Hundreds of people streamed onto the Rubber Bowl football turf Saturday amid brisk, rainy weather, hoping to capture glorious memories.
But it wasn’t like the glory days when the University of Akron Zips or the Cleveland Browns played there: These fans had to buy their memories, and only the highest bidders went home happy.
The new owner of the bowl has big plans for the 73-year-old stadium built into a hill next to Derby Downs and Akron Fulton International Airport. Team 1 Marketing’s Bill Dunn hopes to start work next month and reopen the facility on the July 4th weekend with a big concert. After that, he hopes for football and major entertainment events.
First, a lot of stuff, much of it junk, must be removed.
Mike Rogers of Akron scored the first treasure with a winning bid of $60 on a wrinkled piece of paper. It’s also a blueprint of the playing field with a huge image of the mascot Zippy on it.
It’s suitable for framing in Rogers’ mind.
“My daughter and her husband are both architects,” he said. “I’m going to give it to them for Christmas.”
It took imagination and an appreciation of history to find value in the badly unkempt stadium. Weeds are growing in the aisles. A huge University of Akron sign above the press box is peeling away. Everything is dirty and faded. The locker room urinals that were removed from the wall for easy sale seemed to fit right in.
“It’s a lot of memories here,” said Daniel Weinschenk of Springfield Township who played for the Kenmore Cardinals in the Rubber Bowl years ago. “It’s a shame to see the stadium in this condition.”
Dunn offers assurance that will change.
“Soon as it’s gutted and all this stuff is removed and then we will start,” he said. “We are looking at November.”
He dreams of bringing professional football to the venue, but not until 2015 at the earliest.
“Lots of design work is being done now. There’s actually work being done, you just don’t see it,” he said.
His Canton company plans a $13 million investment that could be as much as $30 million if a dome is added.
For now, a lot of history must be removed — everything down to the concrete.
Some of the stuff is already gone.
The huge sign honoring Jason Taylor, perhaps the greatest Zips football player ever, disappeared sometime between the time Team 1 agreed to buy the stadium and when it took possession, Dunn said.
Similar signs for former coach Jim Dennison and player Chris Angeloff remain, but the winning bidder must unscrew them from the wall without damaging the concrete, auctioneer Glenn F. Witchey explained.
Each went for just $10. Witchey said he believes he waited too long to put them up for sale, and most of the interested buyers were gone.
Some first-down markers, yard markers and stadium signs remained but were faded.
You also could buy a solid oak cabinet. It went for $85. An insulated, but not refrigerated, cooler sold for $60.
Former players return
Two real-life Zips showed up looking for souvenirs.
Morris Ellington, a wide receiver from 2000 to 2005, and Jim Borrieci, a center from 2002 to 2004, checked out their old home field. Ellington was happy to pick up a team yearbook, but it was from before his time.
“I went into the locker room and it was kind of depressing because they took everything out,” he said.
The Zips often had trouble drawing fans to the Rubber Bowl, but Borrieci remembers it fondly.
“It felt real, it felt like college football should be,” he said. “It felt more intimate and like we had a home-field advantage.”
Pat Hayden of Brimfield came looking for something to add to the sports-themed “man cave” in his basement.
He had his eyes on a single football shoe, the right one belonging to someone with a huge, maybe size 20, foot. He chose sarcasm when saying how high he was willing to bid.
“That could be a fairly famous person that wore that shoe, so I could go $25 maybe,” he said.
Before the sale, Team 1 officials thought the artificial turf would take the high bid, but it did not sell. Witchey said a couple of schools were interested, but did not bid. He said Team 1 will decide what to do with the turf later.
Witchey said top bids were both around $1,000 for a big scoreboard and the stadium lights. Total revenue from the sale will be added up later.
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.