Three Rivers Stadium — Section 662, Row R, Seats 11 & 12

Many of you reading this can insert your own favorite seat assignment into the title of this post and write about your memories at a particular sport, concert, or other large venue.  The title refers to my late father’s season ticket assignment for the Pittsburgh Steelers at old Three Rivers Stadium (TRS) between 1970 and 1990.

TRS was built in 1970 as a multi-function stadium, which permitted American football and baseball to be played in the facility.  Almost the entire bottom section of seating was on rollers so they could be moved to allow fans better viewing of the games, depending on what was being played.  Many cities around that time were going to this one stadium concept, and many towns including Pittsburgh learned in hindsight these stadiums created poor viewing for baseball games and limited the options of each team to increase revenue (They had to share almost everything!).  TRS was demolished in 2001 and replaced by two separate stadiums, Heinz Field (For the Steelers) and PNC Park (For the baseball Pirates, and THIS stadium is a marvel: A modern sports wonder of the world).

During the 1970’s my Dad watched the Steelers rise from the usual bottom-dwellers of the National Football League (NFL) to the best team in the NFL.  Between 1974 and 1979 the Steelers won their first four championships after winning zero in their first 41 years of football.  On December 23, 1972, my Dad was there when star player Franco Harris made the “Immaculate Reception” touchdown catch, which is arguably the greatest touchdown ever scored in the 96 year history of the NFL.  He sat in seat 11 that day, which would become my seat when I started going to games.

My first game in these seats was in 1980 when I was five years old.  I don’t remember much from that season, but I do remember my first game being against the Cincinnati Bengals.  It was the year before the Bengals switched to their tiger-striped helmets, which they still wear to this day.  I remember thinking how boring their helmets were when I sat there: They were plain orange and “BENGALS” was written across each side of the helmet.  Look them up!  They were bad.  I might have only went to one or two games that first year, because my Dad wasn’t sure if I would like going to TRS with 55,000 other people at such a young age.

In 1981 I went to the majority of the games with my Dad.  The 600-level seats were the highest seats in TRS, and row R was five or six rows from the top of the stadium.  You could see the field well except for the one corner of the east end zone.  A brand new facility, and they still couldn’t alleviate spectator blind spots in viewing baseball OR football.  We used to pack food and hot beverages into a huge handle bag and take it into TRS, which kept us from having to buy all of the overpriced concessions at the games.  This practice of bringing in outside food and drinks to sporting events in the U.S. has since been policed to the brink of extinction, starting in the mid-1990’s.

Each year, there was one home exhibition game along with eight regular season games.  When the Steelers played on a Sunday or Monday night, my Dad always sold the tickets since I had to get up for school the next day and my Dad had to head out to work early.  He never had trouble finding a buyer, even though the bulk of the 1980’s was a decade to forget in the annals of Steelers history.  Out of the 70 to 75 Sunday afternoon games they played during the 1980’s, I was there for about 65 of them.  My Mom or one of my brothers would occasionally go with my Dad, but I was the person in the house who followed the team closely, even more than my Dad.  It was a great experience sharing that time with my late father, even if some of the game outcomes were terrible for the home team.

Our last game in those seats wasn’t sentimental, because at the time we didn’t know it would be our last game in that space we occupied for so many years.  After reviewing the 1990 season, I can’t even be sure I attended the last three home games.  I remember being there for the 20-9 victory against Atlanta, which took place in the middle of the season.  With player salaries on the rise the Steelers also started to raise ticket prices.  During the 1990 season, my Dad sold a few Sunday afternoon games to our neighbors to offset the cost of the ticket increase.  He wanted to continue to do this into 1991, but the Steelers looked to be a poor team (They were) and the demand for tickets was very low.  The economic recession put a tighter financial strain on my parents (My mother was a stay-at-home parent at the time), so my Dad could not afford the risk of having to pay $700 to go to TRS.  In 1991, $700 was probably equal to about $2,000 in 2016.  So in unspectacular fashion, my Dad decided to let go of the tickets.

Of course, the Steelers got better in 1992, but the waiting list for season tickets was probably around fifteen years at that time.  In many other markets my father could have simply renewed the season tickets in a different seat assignment, but we were in the wrong town to have this as a solution.  I went to three more games with my Dad in his life: A 1991 game against Washington (Tickets courtesy of his work, he paid for three and we took a friend of mine), a 1992 game against Detroit (Again from his work, we took one of my brothers that day) and a 2001 game against the New York Jets at Heinz Field.  That time one of my brothers got the tickets through his work.  Heinz Field was fine, but the atmosphere was not the same as old Three Rivers.  It had more of a corporate feel to the crowd, since ticket prices were so high that none of the real supporters could afford to go to the games.  To this day, that Jets game is my last Steelers game in attendance.

