What does a flagship state university striving for greater respect among peers and public do to achieve that goal in a directly visible way? Well, of course they invest in faculty, labs, and infrastructure. But these landmarks achieve their goals slowly, through the incremental increases in knowledge and discovery thy provide. The fast track to greater public status –at least at the turn of the twenty-first century – appeared to be through becoming a recognized player in Division One college football. To that end, today in 2003, the UConn Huskies football team kicked off a new era in Connecticut college sports as they played their first game in the brand-new, 92 million, 40,000-seat stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The stadium was the result of a decade-long search for a suitable new home for the university’s expanding Division I football team. Other potential stadium sites had included the University of Connecticut’s flagship campus in Storrs and Adriaen’s Landing in downtown Hartford. After United Technologies Corp. offered to donate 75 acres of land for a new stadium next to its Pratt & Whitney division headquarters in East Hartford — and then sweetened the deal by adding another 100 acres for parking, the decision was made to build the new stadium there.
Rentschler Field was named after Frederick Rentschler, a pioneering aviation engineer and founder of Pratt & Whitney’s aircraft division (which still calls East Hartford its home). In 1931, the field became home to a private, corporate airstrip that was a testing ground for Pratt & Whitney engines and Hamilton Standard propellers and, for a few years, a military airstrip during World War II. The airfield remained in service until 1999, after which United Technologies donated the land for the Huskies’ new stadium.
On August 30, 2003, the Huskies kicked off their first football game at Rentschler Field and won a decisive 34-10 victory over Indiana University, thrilling a crowd of more than 38,000 people. Since that opening day, “The Rent” has hosted both all sorts of professional and collegiate sporting events as well as several notable concerts, including sell-out performances by Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones. The Huskies continue chasing Division I football dreams in what has since been formally renamed Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
“Aug. 31, 2003: Perfect Opener for Rentschler Field,” Hartford Courant
“College Football: Huskies Ring in New and Resolve to Keep Rolling,” New York Times