Sunday, February 2, 2020

Rubber Bowl Sunday

When I decided to head to Cleveland this weekend, I didn’t realize that it was the same weekend as the Super Bowl. Not that it was a problem, I wasn’t too concerned.

I like sports, but lost interest in the NFL a few years ago. After a few grody experiences with football “fans” at Bengals games in the recent past—I was content to stick with soccer, baseball, and hockey. If there’s any American football I’ve been looking forward to, it’s the XFL (and that’s only because of childhood nostalgia and an interest in renegade, off-shoot sports leagues).

College football holds even less appeal to me personally, but I get that some people are very, very into it. The University of Akron Zips aren’t the most popular college football program in the state, but they are Division 1, play in the Mid-American Conference, and entertain loyal students and fans at a 30,000 seat stadium in Northeast Ohio. Before the school opened a modern facility complete with corporate naming rights in 2009, the Zips played at a historical venue—an emblematic old-school college stadium situated next to the city’s iconic Soap Box Derby.

I hadn’t previously heard of the aptly named “Rubber Bowl” (the tire industry is predominant in Akron), but figured if there was any appropriate time to swing by, the world’s biggest American football day might be it. So on Super Bowl Sunday, not worried about being anywhere to watch the game, I pulled off the highway on another Ohio road trip and drove right under the bridge connecting the Goodyear Tires headquarters to its vast parking garage. A little bit further up, the historic Goodyear Airdock could be seen looming in the distance at the end of a residential street. A few minutes later and I arrived at what remained of The Rubber Bowl.

Opening in 1940, the stadium had been built with funding from the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration. The University’s football program was the main tenant, but the building saw its fair share of high school games, renown musical acts of their various eras, and other events.

As far as professional football went, the NFL’s Cleveland Rams (who became the Los Angeles Rams then the St. Louis Rams and are now the LA Rams once again) played a pair of regular season games at the Rubber Bowl in the 1940s and the original Cleveland Browns hosted the occasional preseason bouts there (the most recent being in 1973).

Pro ball was intended to save The Rubber Bowl. After sitting vacant for four years—a Canton, Ohio based investment group purchased the stadium with the intention of making it a home for a reboot of the United States Football League in 2012. USFL 2.0 never launched, though, and the "Akron Fire" never took the field. The new ownership group touted plans for making the stadium an entertainment venue replete with upgrades. However, an announced local music festival was barred from happening when the city took issue with the building's deteriorating condition. Summit County eventually foreclosed on the place and the City of Akron became the new owners, quickly condemning the Rubber Bowl. A partial demolition occurred in 2018.

About half of the stadium still stands.

I arrived on this unseasonably warm, sunny afternoon awhile before the Super Bowl was set to kick off. A pickup soccer game played out on the torn-up turf, a runner went about his work-out routine up and down the concrete steps, and a few other photographers milled about.

All of the seats are gone and the gridiron markings (the ones that haven’t been removed or stolen) still cling to synthetic turf in a water-logged patchwork. The parts of the structure that weren’t wrecked, those built into a hill, have been mostly covered in sophomoric—rather than artistic—graffiti over the years. Aircraft from the nearby airport buzz overhead and the bordering road hums with the sound of engine braking. The paint holding up the “Rubber Bowl” name is peeling, but the end zone markings proclaiming “Akron” and “Zips” are mostly there.

I got back in the car and hit the road. Down the interstate a bit, I scanned the radio for Super Bowl coverage. Despite not being interested and with no plans to watch, I felt what could possibly be described as a sense of obligation.

“It is the Super Bowl,” I thought. “I might as well listen if I’ve got a few hours of highway ahead of me.”

The pregame and advertisement-riddled kickoff coverage wore thin on my patience, though, and ultimately I switched back to a podcast. In suburban Columbus, I pulled over for dinner—figuring that a strip mall sports bar billed as an “Irish pub” would be appropriate given the day. I ate a ridiculous cheeseburger topped with mac and cheese and wrote this post as an over served middle-aged man catcalled towards Jennifer Lopez’s halftime show on television (I wonder if J-LO could see him, would she be impressed by the sunglasses atop his Under Armour baseball cap?). The place is empty and the waitress seems pretty unhappy.

Maybe she’s a Chiefs fan upset that Patrick Mahomes just threw an interception?

Maybe she’s mad that she has to work during "the big game," serving a handful of obnoxiously loud customers and some random guy editing photographs of an abandoned football stadium?

She can still see these commercials, though, does she doubt the sincerity of inspirational brand marketing from the likes of Kia and Verizon?

Or, maybe, she’s an Akron Zips fan who just misses games at The Rubber Bowl.

Other Abandoned Stadia Previously Featured On QC/D:


  1. I attended the first Ohio state high school football championship (in what was then the "big school" AAA division) at the Rubber Bowl, during the late autumn of 1972. Cincinnati's Princeton High School (my alma mater) was defeated by a high school from Canton. Blizzard-like conditions prevailed, and the game was not remotely visible from the stands. I attended with a friend from Akron who informed me the Rolling Stones had performed at the Rubber Bowl, earlier that same year in 1972.