Jerry Summers: Turkey Day Football - Chamberlain Field

Wednesday, November 27, 2019 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

From 1908 through 1973 college and high school football games were played on the University of Chattanooga (U.C.) campus at Chamberlain Field on Thanksgiving Day.

The field was originally named for university trustee and Civil War Union Captain Hiram Chamberlain. It later also honored his son, Morrow Chamberlain, who was also a U.C. trustee.

Prior to 1908 when U.C. was Grant University, games were played at Orient Park.

The inaugural college football game was played in 1908 between the U.C.

Moccasins and the 12th Calvary team from Fort Oglethorpe and U.C. prevailed by a score of 8-5.

The field featured a partially covered wooden grandstand. That structure was razed in 1927 to create a “beautiful concrete stadium with an exterior of brick and stone in harmony with the other buildings on the campus” at a cost of $50,000.

The stands on the Oak Street side contained a dormitory for the students and athletes on the second floor. The facility was dedicated in a game against Vanderbilt on September 24, 1927.

Over the years high school rivalries were also fought on Chamberlain Field. City-Central and Baylor-McCallie games were amongst the most intense but other teams such as Bradley County, South Pittsburg, Red Bank, Soddy Daisy, Rossville, and other schools played in Turkey Day games at Chamberlain.

The Vine Street (North) stands, which would be designated as the visitors' side, were also intended to run the entire length of the field but because of unavailable funds it was shortened in length from only the 50 yard line to the goal line. As a result the stadium had an unbalanced appearance. This structure also included a dormitory. Prior to its razing the Vine Street Commons Area was a meeting place for students to socialize over the years between classes.

The Oak Street stands were often filled with the University’s biggest financial backers who often came to the games attired in business suits, ties, and furs to show their support for the Moccasins. The games were as much a social event as they were gridiron clashes. (The reduced mascot name of Mocs came in later years after a protest by Tribal Cherokees and a vote of the student body.) As a special benefit, a private room was set aside for a select group to partake of beverages which were not allowed in the stadium and were not available to the general public.

U.C. was an independent school and was not a member of any regular football conference until it joined the Southern Conference in 1976. As a result several bigger schools would often play the local team on Thanksgiving Day with a sellout crowd of over 10,000 fans attending the games.

Many high school teams would play on the last Thursday in November. The heated City-Central rivalry would take place at Chamberlain beginning in 1917 in several Thanksgiving games during the 61-year rivalry.

The only tie game by U.C. on Thanksgiving took place in 1935 when the Moccasins and the Centre College Colonels fought evenly 7-7. In 1945 U.C. upset the Ole Miss Rebels 31-6 before a crowd of 7,500. In 1947 Booker T. Washington beat Howard in the first Turkey Day Classic between African American schools.

In 1970 the final Thanksgiving Day game at Chamberlain resulted in a 40-6 UTC victory over Jacksonville State (AL). A special feature of the game was an emotional pre-game speech to the Mocs team by former player, Phil Payne, who had been paralyzed in an off the field injury.

A.C. “Scrappy Moore” ended a 37-year coaching career in Chattanooga as the head football leader for the Moccasins on that date.

The final game to be played on Chamberlain Field, although not on Turkey Day, was on October 4, 1997, against Wofford won 20-17. At halftime the UTC band played “Auld Lang Syne” as a fitting tribute to the old structure that contained many memories for the university players, fans and community.

At the time UTC left Chamberlain Field for Finley Stadium on October 28, it was the second oldest NCAA Division I campus football stadium behind Harvard.

On April 18, 2008, a final event took place on the soon-to-be demolished stadium as the annual Blue-Gold spring inter-squad scrimmage was played there. The school asked former coach “Scrappy Moore” to serve as honorary coach.

When the Oak Street (South Stadium) was leveled a final tribute to the old stadium was made by the University when it erected Chamberlain Pavilion which was constructed of the entrance sign and bricks from the original stadium.

The old stadium is gone, but many memories remain.

 * * *

Jerry Summers can be reached at jsummers@summersfirm.com

Chamberlain Field
Chamberlain Field
- photo by Wes Schultz

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