McGuirk Stadium sees last home-opener before construction

By DailyCollegian.com Staff

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
For the Massachusetts football team, Saturday’s home-opener against Rhode Island represents the final home-opener at McGuirk Alumni Stadium – at least for the foreseeable future.

The stadium hosted its first game on Sept. 25, 1965, when the Minutemen defeated American International College, 41-0. On Oct. 16 of that year, the stadium was officially dedicated after UMass defeated Rhode Island, 30-7, in a homecoming game.

It’s fitting then, that the Minutemen will host Rhode Island this Saturday for their final home-opener at the original McGuirk Stadium.

The facility is scheduled for renovations to increase its seating capacity from its current 17,000 to at least 25,000 in order to meet Football Subdivision (FBS) requirements. The cost of construction is estimated at $20,000,000 and is expected to be completed in time for the 2014 season.

The most recent renovations occurred in 2006 and 2008. In 2006, UMass installed FieldTurf surface and proceeded to go 8-0 at home. In 2008, UMass installed permanent lighting which led to the second all-time single-season average attendance mark of 12,383. The Minutemen also went 4-2 at home that year.

Despite the imminent move to Gillette Stadium, UMass coach Kevin Morris appreciates the football history and tradition that McGuirk has accumulated for over 45 years.

“Well, [McGuirk] is our home and it’s always been our home,” said Morris, who is entering his third season as head coach. “We’re going to Gillette which is fantastic but that’s next year. We got all the championships and the plaques and everything else [at McGuirk Stadium]. This is where we won all of those, this is where UMass tradition and football history has been established and founded.”

In 1984, the stadium was rededicated after UMass’ athletic director who worked from 1948-1971.
The stadium has been the site for many of the Minutemen’s finest moments, including their most recent Division 1-AA first round and quarterfinal wins in 2006. UMass ultimately lost to Appalachian State in the championship game.

In 2007, the Minutemen opened the playoffs with a win at McGuirk Stadium before losing in the quarterfinals. McGuirk Stadium has given UMass a definitive home field advantage over the years, as the Minutemen have compiled a 158-72-2 (685) record on their home turf.

“This is where all the ghosts lie and the spirits lie,” Morris said, “…And we’re proud to be a part of it and [we’re] looking to make the rest of the tradition proud of our performance… every Saturday we’re down here.”

The Minutemen hope to replicate last year’s home-opener, when they defeated then-No. 4 ranked William & Mary, 27-23, in front of over 10,000 fans. The game was effectively over when All-American linebacker Tyler Holmes, now a senior, intercepted the Tribe’s quarterback with two minutes, five seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Holmes has compiled many of those memories during his time at McGuirk Stadium, memories he will always cherish.

“I am [going to miss it],” said Holmes. “It’s bittersweet, it’s kind of tough to think I only have four more games in here [and] this is my last home-opener. I’m going to miss the fans and the craziness out of the student section when they come out.”

The largest crowd ever recorded was on Nov. 25, 1972, when 20,000 fans showed up to watch UMass defeat Boston College, 28-7. Most recently, on Oct. 2, 2008, 16,422 fans filled the seats in a 17-7 win over Delaware.

Morris hopes that the fan support continues throughout the 2011 campaign, despite the fact that his team is ineligible for the playoffs. Home field has always been important to the Minutemen, a sentiment that won’t change regardless of the future.

“Protect the home turf first,” said Morris. “Number one, first and foremost, protect your home.”

Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]