Students build first stands at Grant Field
Photo Courtesy Georgia Tech Archives
The East Stands, shown above, were much smaller in 1912 than they are today. Students built the first permanent stands around 1905.
Bobby Dodd Stadium at historic Grant Field, the home of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, is the country's oldest division 1-A stadium still in use in college football. The field and stadium's history are a wonderful part of the story of Georgia Tech and the Ramblin' Recks.
In the early days of Georgia Tech football, games were played in several areas around the city of Atlanta, including fields at Piedmont Park. This is not surprising, given the no-nonsense nature of a Tech education, and the emphasis on classroom, laboratory, workroom and other academic infrastructure improvements called for by the burgeoning Institute. The stern, austere administrators that first led Tech limited the athletic budget as well.
In 1904, this all changed with the hiring of the legendary John Heisman as Tech's first professional football coach. Coach Heisman insisted that Tech purchase a permanent athletics field for use by the students and the varsity teams.
A contract was signed that year between the Georgia Tech Athletic Association and the E. C. Peters Land Company for a seven-year lease on a parcel of land for use as an athletic field. The lease made up a large portion of what is now the southern end of Grant Field, and the terms were for payment to be made in the form of a percentage of the gate receipts for games played on the field. Unfortunately, the Flats, as they were to become known, were barely adequate for the practice of sports, much less for the playing of games. It was an unleveled, feral and rocky tract of land that posed more problems for the players than just service. Early accounts of marauding snakes and spooked rabbits interrupting play were familiar anecdotes in those days.
At the beginning of 1905, a concerted effort was launched to improve the state of the field. Heisman solicited and obtained up to 300 convict laborers from the city of Atlanta to assist in the clearing of the Flats. These convicts worked to clear rocks, remove tree stumps, and level out the field for play.
Tech students also gave their own contribution to the improvements at the athletic fields that year. A grandstand was conceived and designed by Lazarus Allen and Sid Mays and constructed by Tech students for the fans. The wooden stands were constructed along the embankment that bordered the site, and a wood fence was added as a part of the project, also through student labor. In 1906, the state purchaed the previously leased land for $16,000. The final land acquisition was completed in January of 1913, with the land being graded under the auspices of the Fulton County government.
It was also in 1913 that an Atlantan, John W. Grant, contributed $15,000 to construct the first permanent stands at the Flats. The Board of Trustees of Georgia Tech chose to name the field the Hugh Inman Grant Field in memorial of the donor's deceased son. Mr. Grant later awarded Tech additional funds that, augmented by the Board of Trustees, completed an expansion in 1915 of additional concrete stands. Thus the playing field at Georgia Tech first rose into existence, and assumed the name it still carries today: Grant Field. This expansion endowed Tech with one of the finest and most unique venues for the historic play of the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech.
During the roaring twenties, Tech not only enjoyed tremendous success on the playing field under Coach William Alexander but also served as the center of social life and society for the swelling city of Atlanta. There was barely a flapper or an aspiring Gatsby that didn't know of Georgia Tech's record during those seasons, or couldn't belt out a convincing rendition of the "Ramblin' Reck from Georgia Tech" at his neighborhood speakeasy.
The first major expansion for Grant Field came during the 1924 and 1925 seasons, when the stadium's capacity, set at 5,600 after the full employment of the funds given by Grant, was expanded to over 30,000 people. These expansions included new east and south stands to augment the original west.
The forties, and the growth of Tech as an engineering institute after World War II, saw another expansion to the stadium with the renovation and redesign of the west stands that included the largest press box in the deep south. The fifties and the sixties saw the stadium, an already impressive structure for the era, rise to greater heights under the leadership of Bobby Dodd. The addition of a second deck to the east and west stands and new north stands increased the field to a capacity of over 60,000 seats. The largest audience ever to view a game at Grant Field, as reported by the Athletic Association, was 60,316 at the 1973 Georgia game.
As real estate around Tech became rarer and more costly, the need to utilize space became a priority. The stadium, too, began to evolve in such a way as to accommodate these realities. In 1986 the south horseshoe was torn down, and replaced with the William Wardlaw Center. The Wardlaw Building houses the visiting team's locker room, among other facilities. The old visitor's locker room, located in the basement of the old Athletic Association Building on Bobby Dodd Way, was so poor that Bear Bryant quipped in his last visit to Tech that he was glad they had "gotten rid of that horrible place." In 1992 the Bill Moore Student Success Center was opened, and the inclusion of more skyboxes again reduced the capacity of Grant Field to its present limit of 46,000.
The surface at Grant Field hasn't always been grass. In 1971, Tech began playing on Astroturf, replaced with an All-Pro surface in 1988. Grass was reinstalled in 1995. There are legends of many items being buried beneath the sod of the field, among them a bronze bullpup "liberated" from its embarrassment on the campus of U[sic]GA. Various mementos of student life, ashes of faithful and dearly departed alumni and other serious artifacts have sought to become permanent additions to that hallowed grounds by being interred therein.
Tradition is never forgotten at Bobby Dodd Stadium. As the players enter the field they pass through a tunnel that is lined with the names, images and achievements of the greats of Georgia Tech football. They enter a field envisioned by the seminal legend of college football, John Heisman. They play on land salted by the sweat and blood of those that came before them. Fans cheer them while seated in stands that were first built by the labor of students, and still exist beneath the modern stands.
In keeping with this regard for the proud and inspiring tradition of Georgia Tech, the stadium was named in 1988 for a man who gave his entire professional life to Tech. Robert Lee Dodd was a coach, athletic director, philanthropist, humanitarian, friend of Tech and her students and, most of all, gentleman.
Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field, which began as a scruffy tract of wilderness adjacent to the Georgia School of Technology, has been built and evolved into a place worthy of the title as the Home of the Ramblin' Recks of Georgia Tech.