerous improvements were installed prior to the 1936 football season. Namely, the field was lowered 12 feet, facilitating the addition of seats to bring capacity from 11,500 to somewhere between 23,000 and 25,000. (Reports were unbelievably conflicted on this.) Raised wooden bleachers were added, doing away with the need to sit directly on the concrete.

Before the new grass was seeded for the playing surface, UC installed “11,000 feet of farm tile below the top soil” to greatly improve drainage and bring an end to the days where the field would “resemble a lake” after heavy rain storms. Total cost of the upgrades: $247,218.65—about $75k coming from the university’s alumni association with the county footing the rest of the bill.

The stadium re-opened with a September night game against West Virginia. The Bearcats lost 40-6 with 18,000 fans in attendance.

1936 Nippert Stadium construction. []

New wooden bleachers, installed to elevate fans from the old, concrete seats. [Enquirer]

University and county officials complete the refurbished stadium’s final inspection—September 25, 1936. [Enquirer]

Nippert Stadium nearing completion, 1936. Inlaid left is AD Dana M. King. Inlaid right is head coach Russ Cohen. [Enquirer]



By 1954, Nippert Stadium needed some extra breathing room. There were no second decks, so UC sought to add one on the east side that could seat 3,000 fans. This would increase the total number of seats to 28,000. Standing room tickets would bring max capacity to 30,000—a milestone for Nippert.

The cost of the addition was $174,425—financed privately thanks to the fundraising help of a special committee.

The university named the addition Shank Pavilion—after Dr. Reed A. Shank, a Cincinnati surgeon, member of UC board of directors, UC alumnus, and Bearcat fan who died of a heart attack at the 1953 game against rival Miami. The new pavilion was dedicated in his honor a year later, at the 1954 Battle for the Victory Bell.

The larger stadium proved to be good luck. The 1954 Bearcats, led by revolutionary coach Sid Gillman, surged to #12 in the AP Poll following an 8-0 start that stretched the winning streak started the prior season to a school-record 16 games.

The original intention was to follow the east pavilion with a slightly larger, 3,500-seat addition to the stadium’s west side. (It’s unclear what that project would have meant for the press box, or if they had even thought that far.) However, as is tradition in Cincinnati, concerns over spending had re-ignited by September 1955. The Shank Pavilion fundraising hadn’t gone as smoothly as hoped, so a plan proposed to the university by an alumni group was swiftly rejected when school officials learned the west-side addition would be funded by “revenue bonds, mortgaging future receipts to back up the bonds.” UC refused to mortgage against anticipated receipts and that was that. Nippert wouldn’t be expanded again for a quarter century

Mrs. Shank (far right) and other Shank family members pose with UC officials in front of the new dedication plaque—November 25, 1954 [Enquirer]

Reed Shank Pavilion [UC Libraries]



The AFL expansion Cincinnati Bengals spent the 1968 and 1969 seasons at Nippert Stadium during the construction of Riverfront Stadium. When the Bengals went downtown after joining the NFL in 1970, they played on a new surface—AstroTurf. UC evidently felt the need to join the party, so they removed the natural grass field from Nippert. The Bearcats have played home games on an artificial surface ever since.

UC played the 1970 home opener against Dayton at Riverfront while crews installed the new AstroTurf in Clifton. They returned home on October 3 to face Tulane on campus—the first game on the new Nippert surface. They lost 6-3.

The AstroTurf surface was later replaced in 1978 and 1986.

The Bearcats practice on Nippert Stadium’s new AstroTurf, September 1970. [Enquirer]

The Bearcats practice on Nippert Stadium’s new AstroTurf, September 1970. [Enquirer]



In 1984, UC learned that Nippert Stadium was structurally unsound. The concrete was crumbling and cracking. Some seating areas were even roped off from fans and students. The team played just four home games in 1984, and two of those were played downtown at Riverfront Stadium. The university shelled out $250,000 to simply bring the facility up to a safe standard for spectators, a “quick fix” that included basic painting and patching and allowed UC another five years before more serious steps would need to be taken.



Before the 1989 football season, Cincinnati hired 32-year-old Tim Murphy from Maine. In an 11-page report submitted to Athletic Director Rick Taylor that summer, Murphy outlined a plan for the future of a football program that was on the verge of disaster. “It’s going to take time,” Murphy said. “But tradition has to start somewhere.”

The program’s outlook couldn’t have been bleaker. In 1982, the NCAA ruled that the UC football program did not meet standards for Division I-A (now called FBS) competition, and relegated them to Division I-AA (now called FCS). The university took the NCAA to court, successfully arguing that its football program was fit to compete in the nation’s highest division. However, the courts ruled Cincinnati would have to compete in I-AA for one season—1983. In 1988, an NCAA investigation discovered 11 violations in football and men’s basketball. The football program would be forced to operate with a scholarship reduction through the 1992 season. To top it all off, UC’s 1984 agreement on stadium safety had expired. Nippert was again structurally unsound and would also need an expansion to meet the NCAA’s requirement of 30,000 seats for Division I-A teams. Capacity at the time was 26,592. The Bearcats were also entering the 1990 season with 63 players on scholarship (95 was the norm) because of the NCAA probation and “extraordinary attrition.”

The university flirted with the idea of leaving Nippert Stadium behind. UC hadn’t significantly upgraded the facility in 20 years, and spectators could tell. The Bearcats’ home was falling apart, and Taylor was ready to cut bait. “I’d like to go new,” he told the Enquirer that September. The idea was to raze Nippert and replace it with a 40,000-seat stadium at the same site, reported to cost $13 million and open in time for the 1993 season.

