Three Rivers Stadium
(April 1968 - February 2001)

Three Rivers Stadium in daylight   Three Rivers Stadium at night

Three Rivers Stadium was one of the main items in the transformation of the Pittsburgh riverfront from an industrial center into a showcase attraction to highlight the Golden Triangle. Conceived in the 1950s during Renaissance I as a replacement for aging Forbes Field, many different designs were debated.

One interesting design submitted in 1958 envisioned a stadium built on the Monongahela River. The Smithfield Street Bridge would be replaced by a massive span, complete with adjoining parking and hotel, along with the stadium. The complex would be built entirely above water.

Proposed New Sports Stadium - 1958
A proposal submitted in 1958 for a Pittsburgh stadium built entirely above the Monongahela River.

Eventually, the north shore was chosen as the spot for the new "Pittsburgh Stadium." The complex would include hotels, restaurants and a riverfront park to complement the new state-of-the-art multi-purpose stadium.

The original prototype was a bit different from the final design. It was round with an open end facing the city. Due to cost constraints, this design was modified into the cookie-cutter shape.

Pittsburgh Stadium original prototype.
The original prototype model for Pittsburgh Stadium. The open end was closed in the final design.

Although the hotel and restaurant development never materialized, the stadium that was to be the centerpiece of the north shore renaissance was built. Ground was broken in April of 1968 and construction was completed in June of 1970. The cost of the stadium was $55 million.

In between the ground-breaking and the completion of construction, the structure was given a new name, "Three Rivers Stadium." The Pirates left Forbes Field after sixty-one years and moved into their new home in July 1970. The Steelers eagerly followed that fall.

Inaugural Game Ticket - July 16, 1970.

Championship Turf

The Pirates made playoff appearances in five of their first six seasons at Three Rivers. Manager Danny Murtaugh and "The Lumber Company" captured a World Series title in 1971. Pirate legend Roberto Clemente got his 3000th and final hit during the last home game of the 1972 season.

Pitcher John Candelaria threw the first no-hitter in 1976 and the Buccos gained another title in 1979 with Manager Chuck Tanner, Captain Willie Stargell and "The Family".

The first game at Three Rivers Stadium - July 16, 1970.
The first game played in Three Rivers Stadium took place on July 16, 1970.

The Pirates of the early 1990s again brought the National League Championship series to the home turf. Manager Jim Leyland and the "Killer Bees", featuring Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla, came up short of the World Series three consecutive years. The 1993 season was the final time the Pirates compiled a winning record at Three Rivers Stadium.

Playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium - October 9, 1991.
The blimp flies over Pittsburgh while Three Rivers Stadium hosts a National League
Championship game between the Pirates and Braves on October 9, 1991.

The Steelers also made the most of their new home field. Franco Harris made the Immaculate Reception at home during the 1972 playoffs, arguably the greatest play in NFL history.

In 1974, Coach Chuck Noll and his gridiron juggernaut captured the first of four Vince Lombardi Trophies earned during the 1970s. The Steelers engaged in three epic AFC championship games against the Oakland Raiders (1975) and Houston Oilers (1978 and 1979).

The Pittsburgh Pirates - 1979    The Pittsburgh Steelers - 1979
In 1979, all eyes were on the Pirates, the Steelers, and the "City of Champions".

In what many called home field advantage, these battles were all fought on frozen turf; perfect Steeler football weather. The Steelers adorned the stadium facade with the Roman Numerals IX, X, XIII and XIV. Pittsburgh became known as the "City of Champions". Three Rivers Stadium, now an icon to sports fans around the globe, was championship turf and the place to be.

Houston Oiler Coach Bum Phillips, after failing in the AFC championship two years in a row, uttered in frustration, "The road to the Super Bowl runs through Pittsburgh."

