Football, Fundraising, and Funerals Under the 50-Yard-Line

Cremation Funeral Industry News July 9, 2024
Football field

Football, Fundraising, and Funerals Under the 50-Yard-Line

We all have that one friend who lives and breathes for their football team — so it figures that they’d also like to extend that devotion into death. For those folks, a logo-covered casket or urn simply won’t suffice; their ultimate goal would be to become forever integrated into the very field upon which their team fights every fall. And they’d absolutely pay for the privilege.

That’s the idea behind University of Nebraska regent Barbara Weitz’s suggestion that an under-field columbarium be incorporated into the next renovation of the Cornhuskers’ Memorial Stadium. While Weitz’s fellow regents laughed or scoffed at her “impractical” and  “light-hearted” pitch, it’s actually a pretty good idea, and one that might help colleges and professional teams defray expenses — or overcome shortages like Nebraska’s $58 million budget deficit.

Going legit

It’s no secret that the families and friends of many deceased football fans have taken it upon themselves to leave their loved ones’ remains in the place they loved the most. Most recently, authorities launched a formal investigation in 2021 after a fan scattered ashes in the stands and the south end zone of Pennsylvania’s Heinz Field after a Pittsburgh Steelers game

Back in 2013, Auburn University’s “Turf Team” discovered cremated remains on the field in Jordan-Hare stadium following the annual Auburn vs. Alabama Iron Bowl rivalry game. The next year, a Bama fan did left the Iron Bowl with not only a massive win, but also with his grandfather’s ashes deposited at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. 

Auburn’s athletic director told the Washington Post that in 2011, former teammates of 1971 tight end Ronnie Ross deposited his ashes on the field during a commemoration of the team’s Heisman-winning quarterback Pat Sullivan.

Despite strict policies against spreading cremains within virtually every American football stadium, fans still get away with it. Authorities caught a fan scattering his father’s ashes at Louisiana State University’s Tiger Stadium in the early 2000s, although it was “too late” to stop him. In 2005, an Arizona man was arrested for running onto the field during a Philadelphia Eagles game to spread his late mother’s ashes on Lincoln Financial Field; he left a “cloud of fine powder in his wake” before being arrested on the 30-yard-line. Connecting Directors reported on a similar incident when the Eagles made the Super Bowl in 2019.

Catch them if you can

Those are just a few of the incidents that have actually been reported. Over on Reddit you’ll find many (probably too many) confessions from fans who responded to questions about whether spreading ashes in stadiums was acceptable:

  • “If you know the right cop. My grandfather’s ashes are in the field at the Cotton Bowl. Spread them after beating Texas.” 
  • “I spread my Cowboys fan friend’s ashes on Oakland Coliseum’s field just to torment him for all eternity!!! Just head down to the rail after the game, take a selfie and have at it.”
  • “Yeah, my friend did this about 15 years ago when the gates [of the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field] first opened, pre-game. He walked along the 1st row dropping pinches here and there over the railing.”

Who knows how many fans have actually had this odd but understandable dying wish covertly fulfilled by a dedicated loved one? One can also understand, though, that cremated human remains don’t mix well with the oh-so-carefully-manicured grass fields, let alone any other surface. Chances are the cremains of the Reddit folks’ grandpas were unceremoniously swept up postgame with discarded beer cans and hot dog wrappers.

College columbariums

Although it made headlines for its audacity, Weitz’s idea for an under-field columbarium at the University of Nebraska isn’t exactly unique. Since 2017, a developer has hoped to build a columbarium on his property across the street from the University of South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium — with niches standing in the shape of the letters U-S-C. Despite pledging to give a portion of his proceeds from sales to the university, USC officials are still fighting the construction.

Both Notre Dame and West Point offer on-campus or campus-adjacent cemeteries and columbariums, and a cemetery near Texas A&M University includes a dedicated section for fans and university friends called Aggie Field of Honor. The gated section is meant as a “final resting place for those who wish to be buried near the school and with the Home of the 12th Man, Kyle Field, visible on the not-too-distant horizon.”

Other less athletic-driven schools have constructed columbariums on their campuses, including the University of Richmond, the Citadel, Centre College in Kentucky, Sweet Briar College in Virginia, Chapman University in California, and Hendrix College in Arkansas. Niches in these locations are available for $1,800 to $3,000. One can only imagine, then, what a cozy little spot under an end zone or 50-yard-line might fetch at a football college like the University of Nebraska.