Eight odd things you never knew about college football stadiums

Odd stadiums: Buried bodies, bats, and boats (1:43)

Ever wondered about the story behind your school's stadium? As David Hale found out, there are some strange things in those history books. (1:43)

Tradition may be college football's greatest asset, and from the blue field at Boise State to the pink locker room at Iowa, the famed hedges at Georgia to Touchdown Jesus looming over Notre Dame Stadium, the venues where the games are played are filled with the details that make the sport special.

Of course, not all of those quirks and idiosyncrasies are quite as well-known. Sift through the histories of some of the country's favorite college football stadiums, and you'll find everything from a press box that doubles as a bat sanctuary to a former players' dorm that now houses the country's largest collection of human skeletons.

Indeed, college football has its share of colorful kinks throughout its stadiums, and these are eight of our favorites.

Evergreen Cemetery across from Bryant-Denny Stadium

Every year, Ian Brown has to explain to his students where they'll be heading for their first class project of the semester. It's Evergreen Cemetery, the University of Alabama professor will say. And more often than not, he'll be met by a series of blank stares. Someone will inevitably raise his or her hand and ask for directions.

"Then I ask, 'Do you know where the stadium is?' " Brown said. "They all know where that is." So at least they'll have an idea where to park.

While Bryant-Denny Stadium, built in 1929, is the center of campus life in the fall, what rests directly across the street is the exact opposite and goes almost entirely unnoticed.

More than 100,000 fans will walk around the iron gates of Evergreen Cemetery on any given football Saturday, but almost no one will go inside. If they did, they'd find a different world.

"It seems strange having a place of death located so close to all that life and activity and sports," Brown said. "But it is a part of our lives."

The cemetery was founded in the mid-1830s. The placement isn't ideal. It has made expansion and renovation tricky around the stadium. Moving cranes to work on the south end zone has been problematic.

While the land itself is worth a king's ransom, no one dares consider building upon it. "That would have created a scene," Brown said.

Evergreen Cemetery is still being used today, but new burials are limited to existing family plots.

Rufus Strickland, an area undertaker and Tide superfan, bought the burial plot closest to the stadium. Rumor has it he switched sides with his wife in order to be closer to the field.

Apparently Strickland had a clever side to him. His headstone reads: "Hi. Thanks for stopping by."

Conspicuously absent from the cemetery, however, are Alabama football players. Brown couldn't recall a single player buried there, though he did note that Eugene Allen Smith, who was instrumental in the formation of the football team, is laid to rest in the cemetery.

"Think if Joe Namath was buried out there," he said. "That place would be packed with visitors out there every day."

Perish the thought. - Alex Scarborough

Kyle Field a friend to bats

Texas A&M's Kyle Field has several unique aspects that distinguish it from other college football venues. Whether it's the sheer number of students who attend games (usually 30,000-plus), the fact that the stadium shook when fans swayed during the Aggie War Hymn (enough for Texas A&M media relations staff to include a warning to out-of-town reporters not to panic when the press box shook), the 12th Man or Midnight Yell, the Aggies are heavy on tradition.

Something else that has been a mainstay at Kyle Field are bats -- specifically, Mexican free-tailed bats.

Since the stadium opened in 1927, much of its existence has also been accompanied by the presence of the bats who found shelter in the stadium, often in its upper decks. An estimated 250,000 bats lived in the crevices of Kyle Field and the stadium has long been a "bat-friendly" zone, with signs posted in the old stadium alerting fans to their presence.

The Mexican free-tailed bats, which are the official flying mammal of Texas, were vigilant in controlling insects, with the population eating anywhere from 50 million to 150 million insects a night. The large population of bats was difficult to clean up after, though, with bat guano appearing throughout the stadium and requiring an estimated $150,000 per year in cleanup costs.

How many bats make it back this season to the newly redeveloped Kyle Field, which has undergone a complete renovation in the past two offseasons, is unclear, but it won't be nearly as many as before. During construction of the new Kyle Field, Texas A&M took measures to prevent bats from re-entering the stadium, which led to the mammals taking shelter in other places, like dorms or the campus natatorium, which had to be temporarily shut down this spring after numerous bats made their way in.

- Sam Khan

Oklahoma mascot 'Mex' buried in Memorial Stadium

In 1914, during the Mexican Revolution, Mott Keys, an army medic stationed along the border near Laredo, Texas, stumbled onto a litter of abandoned terrier puppies on the Mexican side. Keys adopted one of those pups and took him back home to Hollis, Oklahoma, after completing his duty.

Before long "Mex," as Keys named him, would become the most famous dog to Sooners fans everywhere.

