My first college football experience came while I was in high school, back when South Dakota State played at an unassuming place called State Field.
A movie about small-college football in a rural state in the 1950s could have been filmed at State Field. It was the gridiron equivalent of Hickory’s basketball gym in “Hoosiers.” It sat nearly alone at the north edge of campus, with a plant-science building and maybe a seed house or two for companions.
It had a grandstand, sure, a modest thing by today’s standards, a dozen or 15 rows of seats. Evergreens flanked parts of the field, as I recall, offering feeble protection from the wind that sometimes blew straight down from Winnipeg.
State played Augustana College in that first game I saw. Yes, Augie is a university. It was a college then. So was State. The Brookings school didn’t become a university until after I transferred from Creighton University in the fall of 1963. Coincidence?
A philosophy instructor at Creighton taught me “post hoc, ergo, propter hoc,” which means something like “after, therefore because of.” Something happens after something else, so the first thing caused the second thing. Often, my philosophy instructor said that isn’t true. Often, he said, things just happen. Still, I transferred to State and then State became a university. You decide.
Anyway, during my sophomore or junior year in high school, I got to see college football with other Chamberlain kids. I can’t remember the occasion. Maybe a band trip, although that would suggest Hobo Day and an afternoon game. I remember the State-Augie contest being played under lights. I could be wrong, but my memory has the weather chilly and the night grey-black beyond the field lights. (My memory, I confess, isn’t quite the thing it was when I took the campus by storm in September of ’63 and started the drive toward university status — or whatever.)
State Field was a modest place in the 1950s. It had a running track — cinders, I’m sure — circling the field. Its grandstand paled beside Coughlin-Alumni Stadium, which replaced it in 1962. Now the Jacks play home games at the rather posh Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. When I first sat in State Field, though, its grandstands were maybe the biggest I’d ever seen. Chamberlain had nothing like it. Joe Thorne was running the ball for State back then. Jim Luce and Johnny Simko were Augie standouts. My big brother, attending State by that time, used to toss those names around as if they already were the legends they would become.
Our group stood in wooden bleachers somewhere on the west end of the field. I don’t know if those were permanent bleachers or seats slapped together for big games. I do know that from our vantage point, the lighting was such that when play moved to the east end of the field, we saw things only dimly, as if through a fog. When a drive came our way, though, it was as if we were right there in the end zone. The bleachers were low and cramped, and they crowded the end of the field. I liked the atmosphere of that college and I loved the intimacy of that old field.
By the time I transferred from Creighton, State’s games had moved to Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. I saw many games there, but what I remember most is selling football programs just inside the main gates. Back then the Journalism program published and sold the programs, and we J-students would stand out there hollering, “Can’t tell the players without the program” and other phrases we’d heard hucksters shout.
Those memories are a long way from Dykhouse Stadium and the Division I program State offers these days. I’m impressed by the way my old school has developed. The place was hosting College GameDay, a major ESPN pre-game show,. Ahead of Saturday's State-North Dakota State football game. I’m told that’s a very big deal. Good for them.
No way would that have been possible in the dates of State Field. Even so, I have fond memories of that little football stadium and my first college game experience.