It’s Hardly Superdome, but It’ll Do : Stanford Stadium, 64, Has Had a Face-Lift for NFL’s Big Game

Times Staff Writer

National Football League owners emerged from the winter meeting of 1982 and were pleased to announce that Super Bowl XIX had been awarded to Stanford Stadium near Palo Alto.

So, of course, the first thing everyone did was run out and price galoshes. The guy who sang that it never rains in California should have been here in January of 1967, when 10.43 inches pelted the Bay Area.

The Super Bowl at Stanford Stadium. What a great concept. You could just imagine 86,000 fans, faced with sitting in the stadium’s old and splintered wooden bleachers, fighting over their souvenir Super Bowl Tweezers at the gate.


Stanford Stadium? Wasn’t that John McKay’s favorite hangout, the place where opposing players had to walk a mile or two past rowdy fans and tailgate parties to their locker room? Well, so much for security.

Sixty-four year old Stanford Stadium? Isn’t that the place with no VIP luxury suites? Isn’t that the place with no press-box elevator? Isn’t that the stadium with the hand-crank phone system and the Morse Code press room?

In other words, why this stadium? Did NFL owners make this decision before or after their annual winter-meeting cocktail party?

“It was the area,” Jim Steeg, the NFL’s director of special events, said. “It’s just a great area. I think that’s what carried it.”

OK, so the stadium needed a little work.

“The NFL, in the spring of 1982, did a complete evaluation,” Alan Cummings, Stanford’s associate athletic director, said. “They knew what they were getting into. They had their eyes wide open.”

The truth is, the NFL has long been yearning to play a Super Bowl in the San Francisco Bay Area, but neither Candlestick Park (capacity 61,185) nor Oakland Coliseum (53,482) is large enough to hold the game.

Then the NFL got this idea. There was this charming, fixer-upper stadium a few miles down the road at Stanford. Sure, it was old, but it was big. But with a few coats of new paint and a little elbow grease. . . .


Voila !

On Sunday, the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and about 86,000 fans will get a look at the new Stanford Stadium.

Actually, it still looks a lot like the old stadium, but it has now been deemed fit for one of the largest American sports festival.

All told, more than $2.3 million has been spent in improving the stadium. A large chunk of the money came through private donations (one former Stanford alumnus kicked in $300,000) and fund raising. The NFL chipped in another $700,000 to get the stadium ready.

Stanford Stadium was built in 1921 at a cost of $211,346.

But the new stadium is ready. All the work that remains to be done is just window dressing.

Let’s take a look around.

Gate 2, the stadium’s main entrance, has been completely remodeled, and the new letters above the gate that spelled out STANFORD STADIUM have already been stolen.

A new ticket office and concessions stand have been constructed at Gate 2 at a cost of $400,000.


Stanford Stadium has long been noted for the infamous walk that players had to make from their lockers at Encina Gymnasium to the stadium. This trip took players right past the area where Stanford fans held tailgate parties. Enough said.

More than once the scene turned ugly when Coach John McKay and his USC Trojans passed that way.

No longer will players have to travel that long and winding road. Two duplicate locker rooms, complete with 50 lockers for each team, have been constructed near the open end of the stadium at a cost of $500,000.

And these aren’t your cheap lockers, either. Each comes complete with combination lock and key.

An officials’ locker room was constructed nearby. Price tag: $50,000.

New railings have been installed on the steps of every gate. Price: $30,000.

All the women’s restrooms have been renovated.

And don’t worry about splinters. Apple Computer is donating 86,000 souvenir seat cushions.

There’s more. Lots more.

The second and third floors of the press box have been renovated. State of the art communications equipment has been installed to suit the vast needs of the media (telephone jacks, additional electrical outlets for computer terminals).

Stanford’s press box, one of the nation’s largest, will be able to accommodate about 800 to 1,000 members of the press. The rest will sit in the stands and work on portable work tables. The NFL has given credentials to 3,000 members of the media.


The roof of the Stanford Stadium press box, never before accessible to the media, will now be able to fit about 80 people comfortably. That was made possible by installing walking platforms and safety railings.

And then, there’s the return of Row 80.

For years, fans could not sit in the last row of the stadium because the back support railing was unsafe. But that has been fixed, opening up an additional 1,100 seats.

As far as league VIPs well, they’re going to have to sit in the stands with the common folk. Here, there are no temperature-controlled suites with reclining chairs.

“That was something that was understood when the game was awarded,” Cummings said.

And, it’s true, there still is no elevator to the press box.

Instead, about 30 Stanford students will serve as runners for the media, carrying camera equipment, computer terminals and perhaps even a sportswriter or two up and down the steps.

The University has spent about $300,000 toward the improvement of the stadium’s electrical and water systems. The NFL has paid for the installation of new gate signs throughout the stadium to make it easier for fans to find their seats.

“This is a whole lot bigger than a college game,” Cummings said.

It sure is. While many of the before-mentioned additions will be permanent fixtures in the stadium, several temporary structures have been constructed solely for use in the Super Bowl.


A sampling:

--A new sound system has been installed over the scoreboard.

--Two Diamond Vision screens have been installed at the north and south end of stadium at a cost of $70,000.

--A portable pregame and postgame studio has been constructed for ABC-TV, which is showing the game.

--Temporary field-goal nets have been shipped in for the game.

--The goal posts for the Super Bowl were brought up from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

--Extra camera platforms have been installed throughout the stadium.

--Since there are no lights at Stanford Stadium, a portable lighting system will be installed just for the game. It’s the same system that was used eight times last summer for Olympic soccer matches played at night at Stanford Stadium. The Super Bowl is scheduled to start at about 3 p.m.

--Extra portable lights will be installed outside the stadium for the convenience of the fans.

--Extra ushers will be stationed outside the stadium to assist fans back to their cars.

Now, for the bad news. What if it rains?

“The weather is always a gamble,” Cummings said. “But I think the NFL understood that when they awarded the game. We can’t control the weather. Bad weather could make it a problem for everyone. There’s nothing we can do, but that doesn’t make me not worry about it.”

The rain shouldn’t have much effect on the playing surface. The natural turf at Stanford Stadium is considered one of the best in the country.


But heavy rains could really mess up the parking situation. Like the Rose Bowl, most of the parking area around Stanford Stadium is grass.

“If it rains heavily preceding the game, we’ll have to close down the natural turf lots,” Cummings said. “That pushes traffic out into the streets. It just makes it more of a walk.”

Cummings is hoping that many fans will take advantage of the 1,000 buses that will cart people to and from the game.

“And we’re hoping that 12,000 to 15,000 people will take the train from San Francisco,” he said. “If we are successful in mass transit, there should be less automobiles than for a big game at Stanford.”

Cummings, though, has been charting the weather closely.

“When I got the first weather forecast six months ago, I was as interested in the projection of the weather the 30 days before the game as I was in the day of the game itself,” he said. “If we get five days of rain before the game, we’re in trouble.”

Over the last 30 years, the average monthly rainfall in January south of San Francisco has been 3.41 inches. The high was in 1967, when the 10 inches of fell in January. Cummings is hoping for a month like January of 1948, when only .31 of an inch of rain fell.


“If it rains on Jan. 20, you guys (the media) will beat on us,” Cummings said. “But I think this is a very charming city.”