A hundred years ago this autumn, Virginia christened Lambeth Stadium, an 8,000-seat facility known as “the finest in the Southland,” at a price tag of $35,000.
It was worth it as the Cavaliers, one of the South’s most dominant football programs in those days, clobbered Vanderbilt 34-0 in a game referred to as “The Football Classic of the South.” Virginia compiled a 7-1 record that season, outscoring foes 265-28.
Perhaps over the decades, the man who built the new football facility became as forgotten as the stadium itself. Until Saturday morning, that is.
A small ceremony commemorated the deeds of Dr. William Lambeth, known as the father of Virginia athletics in his day. Lambeth pushed to have the field built and, thusly, it bears his name.
However, Lambeth’s accomplishments were much more far-reaching, not only in athletics but in various aspects of academia in the Old Dominion, nationally and abroad.
What Virginians can be proud of is that Dr. Lambeth, the school’s athletic director at the time, along with UVa president Edwin Alderman, saved college football from extinction and reshaped the game that all fans are familiar with today.
Years earlier (1909), the two men traveled to New York to meet with the Inter-Collegiate Athletic Association, a forerunner of today’s NCAA, in an attempt to prevent football from being abolished. Due to several deaths and severe injuries from the brutality of the game, a national outcry to ban football was gaining support.
However, Alderman supported a movement to spare the game by making it safer and charged Lambeth with finding ways to improve the college game.
Lambeth experimented with various rules and new ideas, using Virginia’s players to test them out.
Credit Lambeth for the modern game. He proposed the game be divided into four quarters with a halftime to give players rest. Prior to that, games were one continuous contest with no breaks. Any player who left the game could not return. Lambeth also suggested a rule requiring at least seven players on the line of scrimmage and banned players from pushing and pulling the ballcarrier, which often led to severe injuries.
While Lambeth didn’t event the forward pass, he certainly could be credited for developing it by proposing a rule that allowed passes beyond the line of scrimmage instead of limiting them to only behind the line.
All of Lambeth’s suggestions were approved to give America’s sports fans a newer, safer brand of football and all of those experiments were held on the 21-acre site not far from UVa’s Rotunda.
Saturday morning, a new plaque commemorating Lambeth’s deeds was celebrated at the refurbished site with family members of Lambeth and Alderman participating as Virginia president Teresa A. Sullivan, UVa director of athletics Craig Littlepage, and head football coach Mike London attended.
Sullivan was presented a bronze medallion of Dr. Lambeth by his descendents.
The field, which had been in disrepair for years, is regaining attention as the historical site that changed football. A total of $600,000 worth of improvements, including a new paint job, newly sodded turf for what remains of the field, carpentry repair, are some of the new additions. Future renovation will include new lighting, improved drainage, roof tile replacement and replacing the concrete pavement where fans and one former U.S. president (Calvin Coolidge and wife Grace) once rooted on the Cavaliers.
“I thought he was deserving of some type of memorial,” said Kevin Edds, a 1995 graduate of UVa who funded the plaque, “so when people walk by Lambeth Field they can learn something about what happened there.”
Anyone can visit the “Colonnades at Lambeth Field,” on UVa’s campus, now even more of an appreciated historical landmark.