Laird Stadium, with a seating capacity of 7,500 for football and outdoor track meets, is one of the largest NCAA Division III stadiums in the country. When it was built in 1927, there was some thought that Carleton would join the Big Ten conference, which accounts for the stadium’s relatively large size.
Carleton won its opening contest against North Dakota State University, 29 to 0, and in 1936 the football team traveled to West Point to play the Army team. But only twice in the stadium’s history has it ever been filled to capacity: in 1953, when President Eisenhower came to give a campaign speech; and in 1977, when Carleton and St. Olaf played in the Liter Bowl, the first and only NCAA-sanctioned metric football game in history.
The brainchild of Carleton chemistry professor Jeffrey Mohrig, the Liter Bowl integrated the metric system in virtually every facet of the game. The field was 100 meters long and 50 meters wide (109.36 and 54.68 yards, respectively), and there were metric meter lines, metric down-chains, metric end zones—even the football used was 29 centimeters long (within NCAA regulation).
The Carleton community embraced the idea with widespread enthusiasm and came up with numerous gimmicks to bolster excitement throughout the game, including wearing T-shirts that read, “Drop Back 10 Meters and Punt,” and donning uniforms as team “cheer-liters.” Ushers worked their way through the stands as “meter maids,” and the halftime program honored General Ulysses S. Gram, skier Jean-Claude Kilo, and baseball’s Harmon Kilogram. Despite the Carleton spirit, St. Olaf won decisively, 43 to 0.
All of this was undertaken within the climate of serious public discussion about a United States switch to the metric system—the Liter Bowl was to be an example of how simple such a switch would be. But talks of the switch stalled, and the United States today remains on the imperial system. Nevertheless, “We can look back now 35 years later on a day that the sun warmed the football field (to about 21 degrees–Celsius), 10,000-plus people packed Laird Stadium, and Carleton College and St. Olaf made their marks on history one meter at a time.”