Anyone will surely be treated with the kind of respect accorded to a bishop or a monsignor when he comes to see a football game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. The huge arch-shaped stadium that can seat more than 40,000 football-crazed fans is the official home base of the football program of University of Louisville. The stadium first opened its doors in 1988 to become the second to the last stadium in the NCAA Division 1-A to open in the 20th century (the last being Southern Methodist University’s Gerald J. Ford Stadium).
The stadium was named after the historic Cardinal Stadium located at the Kentucky Exposition Center. John Schnatter, the founder and Chief Executive Office of Papa John’s Pizza, obtained the naming rights for the new stadium, and named the structure after his pizza enterprise.
Originally, the historic South Louisville Rail Yard stood in what is now Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Some of the sixty-three million dollars spent on constructing the stadium was used in purchasing and demolishing the old rail yard. However, showing respect to the former factory, the shift horn was salvaged, and has been installed in one of the scoreboards. The horn sounds whenever the Cardinals score a point, drowning the deafening cheer of the crowd.
Unlike most stadiums in college football, Papa John’s does not have bleachers, but instead offers chairback seats, a feature more typically found in European soccer stadiums and in the National Football League (NFL). Thus, the audience is always kept comfortable. While immersing themselves in the intensity of the football game, the crowd can still relax and soak in the summer sun of a beautiful day, complete with the rustle of the leaves and the chirping of the birds.
The northern part of the stadium houses offices and the training complex of the team at the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex. This vicinity also contains the statue of Johnny Unitas, who is considered the most well-known player in the university’s history. Tradition holds it that each player touches the statue’s base prior to any game.
In 2000, a project to extend Central Avenue and make it wider had commenced, in what was the the biggest highway project the history of the city (apart from interstate projects). The road resulted in easy access to the entrance to other sports venues in the area, including Kentucky Exposition Center, and the university’s baseball HQ, the Jim Patterson Stadium.
Among the other features of the stadium is right behind the press box, where the the Brown and Williamson Club can be found. The Club houses function rooms that can be used for various occasions and events. The university frequently uses this facility to host functions with speaking engagements.
In October 2006, the details were released for Cardinal Stadium’s expansion project, which comes at a price tag of $63 million. The expansion would generate an additional 21,600 seats and 70 suites through a new upper deck opposite the main press box area. Construction has already begun and is expected to be completed by Fall 2010. Upon completion, it is expected that more fans will show allegiance to the Cardinals because of the superb team and an equally superb venue.