January 29, 2019

Old Cardinal Stadium set to be demolished after 63 years of existence

Old Cardinal Stadium as it appeared in the 1980s when the Louisville Redbirds played Minor League Baseball at the fairgrounds.

By Matt Bradshaw —

For half a century, driving along I-65 featured a car-window view of famous Louisville landmarks: the Ralston Purina concrete silos and the original Cardinal Stadium. The former is only a memory, torn down several years ago, and the latter is now following suit.

Kentucky Venues announced the kickoff of Old Cardinal Stadium’s demolition last week. Seating areas were declared unsafe in 2013 after years of decay, and since then it was mostly used for outdoor concerts during the Kentucky State Fair.

On the one hand, the twenty-two silos served as a long-running billboard spelling out “University of Louisville.” On the other, the history of Old Cardinal Stadium goes above and beyond the arena of Cardinals Athletics.

Opened in 1956 as Fairgrounds Stadium, the site first hosted an NFL exhibition between the Baltimore Colts and Philadelphia Eagles. The Colts returned the following year with Louisville legend Johnny Unitas in tow as quarterback.

The 1956 debut marked a crowd of 21,876 people, as well as the first game to be nationally televised from Kentucky.

Later missing out on hosting an NFL and MLB organization, Fairgrounds Stadium became home to the Louisville Colonels minor league baseball team for five seasons.

The place received a rebranding in 1982: Cardinal Stadium. It hosted U of L football and the Louisville Redbirds minor league baseball team.

Through 1999, the Redbirds became a staple for Louisville sports fans to attend regularly. One of the biggest highlights of the era include the organization becoming the first minor league franchise to draw one million fans through the course of a season. President George H. W. Bush, along with First Lady Barbara, attended a game there in 1992.

Howard Schnellenberger, once head coach for U of L football, inherited the team at Cardinal Stadium and built a strong foundation for the program to succeed. He helped push football beyond the shadow of the more successful men’s basketball team and set the stage for bowl appearances and national recognition.

With the debut of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in 1998, Cardinals football found a new home while the older venue became colloquially known as “Old Cardinal Stadium.”

Old Cardinal Stadium still ran as a site for collegiate sports, hosting U of L athletics like baseball for several years and even field hockey for a time. These games were not too popular with the Cardinal Nation, though one medium did manage to make history: high school sports.

The most famous contest occurred in the 2002 state championship. Trinity defeated Male in what many agree as the best high school football game in state history. Future Cardinals Brian Brohm and Michael Bush played on opposite sides of the matchup.

This past fall, the Kentucky State Fair board announced plans to build an agriplex at the vacant site of Old Cardinal Stadium to exhibit farm animals or host basketball tournaments. According to the board, the demolition will take about three to four months.

You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.

Photo courtesy / Kentucky Living

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