The Great Checkerboard Debate: Who did it First?
By: Max Godby
Just recently, the University of Kentucky Athletic Department released the new design for the artificial turf for Commonwealth Stadium. I fell in love with the design. It is a conservative and traditional look that honors the tradition and history of the great state of Kentucky. However, people have made a common mistake about the origin of the checkerboard. Kentucky fans are concerned that it looks like UK is trying to copy the checkerboard pattern of Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Surprising to me, not many UK Football fans know the history of the checkerboard and the significance it holds for our state and our University. The following information will equip football fans with the needed knowledge to counteract the allegations about Kentucky being a “copy cat.”
The Checkerboard Pattern
The Tennessee Volunteers debuted their infamous checkerboard end zones in 1964, under head football coach Doug Dickey, who coached at Tennessee from 1964 to 1969. The pattern is engraved into the tradition of “Rocky Top” football. The checkerboard pattern is as beloved by the Volunteer State as is the “It’s-football-time-in-the-Bluegrass” cry is to Wildcats. But, to say that Tennessee originated the idea of checkerboard end zones is simply not true.
Stoll Field, the stadium prior to Commonwealth, sported checkerboard end zones during the 1930 season. While Commonwealth Stadium never used the checkerboard patterns, the University of Kentucky originated the checkerboard look, not the University of Tennessee.
A Pattern of Excellence
The checkerboard pattern is not a new idea for UK. The actual pattern was brought back to life in 2008 with the help of UK sponsor, Nike. Nike designed the checkerboard for the UK basketball and then for the football jerseys. With the University of Kentucky Athletic Department considered one of the top departments in the country, Nike called the
new checkerboard look “A Pattern of Excellence.”
While Tennessee is proud of their checkerboard look, there is no definite history behind it. Why a checkerboard? On the other hand, we know the exact reason for Kentucky’s checkerboard. Nike’s creation of the Pattern of Excellence for UK was inspired by the jockey silks of Secretariat. When it comes to horseracing, Kentucky is second to none. The city of Lexington is the horse capital of the entire world. Kentucky is home to the most exciting two minutes in sports–The Kentucky Derby. Racing is in every Kentuckian’s blood. Before the football games, the sound of the call to the post fills the stadium (one of my most favorite traditions while playing at UK).
So our Pattern of Excellence, our checkerboard, like our love of football and horses, is as original as Kentucky bourbon, Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Kentucky Hot Brown.