One of America's great stadiums and the largest on-campus facility in Conference-USA, Rice Stadium will celebrate its 65th season and Rice's 104th overall season of football in 2015 and an exciting new era takes shape in the north end zone with the construction of the Brian Patterson Sports Performance Center. The $31.5 million complex is slated to open in time for the start of the 2016 season, and is the latest in a series of upgrades to the Owls home field since if first opened its gates in 1950.
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, including the installation of an Astroturf 3D60H synthetic turf system in February of 2014. In 2006 as part of a number of improvements that included the stadium's first video board and the lowering of the original crown of the field and the installation of aluminum bleachers, the end zone seating was removed and those areas were covered with blue tarps, but the option remains to expand seating inventory in the south end zone in the future.
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 and the sports medicine and equipment areas were refurbished.
The Stadium has a storied history, borne from the University's football tradition. Fifty six 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. They set a school record by winning 10 games for the first time, finishing 10-1 and concluded the season ranked fifth in the final AP poll.
After that historic season, Houston's civic leaders decided the Owls' current stadium was not a proper venue for the SWC champions, much less for a rapidly growing city. The original Rice Stadium was located at the corner of University and Main streets (currently the home for Rice track & field and soccer) and required a number of temporary seating additions to accommodate 37,000 fans. When the idea for the new Rice Stadium was proposed immediately after the Cotton Bowl, an overwhelming number of pledges from the Houston community for seat reservations inspired the new stadium to be designed to hold 70,000 fans, making it the largest on-campus facility in the Southwest Conference at that time.
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 solely for football at a time when on-campus facilities traditionally also included track and field facilities . There is no running track around the perimeter of the field, so sight lines and facilities are still as functional today as they were in 1950.
The entire Rice football operation is housed in the stadium. Currently, offices for the Owls' coaching staff as well as locker and meeting rooms are housed in the south end zone. All those facilities will move to the Patterson Center when it opens next year.
The R Room, 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.