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End of an era

Thirty years of Pittsburgh sports history goes up in smoke

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Posted: Sunday February 11, 2001 5:09 PM
Updated: Monday February 12, 2001 2:59 AM

  Three Rivers Stadium Saftey workers watch from the Ohio River as Three Rivers Stadium is imploded. AP

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A cloud of dust went up, and Three Rivers Stadium came down.

Sunday saw the end of one of the nation's best-known stadiums -- home of football's most famous play and a Pittsburgh pro sports resurgence in the 1970s.

Several thousand people lined Pittsburgh rivers to cheer the implosion of the 30-year-old home of the Steelers and Pirates, some camping out as early as 1 a.m. Sunday to get the best view.

The stadium's western wall tumbled inward and the rest of the structure collapsed into a cloud of dust. The $5.1 million implosion lasted about 19 seconds.

"This is the greatest day of my life," said 16-year-old Joseph King, who won a raffle to earn the right to push a plunger to start the demolition. "I heard the bangs, and it seemed like forever before it went down."

The blast was followed by a round of fireworks at about 8 a.m.

Experts loaded 4,800 pounds of dynamite into the mammoth circular stadium last week to clear the way for separate baseball and football stadiums rising nearby. PNC Park opens with the Pirates and Mets in an exhibition game March 31, and the unnamed Steelers stadium opens this fall.

We are Family
Career home run leaders
at Three Rivers Stadium
Willie Stargell  147  
Barry Bonds  89 
Dave Parker  88  
Bill Robinson  64 
Kevin Young  64 
Andy Van Slyke  63 
Al Martin  62 
Bobby Bonilla  57 
Richie Hebner  56 
Jeff King  51 

Pittsburgh television stations rigged six cameras inside the stadium that captured most of the action before the cables were cut by falling concrete. The cameras were rescued -- unharmed -- when demolition crews combed the debris shortly after the blast.

"To be honest, this is a very bittersweet day for me," Mayor Tom Murphy said. "I remember being here at the last baseball game of the '95 season when we weren't sure that we were even going to have a team anymore. I'm very proud. This shows that Pittsburgh is moving forward."

Dynamite severed the 12 joints that held the stadium together, and it fell in a neat ring, except for metal rigging that stuck skyward. Crews went to work immediately Sunday hauling away about 75 truckloads of concrete and steel.

Former Pirates manager Jim Leyland watched from the nearby D.L. Clark Building and said he's happy Pirates fans will see the game how it was supposed to be played -- on grass at the new ballfield.

Saying Goodbye
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Pittsburgh bids adieu to a legendary stadium. Start
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"You know, I didn't feel much about it until today. I got a little sentimental seeing it happen," said Leyland, whose teams won the NL East in the stadium in 1990, 1991 and 1992.

The new Steelers stadium, just 27 yards away from the old site, has grass too. Its glass windows were wrapped to protect them from the blast.

Interstate 279 through Pittsburgh was closed briefly during the explosion.

Three Rivers opened in 1970 at a cost of $36 million. It immediately boosted the sagging fortunes of the Pirates and Steelers.

After moving in at midseason, the Pirates ended a 10-year championship drought by winning the first of their nine divisional titles. They also won two NL pennants and World Series titles in 1971 and 1979.

The Steelers soon became a dynasty, winning four Super Bowls in six years and churning out several Hall of Famers.

The stadium also saw one of the most famous plays in NFL history, a wildly deflected touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw to Franco Harris in a 1972 playoff game that was instantly dubbed the "Immaculate Reception."

Related information
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Pirates to bid farewell to Three Rivers Stadium
Pirates unveil new uniform, could revamp lineup
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