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Cook: Stadium gone; memories stay

Monday, February 12, 2001

It's funny what you think about when a stadium comes tumbling down and all that's left is a pile of gnarled steel and broken concrete ...

I thought about Jim Leyland and something he said of the 1994 All-Star Game.

"I'm sure some people across the nation were saying, 'Oh, hell, the All-Star Game's in Pittsburgh this year.' But then, they got here or saw it on television. They had to be saying, 'This place is fantastic. This is really special.' The crowd, the stadium, all of it was spectacular. No one ever put on a better one than Pittsburgh did that night. I was never so proud to be a part of this city than I was that whole week."

They can dynamite Three Rivers Stadium and blow it to smithereens, but they can never take away those memories ...

Was the implosion hard for you to watch, too? I never imagined it would be so difficult. Let's face it, not many people talked about the stadium's majesty the way Leyland did. All you heard was how charmless it was, how cold and austere, how it was just another cookie-cutter stadium like the ones in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Atlanta and St. Louis. You couldn't get to it. You couldn't get home from it ...

Tell the truth. Had you ever heard of "access" and "egress" before Three Rivers? Do you hope you never hear them again?

I told myself I wasn't going to miss the place. Not one bit. I wasn't sad after the final baseball game. I was too happy the Pirates' miserable 69-93 season was over. I wasn't even sad after the final football game. I was too amazed that someone tried to steal the sewer drain covers outside of the press box. My guess is it was the same guy who grabbed Michael Jordan's cigar butt as a souvenir after the Mario Lemieux golf tournament a few years ago.

The significance of yesterday didn't hit me until Saturday when I drove by Three Rivers for the last time. I spent a zillion hours there, but I would never get to spend another minute. This was going to be the third stadium to come down in my lifetime. I really am getting old. Forbes Field was first. Pitt Stadium was next. Fitzgerald Field House is approaching its final days. Mellon Arena can't have many years left.

Stadiums get old and break down and are gone.

As I looked at Three Rivers for the last time, I couldn't help but think that people do, too.

A lot of us aren't going to live long enough to see them implode PNC Park and the Steelers' new stadium.

Maybe that's why I had such a bad case of melancholy when they pushed that button yesterday. That had to be the reason. It couldn't have been the stadium. It was charmless. It was cold and austere. It was just another stadium, right?

The heck it was.

That part about not missing it? That was a big lie. I'm going to miss it a lot.

We had some times there, didn't we?

Good times. Clemente's 3,000th hit. Franco's catch. The seven playoff wins on the way to four Super Bowls. The two World Series championships.

Bad times. The 51-0 loss to the Browns, of all teams, in 1989. The crushing playoff losses to San Diego and Denver. The 104-loss season in 1985 when you couldn't read a story without seeing "Pirate Parrot" and "cocaine" in the same sentence. The eight consecutive losing baseball seasons to close Three Rivers.

Grisly times. Some of the injuries on that turf made you want to hide your eyes or turn away. Jason Kendall's ankle injury. Rod Woodson's knee injury. Some weren't nearly so gruesome but proved to be more devastating. Lynn Swann's concussions. Jack Lambert's turf toe. Who could have predicted a turf toe would bring down the toughest, meanest Steeler of all?

Embarrassing times. People cheered when Terry Bradshaw was injured. They threw snowballs at Cliff Stoudt. They disrupted the Pirates' 1995 season opener by hurling souvenir flags on the field to protest the baseball strike. Some sicko poured beer on Kordell Stewart. This is only a guess, but Leyland couldn't have been proud to be a part of this city on those occasions. I know I wasn't.

All things considered, though, it was a terrific ride.

The new stadiums are going to be fun. PNC Park looks spectacular. The Steelers' stadium will be twice the stadium Three Rivers was, although it's hard to imagine it throbbing the way the old place did in the 1970s. That had to be why Three Rivers toppled so easily. It wasn't just the dynamite. All of that rocking in the '70s loosened the foundation.

But the thought of those new stadiums didn't seem to help much yesterday.

It won't be any easier to look at that mangled pile of steel and concrete today. They've started the cleanup process. By the time the Pirates play their first game in PNC Park March 31, you won't be able to tell there was a stadium there.

But we'll know better.

Thankfully, we'll all know better.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.

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