Yulman Stadium’s roots were laid with Gormley experiment

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NEW ORLEANS – Thirty-three months after Tulane athletic director Rick Dickson announced plans to bring Green Wave football back to campus for the first time in four decades, and 20 months after construction began, the new home of the Wave is ready to open its doors this weekend.

In reality, though, the first symbolic piling for Yulman Stadium went in the ground 12 years ago this fall.

Dickson was barely two years on the job when Tulane moved its Oct. 26, 2002, homecoming game against Navy to Tad Gormley Stadium.

On a gorgeous, sun-splashed day, a crowd of more than 28,000 watched the Green Wave handle the Midshipmen, 51-30. For Dickson and his staff, it meant much more.

“We needed to demonstrate to ourselves that we could create a gameday experience” like some of their counterparts, Dickson recalled Thursday on the eve of Yulman’s ribbon-cutting.

“Even though it came in ideal conditions, we proved to ourselves we could have a great gameday atmosphere.”

Tulane would go on to play four more times at Gormley between 2003-08. But if there was to be any momentum building behind the scenes for an on-campus stadium, Hurricane Katrina got in the way.

Fast forward five years after the storm, when Tulane was on the verge of getting a full complement of sports back on board and the design process for a basketball and volleyball practice facility had begun.

Robert Riccardi of Gould Evans and Associates architects presented Dickson with a facility drawing that included the ability to build seating on the exterior of what would become the Hertz Center for use at the football practice field and track, which had a small grandstand in place.

Dickson recalled asking Riccardi, “Just for fun, what would it look like to put seats all the way around?”

Knowing full well that an on-campus stadium would be a “game-changer,” Dickson next set out to convince then-Tulane president Scott Cowen. On a fund-raising trip to Atlanta and Miami, the last leg of which included a meeting with eventual stadium namesake Richard Yulman, it happened.

“Richard looked at (Cowen) and said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Dickson said.

The Tulane board member and retired chairman and owner of Serta International would pledge the $15 million lead gift. Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson and wife Gayle would donate $7.5 million to land naming rights to the playing surface.

Add in the naming-rights pledge by the Glazer family for the club area, and Dickson and Tulane were well on their way to generating the needed dollars to fund the stadium project.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be Friday afternoon, followed by the first game in Yulman Stadium Saturday afternoon against Georgia Tech with a packed house on hand.

“Tulane football and Tulane football fans are coming back to campus,” Yulman said Thursday. “It’s been a long journey, but now it’s official.”

It’s a day Tulane officials have been planning for, well, a dozen years.

“In my 28 years as an athletic director, I’ve never been as proud,” Dickson said.

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

Sales/Content/Production

Lenny has been involved in college athletics since the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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