In January 1990, UC decided to stick with Nippert. In the end, the three-year timeline proved to be a hurdle and the cost to demolish Nippert ($1.5 to $2 million) was deemed untenable. UC had just spent $32 million in public money to build the Shoemaker Center, and financial discretion was crucial. The university approved a privately-funded $13.5 million renovation plan that included—among other things—an expansion of the Shank Pavilion (which was renamed Herschede-Shank Pavilion), seats in the north end zone, and a three-tiered press box on the stadium’s west side.

The team would play its 1990 season at Riverfront Stadium downtown while Nippert was brought up to speed, opening in time for the 1991 campaign. However, scheduling conflicts at Riverfront would mean UC could play just three home games that season. The Bearcats played the season’s opener on a Sunday.

Unsurprisingly—considering the era—UC struggled to come up with the funding. University President Joseph Steger said in May 1991 he needed another “$6 or $7 million” to finish renovations. He floated the idea of selling naming rights to Nippert, an idea fans and media met with a firestorm. Eventually, the money came, and Nippert reopened in 1991 with a temporary capacity of about 23,000 before all 35,000 seats were ready in 1992.

(This is the era where we I started to find tons of good photos. There are some below, but more can be found here.)

Rendering detailing 1990 renovation project. [Enquirer]

UC student and construction worker Kevin Parrish measures the seating with the new press box in the background. [Enquirer]

Construction workers place a limestone slab in the southwest corner of Nippert Stadium, 1991. [Enquirer]

A worker installs bleachers at the north end of Nippert Stadium, 1992. [Enquirer]

Nippert Stadium’s new scoreboard, 1992. [Enquirer]

Cincinnati vs Wisconsin - Nippert Stadium, 1999. []

Cincinnati vs Wisconsin - Nippert Stadium, 1999. []



After 30 years of AstroTurf, Nippert joined the 21st century with a new artificial playing surface: FieldTurf. The university installed it during the summer as part of a $2.3 million renovation project that also brought a new brick veneer to the wall surrounding the field and upgrades to the soccer facility.

The press box was also remodeled and named the John and Dorothy Hermanies Press Box in 2000.

The new FieldTurf during a game against Syracuse, Sept. 2000. [Enquirer]

FieldTurf diagram, 2000. [Enquirer]



Nippert Stadium received a new video board in the north end, upgrading the scoreboard added in 1992. Also, UC added red plastic chairbacks to 10,000 seats. (Similarly, 9,000 black cushions were installed on bleachers in the UCATS area in 2009.) The 2001 season opened with a home game against Purdue which yielded the first advance sellout in stadium history.

The 2001 scoreboard, shown during CRC construction in 2003. [The Cincinnati Monocle]



The Campus Recreation Center (CRC) construction became the latest project to change the look and feel of Nippert Stadium. The facility officially opened in early 2006, but the $113-million beast brought changes to Nippert for the 2005 season because of the way it butted up to the stadium’s north end.

The university installed a more permanent set of bleachers behind the north end zone, and a pedestrian bridge connected those seats to the stadium’s east concourse. The new batch of construction also brought a giant video scoreboard in the northeast corner and a replacement for the FieldTurf installed in 2000. Behind the scenes, UC added locker rooms at field level beneath the new bleachers.

Nippert’s north end zone, featuring CRC, the permanent bleachers, the scoreboard, and the pedestrian bridge, 2008. [photo by Adam Sonnett]



The last major renovation to date took place following the 2013 season. The university laid plans to demolish 1992’s press box and replace it with a new structure that included space for local and national media as well as luxury seating options.

While the west-side pavilion served as the project’s centerpiece, additional improvements included re-tooled concourses on the east and west sides that brought new concession options and more restrooms. The east side also gained new walkways to improve traffic, namely pedestrian bridges connecting O’Varsity Way (which also got additional concessions) to Herschede-Shank Pavilion, meaning fans seated in the stadium’s upper deck could avoid the lower concourses altogether.

The Bearcats again played games downtown—this time at Paul Brown Stadium—while workers constructed the four-story pavilion in 2014, to open in time for the 2015 season. Original cost estimates came in at $70 million. Eventually, UC adjusted the budget to $86 million, although most final cost estimates came in at $85 million.

In addition to stadium upgrades, UBU Sports’ Speed S5-M—a more modern artificial playing surface—replaced the FieldTurf and red vinyl caps were installed on the bleachers, with the student section boasting a large, black C Paw design.

The south end of Nippert Stadium showing the red bleacher caps and the student section’s C Paw, 2015. [photo by Spencer Tuckerman | OhVarsity!]

[photo by UC via]



Nippert Stadium gained a new tenant in 2016—the USL’s FC Cincinnati. The soccer club financed a renovation of the visitor’s locker room and a turf replacement. They installed UBU Sports’ Speed M6-M.

More serious updates followed in 2017. In order to accommodate a larger soccer pitch, several rows of bleachers were retracted and notches were cut into the curved end of Nippert’s horseshoe layout. Before the start of the 2017 football season, UC also installed a larger, 114-foot video board thanks to funding from Carl and Martha Lindner. A second video board phase followed in 2018 which brought an improved sound system to Nippert.

Nippert Stadium with a wider playing surface and several rows removed to accommodate the corners of a soccer pitch. [photo via FC Cincinnati]

Rendering showing Nippert’s new videoboard, installed in 2017. []


Additional Info

Research on this piece largely came from UC Libraries, the UC Historical Walking Tour, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and Reginald C. McGrane’s 1963 book The University of Cincinnati: A Success Story in Urban Higher Education.

I’d like this to be a living document. If you see a mistake or have an addition, let me know. If you have an old photograph of something you don’t see represented here, let me know. The stadium was lacking a thorough history, and I’d like to maintain one as best I can. Help me make it perfect.



Change Log:

Version 1.0: April 22, 2019

Version 1.1: April 23, 2019 - Added clarification about Nippert hosting the “first” night football game