A new sports era in Pittsburgh began in the summer of 1970 with the opening of Three Rivers Stadium. The Pirates and the Steelers were the prime tenants from the start and Three Rivers became the centre of sports excitement for metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Tri-State area.
With the success of the Pirates and Steelers in the 70s, unmatched by any other sports teams in a single city in America, it became a national sports showcase as well. TV viewers everywhere were treated to overhead views of the Stadium and the surrounding area - the Golden Triangle, the inclines of Mt. Washington, the steel mills and, of course, the three rivers, the Allegheny and Monongahela which meet to form the Ohio.
Those spectacular aerial views were a great source of pride to Pittsburghers and, in particular, to Mayor Richard Caliguiri who complimented the TV networks for showing off the city at its best. Three Rivers Stadium was officially opened July 16, 1970, and there were 48,846 fans in attendance.
Tony Perez hit the first home run there to help the Cincinnati Reds beat the Bucs in the opener, 3-2. Willie Stargell hit the first Pirate homer and it earned him $1,000, a gift from a local lumber company.
Mike Bache, a 78-year-old gentleman from Braddock, was present for the Pirates' opener at Three Rivers Stadium. Four generations of his family were there for the event. "Being at a new park for an opening is something special," he said. "I remember going to the Forbes Field opener. I paid 50 cents and there were no seats left. I stood behind a rope in the outfield. I could have touched Fred Clarke."
Of course, the opening of Three Rivers Stadium meant a farewell to Forbes Field. That ballyard, with its ivy-covered brick wall in the outfield, stood alongside Schenley Park and was the scene of many thrills for sports fans in Pittsburgh for 61 years.
The Pirates closed down that wonderful baseball park on June 28, 1970 with a doubleheader sweep of the Chicago Cubs. The occasion was both significant and appropriate historically for it was with the same Cubs that Forbes Field was opened on June 30, 1909. Part of the outfield wall, about 150-feet of the centerfield section, still remains intact, as a monument to Forbes Field, and can be found behind the new University of Pittsburgh Law School and Forbes Quadrangle which replaced the ballpark. Mazeroski Field, a Little League diamond, is also there.
Many mementos from Forbes Field, and pictures of the famous players who performed there, can be found nearby in Frankie Gustine's Restaurant on Forbes Avenue. Three Rivers proved a lucky charm for the Pirates and the Steelers in the 70s. In their second season in the new stadium, the Pirates won it all - - beating the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series in '71, something they would do again in 1979. The first night game in World Series history was played there on October 13, 1971.
Nobody enjoyed watching baseball and football games at Forbes Field any more than Art Rooney, the owner of the Steelers and one of the Pirates' most fervent fans. But the Steelers, or football for that matter, didn't really fit into Forbes Field. It was a pure baseball facility. And the Steelers were outsiders when they played at Pitt Stadium. So Three Rivers Stadium, right in Rooney's neighbourhood in Old Allegheny - was a significant development in the history of the Steelers.
"Without the new stadium, we'd never have been winners," said Rooney at the outset of 1980, soon after the Steelers had won their fourth Super Bowl in six years. "We were a second-class club before we moved into the new stadium. That made us a first-rate club." That's why Rooney wanted to make sure the Stadium was properly maintained and preserved for future generations of ballteams and their fans.
Coach Chuck Noll shared his thoughts on the subject, believing that the Stadium was a key factor in the success of the football franchise. Starting there in 1972, the Steelers began a string of qualifying for the playoffs eight straight seasons to tie a National Football League record established by the Dallas Cowboys.
It was in 1972 that Franco Harris made his "Immaculate Reception" in the first NFL Playoff game ever played at Three Rivers as the Steelers surprised the Oakland Raiders, 13-7. It was there the following week, in the American Football Conference championship game that the Steelers were defeated, 21-17, by the Miami Dolphins.
That was to be the only playoff defeat to be suffered by the Steelers at Three Rivers in the '70s. Their post-season record on their home turf at the end of the decade was a dandy 8-1. The Steelers' home record at Three Rivers during that span was 69-13 - an .841 winning percentage - and they closed the decade by winning 16 straight home games, ten of those, including two playoff contests, in 1979.
During the same period, University of Pittsburgh officials considerably improved Pitt Stadium, to the point where today it's one of the finest college football facilities in the land. It began with a modest refurbishing of the Stadium in 1969, Carl DePasqua's first year as head coach, when the original AstroTurf playing surface was installed. A 440-yard oval tartan track was installed around the football field.
Pitt Stadium was spruced up even more, inside and outside, after the arrival of Coach Johnny Majors for the 1973 season. Wooden benches gave way to aluminum seating in the latter years of the 70s, and the seats were widened - reducing capacity by 1,500 to 56,500. The concrete bowl built in 1925 was brightened by blue and gold paint. A new AstroTurf field was installed in 1978.
Beginning with the national championship season of 1976, the Panthers went unbeaten at home in three of their final four seasons in the '70s. They were 6-0 there during that sensational senior season of Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, and finished the regular schedule by beating Penn State for the first time in ten years in a nationally televised night game at Three Rivers Stadium.
Pitt put together back-to-back 5-0 home records in 1978 and 1979 under Coach Jackie Sherrill. Altogether, they were 20-2 over the final four years of the 70s at Pitt Stadium. During the same decade, Pitt refurbished Fitzgerald Field House, and increased its capacity to 5,308. At times, though, for big games with Duke and Duquesne, for example, there were closer to 7,000 jammed into the campus gym. With the hiring of a new basketball coach, Roy Chipman, at the start of the '80s, Pitt officials reaffirmed their desire to improve the basketball facility, and increase seating capacity to 7,500 in the not-too-distant future.
Taken from "PITTSBURGH: The Story of the City Of Champions"
Edited by Jim O'Brien and Marty Wolfson
Published in 1980