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Columnist Bob Smizik: Let's not forget the great times at Three Rivers

Sunday, June 20, 1999

By Bob Smizik, Post-Gazette Sports Columnist

They put shovel to earth on the North Side the other day, which means it's only a matter of time before they put wrecking ball to concrete.

 

They're building a new football stadium in town, to be ready for the 2001 season for the Steelers and Pitt, and the politicians and business leaders got together the other day to pat each other on the back and sing the praises of the new building.

While that celebration, which lasted into the night, went on, in other parts of the region grown men living so far in the past they can't see the future were mourning the loss of Pitt Stadium.

Exactly what they were mourning was hard to figure.

Was it a 74-year-old structure that has been outdated for at least 20 years and that is so user unfriendly it keeps prospective customers away by the thousands?

Was it the 23-56 record Pitt has compiled over the past seven seasons playing in this dilapidated facility?

Was it the four winning seasons in the past 15?

Maybe it was that for the better part of the past 50 years Pitt has had one of the worst football programs in the country?

But this isn't about that small group of Pitt whiners who can't recognize how beneficial playing in the new stadium will be for their downtrodden program.

This is about an old friend, almost 29 and not long for the world. This is about a place no one is mourning when, in this case, there is good reason to do so. This is about Three Rivers Stadium, which won't make it to 31. This is about the much-maligned structure whose outer reaches hosted the festivities Friday and, if truth be told, still looks pretty good.

Behind the temporary stands set up for the groundbreaking, heavy construction machinery lurked, including the one that swings the wrecking ball. It was a sad reminder that when the new building goes up, the old one comes down. Three Rivers is in its final seasons.

This, folks, is a stadium to mourn, a stadium that brought us a lifetime of thrills and memories. It's an oft-ridiculed ballpark that we never took to our hearts, but should have. It was too hard to get to and harder still to leave. And it housed baseball and football and so wasn't really right for either. But, oh, the memories, oh, the thrills.

It hasn't stood for three decades, but it has given us remembrances we can pass on the grandkids, stories we'll tell as long as we live.

True, it's time might be near, but dress it up and you can bring anyone to see it -- be it AFC championship or baseball's All-Star Game. The old place looked pretty good for those recent major events.

They mourn ramshackle Pitt Stadium and are ready to bid a quick goodbye to this good friend. It doesn't make sense.

Franco Harris took a bow at the groundbreaking ceremonies. Nothing more need be said to bring to mind the most famous play in NFL history -- The Immaculate Reception. It will be talked about as long as they play the game and it happened at Three Rivers.

Think about it: Four Super Bowl champions, arguably the greatest teams in NFL history, played on this turf. So did two World Series winners. The division titles compiled by the Pirates and Steelers are too many to even recount.

This is the place that enabled Pittsburgh to be called the City of Champions in the 1970s. This is the place that Joe Greene and Roberto Clemente graced.

Clemente's 3,000th hit happened at Three Rivers one cool September afternoon. Willie Stargell launched shots into the upper deck in this structure. Jack Ham played here. So did Mel Blount and Jack Lambert, Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann, Mike Webster and Rod Woodson. Chuck Noll coached here. The Steeler Nation was born here. So was Franco's Italian Army and the Terrible Towel.

Yet no one is saying a word about it's demise. No one is demanding a stay of execution.

Nor should anyone. Time marches on. It's time for new stadiums, one for football, one for baseball. They'll be places with great good looks, views of the city and amenities the old place never had.

But if guarantees us half the thrills, half the memories and half the hall-of-fame cast that wonderful old Three Rivers did, well, we'd take that right now.

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com



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