When the event you’re attending is located on South Hollywood Street, no question you’re expecting a thrilling show. Since 1965, the Liberty Bowl has provided the stage for the best college football Memphis has to offer and lived up to its Hollywood address’ billing. While many of its counterpart stadiums have long since closed their doors forever, this production continued to entertain fans for 56 years and counting.
As a self-proclaimed “Stadium Connoisseur” I structure my travel schedule to visit particular stadiums as much as I do to see particular games. The beauty of college football is the variety of stadiums it makes available to its fans. Beyond the standard dimensions of the field, there is no blueprint for what a stadium has to look like. With 130 different FBS stadiums, a “Stadium Connoisseur” such as myself has an incredible amount of options to choose from.
The Liberty Bowl’s combination of unique design, rich history, and fan friendly atmosphere makes it one of my absolute favorites. It was originally built at a cost of $3.7 million and named Memphis Memorial Stadium. In 1987, a $19.5 million renovation “balanced” the stadium’s configuration, similar to old Tampa Stadium (aka ‘The Big Sombrero’). There is no FBS stadium that looks anything like it and in my book, unique = awesome.
Both the University of Memphis and the Liberty Bowl game have been playing there since the stadium’s inception. In fact, part of the motivation to build the stadium was to bring the annual Liberty Bowl game, which originated in Philadelphia (hence the name). This strategy was, of course, successful and led to the name change from Memphis Memorial Stadium to the Liberty Bowl.
Many other teams and events have been held at the Liberty Bowl over the years as well. The Southern Heritage Classic between HBCU schools Jackson State and Tennessee State has been held annually since 1990. Addtionally, the list of professional teams/leagues which have at one point called the Liberty Bowl home is extensive. Among them were the Memphis Southmen (World Football League), Memphis Showboats (USFL), Memphis Mad Dogs (CFL) and Memphis Maniax (XFL). The Tennessee Titans (then the Oilers) also played their inaugural season there after leaving Houston in 1996, completing an amazingly diverse list of tenants to see action in Memphis.
It’s not just the stadium itself that makes the stadium so great. It’s the vibe inside that makes it always a fun place to visit. Fans are vocal, knowledgeable and friendly. The University of Memphis band, the Mighty Sound of the South, provides great energy and is one of the best bands in all of FBS.
For all of the reasons I’ve laid out, getting a chance to see a game at the Liberty Bowl is always a treat for me. Thursday night’s game vs Navy had been circled on my calendar since the offseason and the experience on Thursday did not disappoint.
I was fortunate to walk around on the field before the game and you could just feel the excitement. Once the game started, I partially watched the action but mostly toured every corner of the stadium. The sunset behind the press box allowed for some great photo opportunities. Plus, the Tigers play on the field gave the home fans exactly what they came to see.
Memphis dominated the first half and took a commanding 28-10 lead into the locker room at halftime. The scoring slowed down in the second half, with Navy taking the air out of the ball with their running game. But despite the fact that Navy held the ball all of almost 40 minutes, Memphis still scored 35 points in the game. Final score: Memphis 35, Navy 17.
It was a great night all the way around at the Liberty Bowl. If you have yet to make the trip to the stadium for a game, I highly recommend you change that as soon as possible. Take advantage of the opportunity to see a piece of college football history, while taking in quality football at the same time. Though it is over 50 years old, it’s aging like fine wine. With further renovation plans for the stadium in the works, the Liberty Bowl’s future looks brighter than ever.