Vanderbilt football was born out of a challenge.
The university—as new as the nascent sport itself in 1890—didn’t have a football team when the University of Nashville (later Peabody Normal College) challenged its counterpart to a game. With the backing of William Dudley, a chemistry professor and president of the Vanderbilt Athletic Association, the Commodores met the challenge and routed their local rivals 40-0 in a game played at Sulphur Dell baseball park.
Having committed to competing in the sport, Vanderbilt sought to excel. Soon its teams played home games where the law school now stands, its field named in honor of Dudley. In 1910, when news reached campus that Vanderbilt had played defending national champion Yale to a 0-0 tie in New Haven, Connecticut, students gathered amid the field’s wooden bleachers for an impromptu bonfire—after they marched through Nashville in the middle of the night.
By 1922, in an early example of cultivating the conditions for further success, Vanderbilt committed to building a new stadium on vacant land west of the main campus. The venue, which retained the Dudley Field name, opened on Oct. 14, 1922, when Vanderbilt tied Michigan. Able to accommodate 20,000 fans, it was the South’s first football-specific stadium.
By 1960, further expansion of the east side of the stadium added several thousand seats. When President John F. Kennedy visited in 1963 in conjunction with Vanderbilt’s 90th anniversary, more than 30,000 fans filled Dudley Field to hear him speak.
While previous efforts had mostly added to the structure built in 1922, a 1981 renovation marked a complete transformation. In just 212 days—between the final home game of the 1980 season and the 1981 home opener against Maryland—workers replaced all the original concrete, raised the existing steel framework 10 feet in a particularly challenging maneuver and constructed the three-story press box on the stadium’s west side.
More than 40 years later, Dudley Field continues to evolve. In 2022, Vanderbilt Stadium was renamed FirstBank Stadium (while keeping the designation of Dudley Field) as part of a 10-year naming rights and collaboration agreement. Meanwhile, construction related to the $300 million Vandy United campaign has begun to reimagine the north and south end zones.
“I’m excited for the opportunities this historic collaboration with FirstBank creates for Vanderbilt Athletics and our student-athletes,” said Candice Lee, vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletic director, during the announcement of the agreement. “As the landscape of collegiate athletics continues to shift, we remain committed to our core mission. We will provide student-athletes with the tools to reach their full potential on and off the field and work to unite and inspire the city we call home.”