Feature - October 7, 1998

Back to the Future
Princeton Stadium looks to the 21st century
while retaining the best of Palmer

By Stephen R. Dujack '76


A sellout crowd of 27,800 filled Princeton Stadium for its inaugural game, on Saturday, September 19. The fans saw the Tigers defeat Cornell 6-0 on the strength of two fieldgoals, but the stadium and its dedication upstaged anything else that happened on the field. No other stadium in the country looks, or works, like Princeton Stadium, and it was clear from the moment I stepped into it on this balmy late-summer day that architect Raphael Viñoly has reinvented the form.

  • "All the Way," a dedicatory poem by Paul Muldoon



       It is an exceptional athletic and social space that's sure to be widely imitated. Built in the place where Palmer Stadium stood for 82 years, until its demolition in 1996, the new $45-million facility is strikingly modern while echoing Palmer's elegance and at least a few of its features, including a horseshoe shape (but with grandstands at what would otherwise be the open end), and a spacious (but brighter and more inviting) concourse. Its most significant differences are the absence of a track (relocated immediately to the south, and joined to the stadium by back-to-back stands) and an outer wall that is a freestanding building housing a state-of-the-art press box, offices, and conference rooms. The new stadium also has lights, making night games possible, and a field wide enough to accommodate soccer and lacrosse.

    Viñoly refers to the U-shaped outer wall as a colonnade -- a bow to the classical columns and arches that graced Palmer, although the new structure has a monolithic quality more suggestive of Stonehenge. (Viñoly calls architecture "the art of dealing with heaviness" -- see Paul Muldoon's poem, page 16.) Approaching from Ivy Lane, I could see, framed by one of the two main entrances, spectators filling the stands. Upon entering the stadium, I found myself in a part of the ground-level concourse called the Palmer Pavilion. In front of me was a relic of sorts -- a concrete slab with gothic letters spelling "The Palmer Memorial Stadium." It had spanned the entrance to the old arena; now, mounted and restored, it welcomed us to the new. From this point the crowd streamed left or right along the concourse, which, along with an inner mezzanine separating the upper and lower grandstands, provides access to seats.

    By the time I got seated it was one o'clock, and the stadium was mostly full. I enjoyed, beyond the stands at the south end, the same view that Palmer had offered, of Jadwin Gym and the trees above Lake Carnegie. The feeling in every way was reminiscent of Palmer, but more intimate, because removing the track has put the spectators closer to the field and to each other. Viñoly has preserved Palmer's coziness in a breathtakingly modern structure -- taking us, in the words of Director of Athletics Gary Walters '67, "back to the future."

    There's so much to remember from that glorious afternoon: big-band crooner Alex Donner '75's with rousing rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" (someone should sign him for the World Series); the authoritative voice of Tiger football's first female announcer, Wendy Herm '99; and -- a feat impossible in open-ended Palmer -- a "wave," started by the students in the south stands, that circled the field three times.

    The festivities also included a halftime place-kicking contest between 54-year-old Charlie Gogolak '66 and his brother Pete, a Cornell graduate two years his senior, as they reprised their roles as football's first soccer-style kickers. The competition, which raised money for the Princeton Medical Center, started with the ball placed on the 10-yard line. "I know it's short, but they're old," quipped ABC-TV newscaster Charles Gibson '65, the master of ceremonies. Pete, who booted a 40-yarder through the uprights, easily won, after Charlie re-injured a hamstring on his first kick.

    The part that I'll carry in my head forever took place in the minutes before the coin toss. After the Tiger band played a medley of Princeton tunes, Gibson took to the field, assuming the same role he'd had at the closing ceremonies for Palmer Stadium. A cheer rose when he asked, "Who knew we'd get such a grand successor?" The crowd was in the same mood that precedes the P-rade, a sort of giddiness with goosebumps.

