Minium: We say goodbye to Foreman Field Saturday when ODU hosts VMI, and here's a look at its 82 years of history

November 15, 2018
By ODU Athletics
ODU Athletics

By Harry Minium

My dad packed his three sons into the family’s old Rambler and we arrived at Foreman Field more than an hour before Maury and Granby played on Thanksgiving Day in 1966.

It was my first time at Foreman Field, and the place seemed like a palace. Foreman Field was one of the finest stadiums in the state at the time. It was only 30 years old, and much less worn out and outdated than it is now.

We didn’t care that the lines at the restrooms were long or, that the concessions stands were small and the seats cramped.

It was 1966 and we didn’t know any better.

The crowd was announced at 20,000 but every one of the stadium’s 26,500 seats were filled, as was the running track that then surrounded the stadium. There were at least 30,000 people in attendance.

My dad led us up the aisle on the west side of the stadium and we found seats just below the press box, in the aisle. He stood behind us the entire game as we rooted for Granby.

It was one of those bonding moments I will never forget. My dad was a Navy chief and was often gone on long deployments. I remember nearly every game he took me to.

This is where my dad stood for more than three hours on Thanksgiving Day in 1966 when I saw my first game at Foreman Field. 

Who knew that eventually I would become a sports writer, and later a writer for Old Dominion University, and would cover hundreds of games in that press box?

Every time I walk up those stairs, now worn down after being trod on for 82 years, I think of my dad, cheering as unbeaten Granby beat previously unbeaten Maury, 14-7, on the way to a state championship.

Saturday, the stadium will hold its last game when Old Dominion hosts VMI at 2 p.m.

Three days later, S.B. Ballard Construction will start tearing it down and over the next nine months, construct a new $67.5 million stadium that will provide all the luxuries now lacking.

It will be both sad and a reason for celebration when the stadium comes down. There are so many memories there. I played football there for Norview High school and have seen and covered far too many games there to count.

It will be something akin to watching the home you grew up in come tumbling down. I know I’m not alone. There are thousands of you with fond memories of the stadium.

But there’s no doubt that the stadium needs to be demolished. Structurally, it wasn’t built to modern standards, and can’t be saved through rehabilitation. Engineers told ODU, essentially, the only way to save it is to tear it down.

Foreman Field hosted thousands of events, from roller derby to boxing matches, concerts, political rallies, ODU graduations, track meets, field hockey, intramural softball and, of course, some of the most memorable football games played in Tidewater.

Here are some of the great moments, or interesting things, that happened in the last 82 years.

Opening Day

What would become Old Dominion University was known as the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary when it was founded in 1930. It was a two-year school, and when Foreman Field was built in 1936, its brick was intended to mimic the brick work of the Division's other buildings, which all had a Williamsburg look.

The Norfolk Division had a football team, but the first game at Foreman Field was played by the mother school, the College of William and Mary. The Indians, as they were then known, lost  to the University of Virginia, 7-0, on Oct. 3, 1936. Crowd estimates vary from 15,000 to 17,500.

Foreman Field under construction in late 1935 or early 1936.

Norfolk Mayor W.R.L. Taylor hailed the game as a “magnificent spectacle,” and both he and Gov. George C. Peery paid homage to A.H. Foreman, for whom the stadium was named. Foreman helped found the Norfolk Division and was instrumental in getting funding from the Works Progress Administration to build the stadium.

America was in the throes of the Depression. The stadium cost $300,000 to build, and the salaries it generated helped workers feed their hungry families. Across the Atlantic Ocean, Adolf Hitler had just presided over the Berlin summer Olympics, and war clouds were looming.

But all was well on a gorgeous October day, reported the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch, which praised the stadium in an editorial on game day:

“The handsome brick and concrete stadium, built to accommodate 18,000 spectators and embodying the latest improvements in stadium construction, is a monument to the foresight and untiring efforts of a group of local men who realized Norfolk’s crying need for a plant of this type.”

Norfolk Division Football

Tommy Scott did a bit of everything when he was athletic director at the Norfolk Division. The former Maury High star and VMI graduate coached football, basketball and baseball for 11 seasons.

