Friday, December 9, 2016

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From left: Darin Ruiz, Seth Mallios, Elliot Hirshman, Leon Parma

Aztec Bowl Remembered

Aztec Bowl's 75th anniversary was celebrated with a rededication event and plaque unveiling on Monday.
By Tobin Vaughn

Seventy-five years to the day the first game was played at Aztec Bowl, SDSU’s historic stadium was celebrated with a rededication ceremony recalling individuals and events that played a part in the venue’s venerated past. 

A crowd of more than 80 students, faculty, staff and alumni turned out for the celebration that culminated with the unveiling of a restored historic plaque that had gone missing from the stadium more than 15 years ago.   

Department of Anthropology Chairman Seth Mallios served as master of ceremonies for the event that featured remarks by:

  • SDSU president Elliot Hirshman
  • Alumnus Leon Parma
  • SDSU Associated Students Vice President Darin Ruiz

The celebration took place on what used to be the Aztec Bowl playing field now transformed into a parking lot directly north of Viejas Arena between the east and west stands of the former stadium.

A varied past

President John F. Kennedy speaks at 1963 commencement
President John F. Kennedy gives the 1963 commencement address.

“Where we are standing and sitting here today — this was hand dug and hand filled by the WPA (Works Progress Administration),” Mallios told the crowd. “Seven hundred people with little more than picks, shovels and wheel barrows worked non-stop for three years to finish the stadium."

Mallios covered a list of events taking place in Aztec Bowl through the years including athletics contests, music concerts, fairs, civic celebrations and commencement exercises.  President John F. Kennedy’s speech at the university’s 1963 commencement helped cement the stadium’s 1994 listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

"This place is a reminder of so many things that are important about this university,” Hirshman told the crowd. “It is a tangible symbol of the strong interconnections between the university and the city and the region."

A very historic place

Parma, who led the Aztecs as quarterback in 1949 and 1950, had the audience chuckling with stories of paying five dollars a month to rent a plywood trailer in the north end zone of Aztec Bowl during his playing years.

“Every time they kicked a field goal or a point after touchdown,” Parma recalled, “they'd hit my trailer." 

The former quarterback said he thinks it’s important to remember Aztec Bowl as part of the university’s rich tradition.

We have tradition here and we've earned it. 

“It's a very historic place when you think of all the athletes and other people who've been on this field over the years,” he said. “I wish we still had it.”

Ruiz told a story about how once, during halftime, legendary Aztecs coach Don Coryell threw oranges at Aztecs players he considered insufficiently motivated.  As a tribute to the 50th anniversary of Coryell’s hiring as San Diego State’s coach, orange-flavored cupcakes sitting in sliced oranges were served to guests as refreshments.   

‘We have stories here’

Among those appreciating the program was 22-year-old Alana Brooks.  The senior psychology major from Long Beach said she had never really understood why the university’s basketball arena is surrounded by concrete football bleachers.

"I just always saw a lot of steps and I wasn't really sure what it was,” Brooks said. “I didn't know so many things happened in Aztec Bowl.  Seeing this was definitely cool.”

Seth Mallios and Elliot Hirshman unveil Aztec Bowl plaque
Department of Anthropology Chairman Seth Mallios (left) and President Elliot Hirshman unveil the rededicated plaque in Aztec Bowl.

On a table in front of the audience were several historic photos of Aztec Bowl’s construction and many of its momentous occasions.  Displayed among the photos was the “Oxy Trophy” from the stadium’s inaugural game between San Diego State and Occidental College on Oct. 3, 1936.  It’s an Aztec player’s bronzed shoe affixed to a plaque along with the quarter that was the first ever used in a coin toss at the stadium. 

"If there's only one thing you remember from today's ceremony, I hope it's that we have stories here,” Mallios concluded. “We have tradition here and we've earned it.  With events like today, we build our legacy one day at a time.  To honor all the mighty Aztecs who have contributed to this legacy, we're rededicating Aztec Bowl on its 75th anniversary by unveiling the recently rediscovered WPA plaque."

Mallios and Hirshman together uncovered the restored marker which has been reattached to the stadium wall on the east stands for permanent display.  The original location is now obscured by refuse bins.