    Then Gibson invited all football alumni onto the field. There they came, through the southwest portal. Each class carried its P-rade banner, starting with 1998 and going all the way back to 1927. The former players -- several hundred in all -- spread across the field, making two broad arcs, one inside the other, which formed a long passageway. The veteran gridders faced the home stands, and everyone rose to their feet in sustained cheering and applause. I glimpsed, crowding the portal, the 1998 players in their familiar orange-striped jerseys and sporty new helmets. As others noticed them, the noise built to a fever pitch. Then they stormed the field, running through the human passageway, from endzone to endzone. The young men passed old men who had worn leather helmets and played with the fat ball. They passed the great single-wing teams and all the other Ivy champions and contenders. Finally they burst past the last of the former players, jumping and pounding each other, pumped to bursting for the game ahead. There may have a been a few dry eyes in Viñoly's monument to Tiger football's past and future, but not mine.


    Stephen R. Dujack '76, a former staff editor at PAW, is the director of communications for the Environmental Law Institute, in Washington, D.C.


    By Paul Muldoon


    A dedicatory poem by Paul Muldoon, director of the Creative Writing Program, written in celebration of Princeton Stadium and delivered by the poet at a dinner there Friday, September 18.


    The notion of taking it all the way
    that Homer and Achilles held in common
    is what has brought us here today,
    not to speak of an impatience with backgammon

    that Homer and Achilles held in common.
    For the notion of a 'flying wedge',
    not to speak of an impatience with backgammon,
    is what gave Homer and Achilles the edge.


    The notion of a 'flying wedge'
    with its sheer momentum, its brute force,
    is what gave Homer and Achilles the edge
    (as well as the men of Princeton, of course.)

    With their sheer momentum, their brute force,
    few could advance a line of scrimmage
    as well as the men of Princeton, of course,
    themselves conjuring up an image

    few but myself would advance ... For the line of scrimmage,
    the running with the ball, the block, the tackle
    themselves conjure up an image
    that might have appealed to 'Duncher' Mackle,

    whose running with the ball, whose block and tackle
    I recall from my childhood in Ireland.
    I might have appealed to 'Duncher' Mackle
    and Freddie Grew and 'Slab' McParland

    who, I recall from my childhood in Ireland,
    played Gaelic football on a cattle-pasture pitch.
    Freddie Grew and 'Slab' McParland
    who, for all I know, are lying dead in a ditch,

    played Gaelic football on a cattle-pasture pitch
    that described, if not a U, the letter L,
    for all I know. Aren't lying dead in a ditch
    and this plotted, planned, predetermined pell-mell

    that describes, if not a U, the letter L,
    with its 'one step forward, two steps back',
    its plotted, planned, predetermined pell-mell,
    somewhat connected? Is not any massive attack

    with its 'one step forward, two steps back',
    its touch-down after brief touch-down,
    somewhat connected to the massive attack
    against Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Brown,

    with its touch-down after brief touch-down
    by Hillebrand, Cowan, Kazmaier, Poe and Ames?
    Against Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Brown,
    we set the names

    eclipsed by Hillebrand, Cowan, Kazmaier, Poe and Ames.
    What with their rushes, their carries, their long punts,
    we set the names
    of all those who have borne the brunt

    of the rush, the carry, the long punt
    and welcome them into this metaphysical zone
    where all who have borne the brunt
    of battle may bind their wounds and set their bones.

    We welcome, too, into the physical zone
    of a spanking-new, emerald-green field
    of battle those who would bind their wounds and set their bones
    so that, as it's unveiled, it may be revealed

    that when men meet on a spanking-new, emerald-green field
    they think each other well- rather than ill-met.
    Then it may be revealed
    that when Homer presents Achilles with his helmet

    they, too, think each other well- rather than ill-met
    for, when push comes to shove,
    and Homer presents Achilles with his helmet
    the L of my childhood football pitch will stand for Love

    and when push comes to shove,
    in the 'art of dealing with heaviness'
    the U and L together will stand for Unlimited Love.
    For we must aspire to nothing less

    as we engage in the 'art of dealing with heaviness',
    just as what has brought us here today
    is that we aspire to nothing less
    than the notion of taking it all the way.