Thursday, March 22, 2012

Civic Arena Memories

With construction (deconstruction?) workers tearing down Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena (it will always be the Civic Arena to me) I thought I would borrow an idea from Seth at Empty Netters and share my memories of the historic building. The Civic Arena truly is a historic building. According the Mellon Arena website, the arena “features the largest retractable, stainless steel dome roof in the world--170,000 total square feet and 2,950 tons of Pittsburgh steel.” Of course, the retractable function hasn’t worked since the mid-1990s. In addition, the roof has no interior support. Although I’m not an architect, I’m sure that Ted Mosby is extremely excited by this. Seriously, how does that even work?

However, the arena was clearly past its prime. It was the oldest and third smallest arena in the National Hockey League and with the Steelers and Pirates both getting new stadiums, the Penguins reached a deal with Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania for a new arena across the street. Anyway, that’s the background of “The Igloo” for readers that don’t know much about the Civic Arena other than it being the site of Jean Claude Van Damme’s classic film Sudden Death.

I don’t remember my first trip to the Civic Arena. It may have been attending a Neil Diamond concert with my parents and brother. It may have been a Pittsburgh Penguins game during the Rick Kehoe/pre-Mario Lemieux era. It may have been seeing the Harlem Globetrotters squeak by the Washington Generals. It probably was seeing the circus or Ice Capades. Here are some of my highlights:

Billy Joel – I remember that I was embarrassed to go with my parents, so my brother and I sat several rows ahead of them. This seems dumb now, but going to a concert with my parents as a teenager seemed uncool at the time. Yes, I totally expect this to occur in about 14 years with me and my son.

Pittsburgh Spirit (Major Indoor Soccer League) – One of my favorite parts of attending George Mason basketball games or Washington Capitals hockey games is seeing the kids play on the court or ice during intermission. I had the opportunity to be one of these kids playing soccer at the Civic Arena during halftime of a Pittsburgh Spirit soccer game. I only have a few memories of the game. First, it was difficult going over the boards to go on and off the field. Hockey players seem to have no problem doing this, but those boards were high for a kid. Second, the Astroturf used at the arena was hard, so you really didn’t want to slide. Regarding the Spirit, Paul Child and Stan Terlecki were awesome, and Child was my favorite player. To me, they were just as big as Jack Lambert and Willie Stargell.

Pittsburgh Bulls (Major Indoor Lacrosse League) – Despite little to no lacrosse presence in Western Pennsylvania, the MILL thought it would be a great idea to have a team in Pittsburgh. For some reason, without any knowledge of lacrosse, I wanted to go. I recruited several friends from my middle school, and my dad took us to several games. The star player was clearly Butch Marino. I guess the name Marino was close enough to Mario to grant the lacrosse player the right to wear number 66. I also remember a promotion where all fans received a large packet of BBQ sauce for attending. After either a bad call by the referee or an opposing player doing something that angered the crowd, fans threw the BBQ sauce packets on to the field. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone threw open packets.

Disney on Ice – I got former Pittsburgh Steelers’ kicker Gary Anderson’s autograph at a Disney on Ice event. He was fairly new to the Steelers attending the show with his kids. I approached him asking for his autograph and he was nice enough to sign my program. I believe that I still have the autograph, so if I do another “Found in my Basement” post, I’ll share the picture.

World Wrestling Federation – I attended several WWF events during my junior high days. At one event, I went down to the wrestlers’ entrance and got a high-five from Jake “the Snake” Roberts as he approached the ring. I thought that was incredible and talked about not washing my hand since Jake Roberts touched it. Fortunately, I washed my hand.

Pittsburgh Penguins – Obviously, the Civic Arena belonged to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although I admit that I’m biased, it was a privilege seeing the greatest player in NHL history live. I get goosebumps just thinking about John Barbaro announcing a Mario Lemieux goal. Although I can’t seem to find an example of this on YouTube (please let me know if you find one), go to about 1:30 of this video to hear Barbaro’s call of Mario earning the #1 star.

Besides the Kip Miller goal, my memories of Penguins games are much more general. Going up the concrete stairs. Hoping for the Penguins to score seven goals so that all fans received a free Wendy’s chili. $20 student rush tickets. And of course, the Civic Arena was the first stop on the hockey road trip.

NCAA Tournament – While the 1997 first-round Wisconsin-Texas match lacked excitement, seeing #15 seed Coppin State defeat 2nd-seeded South Carolina was incredible. The crowd had absolutely no ties to Coppin State, yet the place was electric as everyone turned into Coppin State fans that day.

The demolition of the Civic Arena nears completion. The picture below from a few weeks ago shows the new Mario Lemieux statue with the Civic Arena in the background. That is not an open retractable roof. There were lawsuits and debates about keeping the Civic Arena, and not living in Pittsburgh anymore, I’m not too familiar with the merits of either side. However, while the Civic Arena truly is historic, what do you do with an unusable arena? Nevertheless, I’ll always have memories of the Civic Arena, and more importantly, memories of attending events there with family and friends.


Captain Easychord said...

Pitt basketball also used to host some games at the Civic Arena, back when they were playing in Fitzgerald Fieldhouse. I remember going to a Pitt-Syracuse game there my senior year, after I had been admitted to be an Orangeman. Biggest thing I remember about the game is that because I went, my dad grounded me so that I couldn't watch the Steelers lose to the Chargers the following week... crisis averted, I guess?

Sean said...

Captain - I think I went to that Pitt-Syracuse game at the Civic Arena. Of course, I also attended the Steelers-Chargers game, and that one didn't end well.

Anonymous said...

My favorite and most enduring memory of the Civic Arena was a rock concert attended in the early '80's. It was summertime and at twilight the dome was opened. Clearly, the band had no idea that this was going to happen. The music stopped and the band just looked around in amazement. Oh yeah, the 'burgh can rock with the best of them!