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Columnist Bob Smizik: Pitt Stadium's time has passed

Monday, March 01, 1999

By Bob Smizik, Post-Gazette Sports Columnist

As a high school student, I sold souvenirs, pins and pennants outside Pitt Stadium. Still in high school, I got inside the place to see Mike Ditka play.

 

Later, I saw Tony Dorsett, Hugh Green, Dan Marino and Bill Fralic perform on the artificial turf that was the home of the Pitt football team.

In 1977, I sat deep in the end zone, just another alumnus who couldn't get a good ticket, when Penn State beat Pitt by two points in brutal cold.

In 1981, I sat in the press box and looked on in awe as Pitt scored two quick touchdowns and was swiftly moving toward a third. Then I watched in disbelief as Penn State scored 48 consecutive points.

I was the last journalist but not the last person to leave the old Pitt Stadium press box in the early 1970s after a WPIAL championship game. Someone entered after I left that night and burned the place down.

I've seen football games at Pitt Stadium for five decades. I've seen one of the greatest teams in college football history and many of the worst.

I've seen high school games there, covered track meets and watched NBA great Maurice Stokes play for Westinghouse High in the gym that used to be beneath it.

My memories of Pitt Stadium are more than most, and I cherish them. So when people say Pitt is going to move out of the stadium and play its games on the North Side, miles from campus, I say ... good. I say, blow it up or tear it down. Just get rid of it.

It was once a wonderful edifice. It has outlived its usefulness. It still is a great place to watch a game. But watching a game isn't everything in college football these days. Having a fun day is what it's about, and most people can't have a fun day at Pitt Stadium with its backless seats, inadequate restrooms, insufficient concessions and invisible parking.

This atmosphere might work in University Park or Lincoln or Columbus, but not in Pittsburgh.And it's not going to work any time soon.

If the Pitt football program is again to be successful, it can't be at this out-of-date facility that can't compete with the new stadiums that soon will be attracting Pittsburgh entertainment dollars.

The sentimentalists who want Pitt to keep playing at Pitt Stadium are dreamers. It's time to build new traditions and, more importantly, it's time to open up Pitt football to the rest of the region. Pitt football can't survive solely with the support of students and alumni. A look at the yearly attendance figures makes that clear.

To bring in new fans, Pitt needs an attraction. Pitt Stadium isn't an attraction; it's a distraction. The soon-to-be built stadium on the North Side, the new home of the Steelers, will have all the amenities necessary to bring not just the old fans back to Pitt football but badly needed new ones, too.

Some students, to their great credit, are campaigning to keep the stadium alive. A few dozen showed up at the basketball game Saturday wearing S.O.S. (Save Our Stadium) T-shirts. If I were still a student, I'd be with them.

But this isn't about students. College athletics long ago ceased to be about students. Maybe that started about the time too many football and basketball players ceased being students.

Here are some other memories people who want to keep the stadium alive should consider:

In 1976, when Pitt won the national championship and had arguably the greatest running back in college football history, the average attendance for this 12-0 team was 44.931 - about 10,000 below capacity.

In 1979, with an 11-1 team, the average attendance was 44,951.

In the 1990s, Pitt never averaged as much as 40,000 for its stadium schedule.

It doesn't work, and it's time to fix it.

Building a convocation center on the site of Pitt Stadium or turning the land over to the medical community is a gamble. But what's just as certain is Pitt can not continue to play in this wreck of a facility if it has any desire to return to an elite position in college football.


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



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