In a surreal moment that I get chills about to this day, my late father actually had a chance to say goodbye to our seats.  From 1993 until his retirement in 2005, my Dad worked in pest control after he lost his job in the insurance industry.  The company he worked for handled many large accounts, including TRS and the Civic Arena, where the hockey Penguins played.  In late 2000, after the final home game for the Steelers, my Dad was sent in, alone, to set up bait traps to catch the big river rats before the Three Rivers implosion in January 2001 (The Steelers were afraid the rats would survive and then run into the new stadium next door).  He started at the bottom of the stadium and had noticed that the construction workers ripping up the field were away for some unknown reason.  He was alone in the seats and starting taking pictures with the camera that he brought since this might be the last time he would be in there.  Actually, my Dad might have been the last non-employee, non-demolition crew visitor to Three Rivers.

Since nobody was around, he made his way up the ramps to section 662.  He snapped a photo of the steps reminding me of the climb we made up to our seats in row R, which seemed endless when I was a young boy.  He snapped a photo of the seats, two badly stained orange beauties with the seat numbers on the top right corner.  He sat down in seat 12, and snapped a photo of the view we shared for ten years, and the view he had for twenty years.  He then had a smoke and sat there for minutes in absolute silence except for the hum of highway traffic outside.  He then descended the steps, went to work on the opposite side of the stadium, and left to come home.  He went back before the blast to gather the traps on the bottom levels, but the top levels were blocked because they were being prepped for the charge of explosives that would take down TRS in a few weeks.

Many season ticket holders tried to unbolt their seats before the final home game, but the Steelers wouldn’t allow that to happen for various reasons, including the potential for a riot, which I would have bet on if the odds were 5-1.  Aside from the torn up football field below, my father’s final view of Three Rivers from section 662, row R, seats 11 and 12 was serene and unblemished, a fitting farewell to our Sunday sanctuary of sport.


The Leather Pants Incident Of 1997

I always loved music from the beginning of my childhood, but I never invested much time into making music a passion of mine.  My parents exposed me to many aspects of American culture, but it never really included going to concert halls, buying cassette tapes of modern music and learning to play an instrument.  My Mom didn’t have any hobbies, and my Dad had season tickets to the Pittsburgh Steelers for many years, so a lot of our disposable income and time revolved around sports if we went to a large venue.  Which I was fine with since I loved sports.

We always hear about and see examples in media where regular schmos with money get to meet or get close to famous people when the true followers of these famous people never get the chance to be close to their idols.  And sometimes the regular schmo (In this case me) doesn’t have money but instead inherits a situation that permits this to happen.

In 1997, I was still dating my girlfriend from high school.  I’ll refer to her as “Peach” from now on.  Peach was going to college north of Pittsburgh and was living off campus with a few roommates.  One roommate was a girl who grew up in England who we’ll call “Spice”, since the English group The Spice Girls were at their peak of popularity then.  They also had a mutual friend from college who used to hang out over their place all the time, and I’ll call her “#3” to keep the story moving along.

Spice had a boyfriend who was a big Aerosmith fan.  Aerosmith came to Pittsburgh’s old Civic Arena in 1997 and he somehow got a hold of seven tickets.  These tickets were good seats, far back but off the floor, just enough that you could see everything.  The seven that went were me, Peach, #3, Spice, Spice’s boyfriend and another couple.  Spice had the idea for her, Peach and #3 to go to the concert wearing skin tight black leather pants.  I have to admit, they looked good and I looked like a dope next to Peach.  So we settle into our seats, the opening act of Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band starts their set, and Spice wants to run outside and catch a smoke before Aerosmith goes on.  Peach and #3 accompanied her down the aisle and off they went while the rest of us hung out in our seats.

Spice’s boyfriend got concerned when the girls weren’t back after the third song of the opening act, and I told him they probably ditched us for some better-looking guys since everyone downstairs with good vision could see them walking around.  It turned out that I was half-right.

About thirty minutes later, the girls come running back to us screaming incoherently and it was clear they were happy.  Spice stated that some of the Aerosmith roadies saw them and gave the girls better seats for the show.  Somehow (And to this day I do not know who bargained this), the girls convinced the roadies to give them two more tickets, one for me and one for Spice’s boyfriend.  Thank God he got a ticket, because he was the reason we were there in the first place.

So we told the other couple that came with us that we would meet them after the show, and they were fine with that.  We start our walk to the front of the floor, and an usher meets us halfway back to verify we are supposed to be there.  He leads us to our seats while a few fans spray the girls with whistles and calls.

Front row.  THEE front row.  It was a great show.  Spice’s boyfriend was so pumped up from being that close to Aerosmith I thought his head was going to explode.  I don’t know if he knew Spice was flirting with their young keyboardist, or the fact that guitarist Tom Hamilton camped out in front of the girls for four or five songs.  I could care less since I knew I was way over my head.  During a Joe Perry guitar solo, the lights dimmed around the other parts of the stage but I was close enough to watch Steven Tyler fall off of it and into the arms of two security guards in the pit.  Before the crowd knew he was missing from the stage, the guards threw him back up there like he was a rag doll.  He landed perfectly on his feet and took off running like it never even happened.   Ten minutes later he’s singing right in front of me and while I’m trying to smack his hand, he moves to his left because he sees the girls!  I couldn’t blame the guy.

