By Harv Aronson
What better way to begin the next chapter in my tour of stadiums around the country then to travel to my home city and talk about the stadium where I witnessed nearly all my experiences watching professional sports.
Three Rivers Stadium…a round mound of cement that may have been one of the uglier stadiums of its time and was a cookie-cutter design of the cross state Philadelphia Veteran’s Stadium. But Three Rivers Stadium has its magic, and the stories that developed inside those cement barriers would make the facility something special.
After all, one of the greatest plays in the history of the National Football League or any other pro sport for that matter took place on the field inside Three Rivers Stadium. The “Immaculate Reception” made history and put the Pittsburgh Steelers past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in their history. It made Franco Harris a legend and set off a controversy that has yet to subside. The date was December 23, 1972 and 46 years later, no one knows for sure whether the ball thrown by Terry Bradshaw hit John “Frenchy” Fuqua or the defender, Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders.
Naturally, Raiders players and fans say it hit the Steelers’ running back thus at that time, making it an illegal play. As for Fuqua, he swears he is going to his grave with the truth. Regardless, the Steelers won 13-7 and would lose the next week to the eventual Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins.
Roberto Clemente and all the great Pittsburgh Pirates teams of the 1960s and 70’s called this stadium home. At one point as a teenager, I spent a summer attending as many Buccos games as I could because tickets were so cheap especially for the upper deckers. I recall going to 35 games in just a span of a few summer months. I made it a ritual to attend opening day back then, and in that time period, opening day was something special.
I believe I went to about 5-6 consecutive opening days at Three Rivers Stadium and one vivid memory I have is that I went to opening day one year as the Pirates were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals and Bob Gibson. It was standing room only and as I stood above the bullpen of the Cardinals to catch a closer look at one of the greatest pitchers of our time, someone had place a beer on the edge of the wall and I accidentally kicked it over spilling the suds on St. Louis’s pitching coach.
Not wanting to get in trouble I walked away…fast. At that time, wherever you could find a place to be able to see the game when it was SRO (Standing Room Only), that’s where you ended up. I also was at each of the three 1979 World Series games played at Three Rivers which happened to be the last time the Pirates won the World Series. Take a peek at the cost of a World Series ticket back then! You wouldn’t be able to get into a World Series these days for that cost.
n 1976 I was at a Steelers game that had them hosting the Cincinnati Bengals in a driving snowstorm. It was crazy and I remember bringing to the stadium my little 5” television so I could keep up with updates on football. The final score that day was 7-3 Pittsburgh.
Of course many other events have taken place at Three Rivers Stadium and I could go on for a long time talking about what I witnessed there. As everyone knows, the stadium was taken down on February 11, 2001 and I wanted so badly to be there. But the day was cold, it was early in the morning, and if you have not seen the video from the demolition now you can below.
For those of you who were familiar with the stadium, those who frequented it often, those who know the rich history of the events that took place there, you may get the reaction I got when I first watched this. I felt disheartened that people watching were cheering as the cement that made up Three Rivers Stadium came crashing down. That’s because as it came tumbling down, it took with it many historic events and left only memories.
While I think Heinz Field is a great venue and PNC Park one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums anywhere, still, Three Rivers Stadium will never be forgotten by those who were in it. Once the newer stadiums began to be built, it was a new era where old stadiums had no chance of staying upright. New designs, new technology meant death to the old classic stadiums.
Thankfully, we still have Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. But in Pittsburgh you would never know there was a Three Rivers Stadium unless you were inside that round mound of cement to experience it.