Keys enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, and his experience as an army medic landed him a gig on the OU football training staff. Mex would go to the games, too, donning a red sweater with a big red letter "O" on the side and famously barking whenever the Sooners scored a touchdown. Mex also was charged with keeping stray dogs and cats from roaming onto Boyd Field in the middle of games.

It wasn't until 1924, though, that Mex went down in Sooner lore.

On a road trip to Drake University, Mex was accidentally left behind when the Sooners switched trains in Arkansas City, Kansas, to head to Iowa. Without their good-luck mascot, OU fell to Drake 28-0. The following day, a headline in the Arkansas Daily Traveler said: "Crushing Defeat of (Sooners) is Charged to Loss of Their Mascot Here." The Sooners offered a 50 cent reward to anyone who could find the dog, and Mex was soon located pacing the train station platform in Arkansas City.

Mex became so beloved that when he died April 30, 1928, classes at OU were canceled for three days in his honor. He was buried in a small casket somewhere under Owen Field, where the Sooners still play today. - Jake Trotter

Anthropology research carried out inside Neyland Stadium

One summer when Phil Fulmer was a student at Tennessee, his job was to paint Neyland Stadium -- from the concession stands to the benches on the sideline -- and it afforded him a nuanced appreciation of one of the country's most celebrated venues.

"I've seen every nook and cranny of it," said Fulmer, who was the Volunteers' coach from 1992 to 2008.

From the locker rooms to the press box to the classrooms below the stadium, Fulmer knows Neyland as well as anyone. So when he tuned in to watch his cameo in the 2009 film "The Blind Side," which also featured the tale of bodies rising from their graves beneath the stadium, Fulmer was in on the joke.

This, of course, is an absurd exaggeration, but it did focus plenty of attention on Tennessee's anthropology department, which is located inside Neyland Stadium in rooms that used to serve as the players' dormitory.

"People still ask us about [The Blind Side] for sure," said Dr. Dawnie Steadman, director of the Forensic Anthropology Center at UT. "It pops up in popular culture in a number of ways, and there's always the good and the bad associated with that. The recognition is good, but we want the science represented properly."

There are more than 1,000 skeletons curated inside Neyland Stadium. Bodies are donated to the department, which then studies how they decompose at an off-site facility known colloquially as "The Body Farm."

The skeletons are then cleaned inside Neyland, where they are used to develop tests that help law enforcement identify the remains of unknown individuals.

"It allows researchers from all around the world to come and create new methods or validate existing methods," Steadman said. "So it's a tremendous research asset."

Of course, while there aren't ghouls hidden in the depths of the stadium, the field did hide some relics of the past, and they were unearthed in the mid-1990s.

For nearly 30 years, Tennessee used artificial turf to cover the field at Neyland.

"It really stunk in hot weather," team historian Tom Mattingly said. "In September, it smelled like asphalt."

It also wasn't exactly beneficial to the players' health, so when Fulmer took over as coach, he asked to have grass installed. But when the digging began, what Tennessee found were giant sinkholes beneath the stadium caused by the turf's poor drainage -- caverns filled with an assortment of items from Neyland's early years.

"They found bottles and other stuff that dated back to the 1920s when they built the stadium," Mattingly said.

In those early days of Neyland Stadium, Mattingly said there was a running joke between Gen. Robert Neyland and his groundskeeper.

"What about the grass?" Neyland would demand, to which his groundkeeper would retort: "My grass will be fine. What about your football team?"

Since the turf was pulled up and the sinkholes filled in 1994, the grass hasn't been a problem, and the orange-and-white checkerboard end zones remain the pride of Knoxville. - David Hale

Boston College's Alumni Stadium built on a reservoir

It was a long kick -- probably 45 yards, by Lou Kirouac's account -- but he'd always had the leg for it. So on PATs and short field goals, when he really gets into a kick, the ball would sail up over the south end zone stands at Boston College's Alumni Stadium and land in the drink.

"It was a big joke," Kirouac remembers, "that the Jesuits would get on the coaches, saying not to let me kick so many in the water during practice."

In the early years of football, Boston College played home games at Fenway Park, but when Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey decided the games were destroying his field, he put an end to the agreement. So BC set out to build its own stadium, and it found the land by filling in a municipal reservoir between Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue.

The job took time, however, and BC needed a stadium quickly. So for the bulk of the late 1950s and early 1960s, only half the reservoir was filled -- just enough for the stadium -- and the rest provided a scenic backdrop and a landing spot for strong-legged kickers.

"The bleachers were pretty tall, so it was a good kick to get it in the water," Kirouac said. "I probably ruined about 20 [balls]."

Kirouac became so proficient at plunking his kicks in the water that the BC student newspaper dubbed it "Lou's Lake," according to Reid Oslin's 2013 book "Tales from the Boston College Sideline."

