LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – While looking forward to the Razorbacks returning to Little Rock for a season opener against West Carolina on Saturday, War Memorial Stadium is also celebrating the past.
You almost can’t mention the 75-year-old stadium without an epic Razorback game coming to mind, but if you think the venue is just for sports, think again.
From the closeness to the field, to the touchdowns that are a touchpoint for countless fans, there have been many great games inside War Memorial Stadium over the years.
The first Razorbacks game ever played in War Memorial resulted in a 40-6 win against Abilene Christian.
“For me, it was a 1970s opening game,” Marty Ryall said.
Ryall, now Division of Arkansas Heritage Director said his dad brought him to games as a child, and he’s continued the tradition as an adult, going to over 100 games he estimates.
While he says everybody remembers the last-second victory in 2002 against rival LSU, dubbed the Miracle on Markham, Ryall can list multiple top ten takedowns over the decades and also legendary players.
“Mean Joe Green played here. Peyton Manning has played on this field, and Jerry Jones with the 1964 Arkansas national champions,” Ryall stated.
For Shane Broadway, it was his mom who bought season tickets at War Memorial and took him to every game. In his college years, he got tickets for much more than football.
“I remember the Billy Graham crusade. I remember Bob Hope. I’ll never forget the Rolling Stones and the excitement around that,” Broadway said.
During War Memorial Stadium’s 75th anniversary, they are also remembering some of the noteworthy musical acts and appearances since 1948.
The Animals, ZZ Top, The Doobie Brothers, The Rolling Stones, Elton John and Billy Joel, The Eagles, George Strait, N’Sync, and Gun N’ Roses are a few. All but Guns N’ Roses were decades ago.
“I hope that is something that we can re-engage and have again,” Broadway said.
Both Broadway and Ryall are now commissioners of the stadium, making the decisions so others can create new memories, even with fewer large games or big acts coming through.
One idea mentioned was hosting a college bowl game at War Memorial.
“We’re always looking for what’s next in terms of this stadium and what does the next 75 years look like,” Broadway said.
Even with slower years recently, multiple colleges still play at the stadium each year.
High schools use the venue as their home field and for state championships, and the Little Rock Rangers used it in 2023 for a playoff soccer game. You can even rent the space for a birthday.
Here is a more complete history of the stadium’s greatest moments:
- 1948 – War Memorial Stadium was dedicated as a tribute to Arkansans who had given their lives in the service of their country during the two great World Wars. Over time, it has evolved into an active tribute to all Arkansans who have served and paid the ultimate price for their country. Military personnel have been honored over the years through programs, tributes, and monuments.
- 1948 – War Memorial Stadium opens with an original seating capacity of 31,000. The stadium’s first event was a Razorback football game, and the venue has since hosted more than 200 Razorback football games. Formally dedicated by former Arkansas Razorback and Medal of Honor recipient Maurice Britt. Britt dedicated the stadium to ‘the memory of her native sons and daughters who have given so much that we might have our freedom.’ Following the dedication ceremony, the first game at the stadium commenced, where the Arkansas Razorbacks defeated Abilene Christian 40–6.
- 1949 – War Memorial Stadium hosts an NFL game when the Philadelphia Eagles played the Los Angeles Rams. Former Arkansas Razorback Clyde “Smackover” Scott played in the game for the Eagles.
- 1949 – President Harry S. Truman spoke at the stadium in June 1949.
- 1967 – Stadium capacity is increased to 53,727.
- 1991 – Reverend Billy Graham hosts an event at War Memorial Stadium drawing 270,000 attendees over the course of a week.
- 1991 – Bob Hope’s “Hope Across America” tour draws 49,000 fans.
- 1995 – Billy Joel and Elton John perform to a sell-out crowd of 41,274, grossing over $1.6 million.
- 1998 – The stadium is listed on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places.
- 2000 – Neighboring high schools Benton and Bryant begin playing each other in “The Salt Bowl,” considered the state’s biggest and most competitive rivalry. The Saline County Showdown routinely draws 30,000 fans or more.
- 2002 – “Miracle on Markham” cements War Memorial Stadium’s sports legacy and gives the Razorbacks a last-second 21-20 victory against Louisiana State University, squashing LSU’s hopes for a national title.
- 2005 – The 5A Arkansas Activities Association High School State Football Championship Game sets the record for highest attendance for any high school title game.
- 2006-2012 – War Memorial Stadium hosts the Delta Classic, an annual football game between the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
- 2008 – The Sturgis Plaza opens on the northwest side of the stadium as a place of remembrance and reflection.
- 2008 – What has since become known as the Miracle on Markham II, the Razorbacks clawed their way back from down 16 to secure one of the most exciting wins in Arkansas football history. Hogs quarterback Casey Dick hit wide receiver London Crawford perfectly in stride for a touchdown to tie the game 30 to 30. The successful PAT gave Arkansas a 31-30 lead and the victory for the Battle for the Golden Boot.
- 2010 – The press box, once voted the best in the country, is torn down, rebuilt, and reopened.
- 2010 – Stadium capacity is expanded to 54,120.
- 2016 – The Little Rock Rangers soccer team names War Memorial Stadium as its home. The Rangers, of the National Premier Soccer League, are in the top 10 in attendance nationally.
- 2017 – Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism begins management of War Memorial Stadium.
- 2017 – Big concerts return to War Memorial Stadium with Guns N’ Roses playing to a crowd of 25,000.
- 2020-2023 – War Memorial Stadium serves as host for the prestigious NJCAA Football Championships.
- 2021 – The Razorbacks played the Golden Lions of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, marking their first game against an in-state opponent since 1944. The Razorbacks won 45-3.
- 2023 – War Memorial Stadium celebrates 75 years.