Ryan Field – Northwestern’s football stadium
In 1996-97, Northwestern’s football stadium underwent a significant reconstruction which featured a redesign of the stadium. Opened in the fall of 1997, the new stadium was named Ryan Field in honor of 1959 Northwestern graduate Patrick G. Ryan, founder of AON Corporation and long-time Chairman of the Northwestern Board of Trustees.
In over 30 years as a trustee, Mr. Ryan was a champion of Northwestern’s athletic resurgence. Mr. Ryan led the 1982 Athletic Facilities Campaign to upgrade Northwestern’s Intercollegiate Athletic Facilities and he also played a major role in recruiting and supporting many of the outstanding coaches responsible for Northwestern’s athletic revival.
Mr. Ryan and his wife, Shirley Welsh Ryan, a 1961 Northwestern graduate, have been major supporters of Northwestern’s pioneering work in the life sciences through the construction of Ryan Hall, home to Northwestern’s nanotechnology center. The Ryan’s also created and funded the Ryan Scholars Program, Northwestern’s largest scholarship program for high-achieving students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.
In recognition of his visionary professional and civic achievements, Mr. Ryan was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. At the recommendation of the University’s Faculty Senate, Mr. Ryan received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Northwestern in 2009.
Mr. Ryan chaired Northwestern’s Board of Trustees for 14 years, the longest term for any board chairman elected since World War II. Mr. Ryan led Northwestern in partnership with President Henry S. Bienen during an era in which Northwestern distinguished itself through its dramatic growth in academic achievement, research and athletic success.
The renovations of the stadium included new seating, the replacement of artificial turf with natural grass and an enclosed three-tier structure on the stadium’s west side that includes the stadium club and two floors for the media. Also, an end zone facility housing the football locker room, sports medicine and equipment rooms was constructed.
As part of the $30 million Campaign for Athletic Excellence, a full-scale multipurpose indoor practice facility was constructed. This facility, named for former NU Board of Trustees chairman Howard J. Trienens, was opened in the fall of 1996.
Gridiron interest has helped NU’s stadium return to its status as a leading center of Chicagoland football, a position it held in the ’40s and ’50s when more than 40,000 people regularly attended Wildcat home games. In fact, Northwestern averaged more than 40,000 fans from 1996-98. The last time that occurred was from 1961-64.
The old stadium, built in 1926, was named for William A. Dyche, former vice president and business manager of the University.
A graduate of Northwestern, Dyche served as mayor of Evanston prior to his appointment as business manager in 1903. In 1905, he directed construction of the original wooden stands which had a seating capacity of 10,000.
By the early 1920s, football’s popularity had outgrown the wooden bleachers, and Dyche spearheaded the planning of a 45,000-seat stadium to be erected on the site of the old field. He proposed to the board of trustees that the project be financed by a bond issue. The original estimate of $800,000 soared to $1,425,000 by the time construction was finished in Dyche’s 23rd year as business manager.
In 1949, the stadium was enlarged by a horseshoe enclosure at the south end, increasing seating capacity to 49,256. Dyche Stadium’s capacity occasionally rose to 55,000 by the addition of temporary bleachers at the north end. A press box and an elevator to the second deck were installed in 1961.
Tartan Turf replaced the grass field in 1973 and much more refurbishing of the old stadium took place during the early years of John Pont’s tenure as head coach and athletic director.
The last renovation of old Dyche stadium occurred in the summer of 1994, as 10-year-old SuperTurf playing surface was replaced with new AstroTurf.
1501 Central St., Evanston, IL 60208