The Norfolk Division enrolled 206 students in its first class, who studied at the old Larchmont Elementary School. Yet officials determined there were enough students to field a football team its very first year.

The 1930 Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary Braves. Coach Tommy Scott is at the far right, back row. 

The football team played combination of high schools, college freshmen teams and junior colleges. Many thought that William and Mary was using the Division as a “farm team.” There was some truth to that, as a lot of good players transferred from Norfolk to Williamsburg.

But when the Southern Conference decided after the 1940 season that its freshmen teams would no longer play the Norfolk Division, it made putting together a schedule very difficult.

Tommy Scott was the Norfolk Division's athletic director and football, baseball and basketball coach. 

Scott also became ill during the 1940 season and later resigned. The Division was winless in 1940. In its last home game, Bergen College won 21-0 in front of exactly 100 fans who purchased tickets. The school’s 546 students could attend the games for free, but few did. Revenue came to $16.70.

The school held its first spring practice in 1941, but that summer, with World War II underway and fears that America would soon become embroiled, school officials shut down football.

It would not be revived for 68 years.

The Oyster Bowl

Saturday’s game against VMI has been designated the 69th annual Oyster Bowl and for decades, the game was the premiere event in Tidewater.

The first Oyster Bowl matched unbeaten Granby and Clifton (N.J.) high schools in 1946, five years to the day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Granby won, 6-0, thanks to a 19-yard touchdown pass from Chuck Stobbs to Barney Gill before an overflow crowd of 21,000. At the time, Foreman Field had just 17,500 seats.

Shortly after that game, state high school officials banned football teams from playing in postseason games. But the Khedive Shrine Temple, led by Melvin Blassingham, was undaunted. The Shriners wanted a bowl game to raise money for children at their hospitals.

Virginia Tech and VMI playing in an Oyster Bowl game.

So in 1948, VMI played at the first Oyster Bowl involving college teams. In all, the Keydets have played in 16 Oyster Bowls. Nearly $4 million has been raised for the Shriners hospitals.

William and Mary defeated the Keydets, 31-0, and thanks to temporary bleachers, the game drew 21,500.

The game became an annual social event, featuring parties and a Saturday morning parade downtown.

Eventually, the city added seats to the both end zones, increasing capacity to 26,500. Beginning in 1956, the game drew in excess of 30,000 six years in a row.

Some of the greatest games? Syracuse, which won the 1959 national championship, defeated Navy, 32-6, with future Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis.

In 1963, No. 10 ranked Navy, led by future NFL quarterback Roger Staubach, played VMI. A crowd of 31,500 watched as Navy’s Fred Marlin attempted a 31-yard field goal that fell short. Marlin, ever alert, ran into the end zone and fell on the ball for a touchdown. Navy won, 21-12.

One of the most bizarre plays in college football happened in 1977, when William and Mary quarterback Tommy Rozantz was headed for what would be the game-winning touchdown in the third quarter against East Carolina.

When he got to the 2, he was blinded-sided with a jarring, shoulder-first tackle from a guy named Jim Johnson.

“I hit him low and I hit him a good one,” Johnson said.

Turns out, Johnson was a 65-year-old Virginia Beach resident and former ECU coach who was walking the sidelines as a spectator. “What else could I do? I knew (he) was going to score,” Johnson said, using an expletive.

Officials ruled it a touchdown and the Tribe won, 21-17, and knocked the Pirates out of contention for a postseason bowl. There was no ESPN at the time, but the highlight was played and replayed on national TV.

By then, the Oyster Bowl was beginning to suffer. Colleges were building larger and better stadiums, and Foreman Field was showing its age.

The last Oyster Bowl, before ODU renewed the game after it began playing football, drew just 8,414 as Georgia Southern defeated VMI in 1995.

The St. Louis Cardinals were among many NFL teams, including the Washington Redskins, who played at Foreman Field. 

Other bowl games were played there, including the Fish Bowl, which matched historically black colleges; the Red Feather Bowl, which matched local Navy teams and the Kiwanis Classic, which brought NFL and AFL games to Norfolk. Joe Namath, Gayle Sayers, Johnny Unitas, Dick Butktus, “Mean” Joe Greene and so many more members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame played here.

So did Sammy Baugh, when the Washington Redskins blew out the No