Looking At Drake Football's History At The Ballpark
Drake will play at Target Field for the first time, but it is far from their first football game in a ballpark.
Earlier this week, South Dakota State announced they will play in the first football game at Target Field since 2019 as they host Drake at "The House That Joe Mauer Built" on September 16. While this is both schools' first appearance in the Minneapolis ballpark, it is far from Drake's first football appearance on the diamond.
Drake's ballpark football history began at the Fourth Street Ballpark where the Bulldogs played its home games from 1900-1903. In those years, the Bulldogs' best win was a 17-0 victory against Missouri in 1903.
Three years later, the Bulldogs would travel to St. Louis to play in the "House That Bobby Wallace Built", Sportsman's Park. The Bulldogs became another victim of Eddie Cochems' revolutionary passing offense that fueled Saint Louis to a 37-point-per-game average in 1906. The Bulldogs fell to Saint Louis 32-9 at the Cardinals & Browns' ballpark.
Drake would not play in another ballpark for another two-and-a-half decades, but 1931 would be the "Year of the Diamond" for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs would play in three ballparks, including two iconic Major League ballparks. On October 24th, Fordham completed 10 passes for 144 yards on the way to a 46-0 trouncing of Drake at the Polo Grounds.
Over a month later, Drake kicked off a West Coast road trip with a game against Wrigley Field, not that Wrigley Field, but the one in Los Angeles. Loyola fought back from a 7-6 deficit to win 22-7. Many people remember Wrigley Field as the home of the 1960s TV series, Home Run Derby, the home of the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League and American League, but it was also the home of the Pro Bowl in 1939.
Drake's West Coast and ballpark tour ended with a trip to Honolulu Stadium to play Hawaii. A third quarter punt block that put the Rainbow Warriors on the Drake 13-yard line set up the game-winning score as Hawaii beat the Bulldogs 19-13. 7,000 fans showed up at Honolulu Stadium which most notably hosted the Hula Bowl from 1948-1975, a World Football League team (The Hawaiians), and a Pacific Coast League baseball team (The Islanders from 1961-1975).
Drake would frequent ballparks the most from the 1950s through the 1970s thanks to a pair of Missouri Valley Conference cohorts. Arguably the most unique ballpark the Bulldogs played in at this time, or any time in their program's history was Peoria Stadium, home of the Bradley Braves.
Peoria Stadium was home to the Peoria Redwings of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the subject of the 1992 classic movie A League of Their Own. The Bulldogs made Peoria Stadium "A Home of Their Own", going undefeated there in eight meetings with the Braves from 1949-1963.
Speaking of Braves, the Bulldogs traveled to Braves Field to play Boston College in 1952, when Warren Spahn anchored the Braves' rotation. The Eagles' strong ground game, which ran for 247 yards, was too much for the Bulldogs in a 20-14 loss in front of 13,628 fans. Joe Johnson led the charge for the Eagles with 99 yards rushing and the defense picked off four passes.
Drake also became familiar with Fairgrounds Stadium in Louisville, home of the Louisville Cardinals football team and the Louisville Redbirds and Colonels of the American Association and International League. The Bulldogs won three of seven meetings in the Kentucky ballpark from 1964-1977 including a thrilling 38-37 win in 1968, where Gary McCoy threw for 385 yards for the Bulldogs.
In this time period, the Bulldogs made a one-off trip to Rosenblatt Field, not for the College World Series, but for a road game against Nebraska-Omaha. Drake intercepted five Maverick passes to take home a 32-14 win in front of 1981 fans. While Rosenblatt was most famous for hosting the College World Series and Omaha Royals, it was also home to the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League.
Drake's final ballpark appearance was one to forget as Temple ran for a school-record 477 yards at Philadelphia's Veterans' Stadium in 1977. This was Drake's only appearance in a multi-purpose, "cookie-cutter" ballpark.
While football at Target Field is new to the Drake fanbase, games at America's most iconic ballparks. September 16th's game will provide a fun throwback to interesting times in Drake's football history.
***As always, Mark Pollak's book, The Playing Grounds of College Football: A Comprehensive Directory, 1869 to Today was an integral resource in this piece. Additionally, newspaper research and combing through Drake Football's 2015 Media Guide helped clarify Drake's stadium history. You can read that media guide here.