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The Great Checkerboard Debate

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

Oct 4, 2014; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Ryan Timmons (1) runs for a touchdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky defeated South Carolina 45-38. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-181952 ORIG FILE ID:  20141004_lbm_sf6_454.JPG

Oct 4, 2014; Photo by: USA Today

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.





  1. Janis says:

    Well done Max! I’m glad you wrote this. The people in my office were not aware of this. I remember when they unveiled the new uniforms at the old Lyric theater.

  2. Bobby Lee says:

    The reason that UT uses checkerboards is because a building on the hill, it’s hard to see now with many treees, but it had a 3 by 2 checkerbaord prick on the peak area. So, we do have a reason to use checkerboards. But, I did not know about the history of U.K. ceheckerboards.. very intrigued. But, go vols

    • Weller Ross says:

      Bobby Lee is correct. Additionally, that building (Ayres Hall) was completed in 1921 and could be seen from Shields-Watkins Field at the time, which inspired General Neyland to tell his players to “charge the checkerboard” and to not stop “until time runs out or until you reach the checkerboard – and once you get there, get there again!”

      • VolHammer says:

        Also, the history of Tennessee’s checkerboard is something every student learns before they go to their first class, if they hadn’t already learned it as a child. Not surprising to me Kentucky fans wouldn’t know the history of “their checkerboard” when it is drawn from a horse, undoubtedly great though he was, that had no affiliation or connection to the university.

  3. Mark says:

    UK has no football tradition of note, so taking UT’s tradition, as their own, is no surprise. Go Vols!

  4. Mark says:

    UK has no football tradition of note, so taking UT’s tradition, as their own, is no surprise. Go Vols! Bull s t Website.

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