Reflections on bowl games

“Exiting the Rubber Bowl after the University of Akron football team plays its final game in the historic stadium tonight will be a bittersweet experience. Since my freshman year at UA in 2005, I’ve missed only a handful of home contests. Though the stadium had long passed its glory days before I ever saw my first Zips’ game, I’ve made memories at the 68-year-old stadium that will likely serve as some of the fondest of my college days.”

Exiting the Rubber Bowl after the University of Akron football team plays its final game in the historic stadium tonight will be a bittersweet experience.

Since my freshman year at UA in 2005, I’ve missed only a handful of home contests. Though the stadium had long passed its glory days before I ever saw my first Zips’ game, I’ve made memories at the 68-year-old stadium that will likely serve as some of the fondest of my college days.

My memories of the now-decaying stadium, however, are different from that of any other Zips’ fan.

I’ve never used the facility’s dilapidated restrooms. I’ve never sat on the Bowl’s replacement fiberglass bleachers. I’ve only sat in the crowd twice – during the 2005 season – and that was in the handicapped seating.

The other games I’ve viewed from atop the stands as a member of the press. For the past three years, I’ve covered the team’s games for The Buchtelite.

Despite having written countless game stories from the Rubber Bowl, I’ve never sat in the stadium’s press box or been present at one of the team’s press conferences.

I can’t get to either location in my motorized wheelchair. Both areas are only accessible via narrow stairwells.

I’ve covered the games from an enclosed platform adjacent to the press box. The area, which was originally used to house overflow media members and NFL scouts during Charlie Frye’s senior season in 2004, was renovated into an accessible, makeshift press box before the 2006 season.

A side wall enclosure was added to the platform and the area was covered by a vinyl canopy. A folding work table and electrical outlet for my laptop were installed, along with radiant electric heat controlled by a thermostat. A four-foot long aluminum ramp was installed to ensure me access.

Money was taken out of a $100,000 fund that was established by the University Provost specifically to address disability-related changes on-campus that are above and beyond what the law requires to cover the modification’s $6,100 price tag.

Despite the fact that it lacks lights and doesn’t look like your typical press box, it has served its purpose and will be the setting for my Rubber Bowl memories.

After each game, UA head coach J.D. Brookhart climbs the stadium’s empty stairs to answer my questions. Those conversations and the time I typed my game recap in the dark before leaving the stadium around midnight won’t fade from my memory anytime soon.

While the setup has provided many memorable moments, it’s also the reason I won’t be sad to see the iconic stadium go. Press conferences are meant to be attended in-person, not via telephone. Reporters are supposed to write their stories in well-lit, technologically-enhanced press boxes while being surrounded by other media members. The Rubber Bowl hasn’t afforded me any of those opportunities.

Brookhart acknowledged the unique challenges the stadium has posed to my coverage during a conversation last spring.

For me, it was walking a flight of stairs and taking an extra five minutes of my day, which is not a major deal to me, he said. It was minimal to me. I’m sure it was a major deal for you.

It has been a major deal for me. That’s why I’ve watched excitedly over the past few months as the press tower of InfoCision Stadium has steadily progressed skyward.

Talking with UA Associate Athletic Director for Facilities and Operations Paul Hammond last spring about the project increased my excitement.

Press area – there are two locations for wheelchairs, Hammond said confidently, Boom, right there at the workstation.

Knowing that I’ll be able to return to my alma mater as a professional journalist and cover a game without encountering any physical barriers will wipe away any sadness I feel leaving the Rubber Bowl for the last time.