"During games, they'd send a student manager out in a little rubber dinghy to retrieve the balls," Oslin said. "Then they'd go back into the game."

A lot has changed for Alumni Stadium since it opened in 1957, of course. The seating capacity has more than doubled, and the wooden bleachers have been replaced. The rest of the reservoir has been filled in, too, and that land is now home to dormitories, a dining hall and Conte Forum, the home to BC's basketball teams.

But land is still scarce at BC -- the drawbacks of playing in a major city -- so during the frigid Boston winters, an inflatable bubble covers the field at Alumni Stadium, keeping players warm during practice sessions and footballs properly corralled inside the building. - David Hale

Camp Randall the site of former Confederate prison

Bordered by Monroe and Regent streets, Randall Avenue and Breese Terrace on the west side of the bustling Big Ten campus, Camp Randall Stadium stands tall as an iconic college football venue. The stadium site and its adjacent land, though, are steeped in U.S. military history that far predates the game.

Camp Randall, a 53-acre property owned before the Civil War by the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, transformed into a training center for the majority of 91,000 Wisconsin troops who served in the Grand Army of the Republic from 1861 to 1865.

Named for wartime Gov. Alexander W. Randall, the site also housed 1,400 captured Confederate soldiers. Some 140 who died in Madison from their injures on the battlefield are buried at the northernmost Confederate cemetery in the United States.

According to Daniel Einstein, historic and cultural resources manager in campus planning and landscape architecture at the University of Wisconsin, headquarters for Union military operations at Camp Randall were located along a hillside on which the stadium's luxury suites today are erected.

Camp Randall housed troops again in World War I and World War II, but its military connection to the 19th century is most remembered.

The five-acre Camp Randall Memorial Park, east of the stadium, was built in the early 20th century and remains listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Its entrance, the Memorial Arch, dedicated in 1912, stands as a notable structure on campus. The Wisconsin marching band, en route to the stadium from Union South on game day, marches through the arch.

Football was first played at Camp Randall in 1895. Construction of the current stadium began in 1913. Today, it seats 80,321 and provides the Badgers with a home-field advantage that ranks among the nation's best. - Mitch Sherman

Cal's Memorial Stadium sits directly on top of Hayward Fault

California's Memorial Stadium makes a strong argument to be considered the most spectacular setting in college football. It's nestled in the dramatic slopes of Strawberry Canyon, and the elevated view to the west features Sather Tower (the Campanile) on the Berkeley campus in the foreground, and beyond that, the downtown San Francisco skyline.

But amid this awe-inspiring vista, there's some major irony: One of Memorial Stadium's most distinguishing features is actually invisible.

"The building sits directly on top of the Hayward Fault, which is the second-most dangerous and likely fault to go in the near future, as the seismologists tell us," explains Bob Milano Jr., the university's former assistant athletic director of capital programs. "The fault runs on a diagonal right across the field."

Before any visiting fans start selling their tickets in terror, know this: Milano oversaw a $321 million renovation which, when completed in 2012, made Memorial Stadium a seismically safe structure.

"Two parts of the stadium that straddle the fault are basically a concrete raft," Milano says. "It's not pinned to the earth. It's basically on a large spring footing designed to ride out the earthquake, and it's allowed to move up, down and sideways."

So Memorial Stadium is actually now equipped to control, redirect, and absorb the Earth's fury.

From the building's opening until this recent makeover, though, there was real reason for concern: Because the stadium was built with 1923 techniques and materials, a number of seismic studies cast doubt on its structural integrity. Milano says that an old steel press box, which was removed in the early 1990s, theoretically could have tumbled down had the Hayward Fault slipped.

"It was very top-heavy, and if it got moving in an earthquake laterally, it could have come down inside or outside in part or piece, and that would have been a real problem," Milano said. "So [removing the old press box] was the first phase of the stadium renovation."

It's easy, then, to understand Cal's determined push to finish the project, which ultimately prevailed about two decades later, even through headline-grabbing Berkeley protests.

"Anything worthwhile takes twice as much effort as you think going in," Milano said. "We made the stadium modern and safe. We think the heart and soul is alive and well . . . Based on the feedback we've gotten, it still feels like the 1920s building with all the history, the games, and the people who passed before." - David Lombardi

Phil Knight's locker

Some donors get free game tickets, others might get a building or hall named after them. Some might get a chance to sit in on meetings or news conferences.

Phil Knight gets a locker in the Ducks' locker room ... as well as everything just mentioned.

Knight, who has donated more than $150 million to the Oregon athletic department and endows 27 professorships, was a runner at the school before co-founding Nike.

"It is symbolic as much as anything," a university spokesman said. "I've never known him to use it."

- Chantel Jennings

These are just a few of our favorite stadium oddities. It's by no means a complete list. Give us your favorites in the comments section.