One of America's great stadiums and the largest on-campus facility in Conference-USA, Rice Stadium will celebrate its 62nd season and Rice's 100th overall season of football in 2011.
This will be the Owls fourth season of play on the stadium's FieldTurf Duraspine system, which was installed in February of 2008 and is identical to the surfaces at Ohio State, West Virginia, as well as the home of the New England Patriots. The new field also sports updated logos and the Rice "R" at midfield.
Thanks to donations of more than $6 million that were raised in the spring of 2006, Rice Stadium stepped to the head of the class with a number of improvements for both players and fans alike. The old carpet-style synthetic playing surface was removed and replaced with Field Turf, a system that combines the best elements of traditional natural grass fields with the benefits of a synthetic surface. For the players, it means a surface that eliminates the concerns over turf burns and hard landings on thin pads laid over a concrete base. For Owl fans, it means their team plays on a lush, green surface that also can withstand the challenges of weather. The 18-inch crown on the field, needed for drainage with the old turf system, was flattened out as part of the installation the drainage and support layers for the new surface.
An entirely new scoreboard complex was constructed above the north end zone, allowing Owl fans the latest offerings of in-game entertainment and information along with video highlights and features. The new Daktronics scoreboard towers more than 60 feet above the north concourse and will complement the distinctive brickwork around the Stadium and across the Rice campus. The video screen measures 20-feet high by 35-feet wide, and a four-color message-board component will be 6-feet by 35-feet.
Fans can take in all these improvements while sitting on new aluminum bleachers which have seating for 47,000 fans. The end zone seating was removed and the area covered with blue tarps, but the capability remains to expand the seating to its original 70,000 configuration.
The dramatic improvements to Houston's longest-running home for college football are just the latest in a series of innovations and upgrades over recent years. The John L. Cox Fitness Center, an 8,000-square-foot strength and conditioning complex, used by all Rice athletes as well as the general student body, opened in early 1996. It is one of the premier college facilities in the nation. That same year, Rice players were afforded the comfort of a major locker room renovation. In addition, sports medicine and equipment areas were refurbished.
The Stadium has a storied history, borne from the University's football tradition. Fifty-three years ago, Rice fielded one of its greatest teams. The 1949 Owls, led by all-Americas Froggy Williams and Joe Watson, won the Southwest Conference championship and the 1950 Cotton Bowl with a 10-1 record. The Owls posted an 8-4 overall record, their best record since 1950. In that span, Rice was 5-0 at home.
However, old Rice Stadium (now the Rice Track/Soccer Stadium) seated less than 37,000 fans. Houston's civic leaders decided the old structure was not a proper venue for the SWC champions, much less a city with a future so bright. The idea for the new Rice Stadium was born.
Brown & Root Constructors was the general contractor for the project and the groundbreaking was held in February 1950. Working 24-hour shifts for the next nine months, Brown & Root completed the stadium in time for the 1950 season opener in late September. In the opening game on Sept. 30, 1950, Rice defeated Santa Clara 27-7.
Rice Stadium remains unique because it was built for football only. There is no running track around the perimeter of the field, so sightlines and facilities are still as functional today as they were in 1950.
The entire Rice football operation is housed in the stadium. The Owls' locker rooms and the Owl Club at the south end of the stadium are among the finest in C-USA. Offices for the Owls' coaching staff and football meeting rooms are also located in the stadium.
The Owl Club, atop the south end zone, is virtually a historical museum of the great Rice athletes and teams. The walls are filled with the photos of past Owls, forming a fitting site for many team functions. The room is also used for academic, civic and other social events.
On Jan. 13, 1974, Rice Stadium was the site of Super Bowl VIII, in which the Miami Dolphins defeated the Minnesota Vikings 24-7. Rice Stadium is one of only three campus facilities still in operation that have hosted a Super Bowl (Sun Devil Stadium and Stanford Stadium are the others). Tulane hosted three Super Bowls at Sugar Bowl Stadium before it was torn down in the mid 1970's.
The Stadium has also held major concerts. Huge crowds were part of the excitement for the Pink Floyd, Eagles, Elton John\Billy Joel, and George Strait concerts in recent years.
More than 10,000,000 fans have watched Rice Owls football at Rice Stadium.