I couldn’t hear for three days after the show, probably due to me sitting in front of some rather large sound equipment for two hours (It was LOUD.  If it was The Who I would have lost my hearing for good).  There were about 15,000 people at that show, and out of all of them I was the 14,972nd ranked Aerosmith fan.  The 14,972nd ranked Aerosmith fan with one of the 36 closest seats in the arena, thanks to a few roadies that were hypnotized by the leather pants of Peach, Spice and #3.

Self-Esteem At Age 40

For the first 16 to 20 years of our lives, many of us go through the same challenges when we attempt to define who we are as individuals, what is expected of ourselves in society and how our experiences reflect upon the people in our lives and the world in general.  Family and friends usually have a lasting impression on us from the very beginning, providing insight into what it is to be human.  In the beginning, choices are made for us.

I grew up in the same home for the first 23 years of my life.  My parents were raised Roman Catholic, so I was Roman Catholic.  I went to private Catholic school until it became too expensive to attend.  Why not public school from the very beginning?  Because my parents never went to public school.  The neighborhood was very blue-collar meaning there were many people working hard jobs that required intense labor.  The mentality was very simple-minded thus my thinking became the same, and the expectations of my life going forward mirrored what other kids my pocket of town had for themselves.  I was confident that I could be a success at anything, because I thrived in my own little comfortable square of Simpletown, USA.  I really didn’t know the world at all, and yet I was about to go out into it after graduating from high school.

After generating mediocre academic results in high school (Remember, I thrived in my mind during my time at home), I had to go to community college first before going for a four-year degree.  Since my parents never went to college, this was the first life experience that was truly my idea and foreign to many of my friends back in the neighborhood.  And it turned out to be a terrible experience because I wasn’t prepared at all for the responsibilities of college.  My confidence was shattered, and I felt like I was always destined to fail when attempting to do new things on my own.  I licked my wounds for some time.  Instead of trying college again, I worked one or two jobs at a time, working in four different places over the span of 11 months.

One random day when working in the warehouse at a retail job, I had the most vivid epiphany of my life.  I can still see the roof above the back aisle of that warehouse if I close my eyes.  I simply said to myself, “Hey, try school again.  You failed at school because you jumped into the experience blind.  Now, see what you have to do to make it work.”  So I decided to try school again.  This time, my approach would be different based on the results of my previous failures.

During the time I was planning my return to school, I became very aware that my self-esteem could be tested in a negative way every time I had a setback involving an experience that was outside of the comfort zone that was set up for me during my first 19 years of life.  Instead of being afraid of the potential setbacks, I embraced them.  And once I embraced them, my world expanded beyond the scope of my previous 19 years.

This approach went beyond school.  When something occurred that sucked the confidence out of me, I would ask myself questions like, “Was this your fault?  If so, how to you keep this from happening again?  If another person hurt you, can the relationship be mended?  Can we co-exist?”  The assessments I made over the years were done to help me understand the situations I found myself in, not to dwell on them.

After taking this proactive outlook involving my ever-changing self-esteem, my independence flourished.  Despite many setbacks, I accomplished many things that my high school self would have never envisioned.  While working and going to school, I moved out on my own at 23 and never returned to live at home.  I continued working and going to school, earning my four-year degree at 28.  I met a girl that grew up about 20 miles from me and we moved in together.  When she expressed the desire to pursue her doctorate, I decided to move away with her to help out with the expenses (And of course because I loved her.  Duh.).

I was very lucky to secure a job near her school while she was attending.  It was a rural area, so I have to admit I was worried about what I was going to do for income. I left that job when we returned home two years later when her classroom portion of her work was complete.  When we came back, her job prospects were rising, and mine took some time to find traction.

It was 2008, and an economic recession hit the job market hard in the U.S.  I took whatever job that I could get just to pay the bills.  What happened over the next two years was a job odyssey that I would not wish on anyone.  Five jobs in two years.  As I moved from one position to the next, my self-esteem would fall lower and lower.  Doubt crept into my life again, and it was the same emotions that I felt all those years ago when I dropped out of college.  Only this time, I wasn’t living with Mom and Dad.  My girlfriend was now my wife, and we had thousands of dollars of school loans to pay and many other monetary responsibilities.  No matter how much I struggled, I still reflected on my past experiences to find answers to my worries.

In 2010, I found work at a place with good working hours, modest pay and good benefits.  It was a very stable job and I was fine with it despite the usual drama from co-workers (Whatever, I remembered high school.  We all deal with this at work).  Since I landed this job, we bought a house, got two cats, had a son and our finances stabilized.  Well, stabilized as much as we can with school debt.  So, happy ending, right?

I was let go from said job in 2015.  All the emotions of self-doubt, depression, worry, anger and frustration started to settle into my brain again.  Even at 40, even when I overcame so many obstacles before to attain some level of success and stability, I felt like I accomplished nothing.

The stakes are much higher for me now than when I was a silly high school kid, one that I don’t even recognize anymore.  But, I will ask the same questions of myself that I did over twenty years ago, and searching for answers so I can learn from the experience .  As always, I am ready for the challenge.