1970s Pittsburgh Steelers Collage

During the 1970s, no truer words were spoken. The Steel Curtain, led by "Mean" Joe Greene, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, and L.C. Greenwood was adept at stopping all traffic. In the 1975 Pro Bowl, eight of eleven defensive starters were Pittsburgh Steelers!

Then, in the 1990s, the Steelers brought the playoff magic back to Pittsburgh under Coach Bill Cowher with an AFC championship win over the Indianapolis Colts in 1995. The team, led by Rod Woodson and Greg Lloyd, failed to bring home one-for-the-thumb, losing to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.

Three Rivers Stadium model.

By the turn of the century, cookie-cutter type multi-purpose stadiums like Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium and Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium were no longer financially or aesthetically pleasing to the professional sports world.

On February 11, 2001, the 33-year reign of Pittsburgh's Stadium of Champions came to an end. Three Rivers Stadium came crashing down in a thunderous, controlled implosion to make way for the Pirates PNC Park and the Steelers Heinz Field.

Pirates game at Three Rivers Stadium - 1974.
The Pittsburgh Pirates play the Montreal Expos at Three Rivers Stadium in 1974.

Wikipedia: Three Rivers Stadium.

Three Rivers Stadium and downtown Pittsburgh   Three Rivers Stadium and downtown Pittsburgh

The Beginning and The End

The north shore location that will some day
be home to Three Rivers Stadium
The North Shore location, in the late-1950s, that will a decade later be the site of Three Rivers Stadium.

The initial clearing of the land
on the north shore that will be the
site of the new Pittsburgh Stadium.
In 1963, the initial clearing of the land on the north shore began.

The initial clearing of the land
on the north shore that will be the
site of the new Pittsburgh Stadium.
The North Shore in January 1964. The stadium would be located between the two bridges.

Commemorative Zippo lighter
from the stadium grounbreaking.
A commemorative Zippo lighter given to
Post-Gazette writer Dan McGibbeny.

Stadium construction in May 1968.
By April 1968 it was time to begin work on Pittsburgh's new sports stadium. Visible is the circular foundation.

One year after the groundbreaking the
stadium is taking shape.
One year after the groundbreaking, on April 20, 1969, the stadium is taking shape.

Stadium construction in 1969.

Three Rivers Stadium construction - December 1969.
Things had progressed nicely by December 10, 1969, when the last of the upper frame was lowered into place.
The U.S. Steel Building, shown in the background, is under construction at the time.

Three Rivers Stadium - Spring 1970.
Three Rivers Stadium in the early spring of 1970. It took two years to complete construction.
It took nearly as long to reach a final concensus on a new name. After much
deliberation, the agreed upon name was "Three Rivers Stadium."

Three Rivers Stadium
Seven years after the initial clearing of land on the North Shore, on July 16, 1970, the Pirates played their
first game on their new home field. The stadium would stand for thirty-one years.

Fast Forward 33 Years ...

Four Super Bowls - Two World Series

... and a Lifetime Worth of Pittsburgh Sports Memories

* * * * * *

Sunday, February 11, 2001

Three Rivers Stadium - 2001.
Curious onlookers gathers at the Point to watch the Three Rivers Stadium implosion.

Three Rivers Stadium - 2001.
Fireworks were set off at the same time as the implosion.

What began as a heap of rubble in 1963
became another heap of rubble in 2001.
Three Rivers Stadium, once the pride of Pittsburgh, disappears in a heap of rubble.

Three Rivers Stadium - 2001.
Dust and smoke from the former Three Rivers Stadium rises over the city of Pittsburgh.

The Implosion of Three Rivers Stadium
What began as a heap of rubble in 1963 was reduced to another heap of rubble in 2001.

Four Ballparks on the North Shore (1890-present)

Exposition Park
The four stadiums that have occupied the north shore since 1890. Exposition Park stood until 1915.
Three Rivers was there from 1968 to 2001. The current stadiums,
PNC Park and Heinz Field,
were both built in 2000. Each of the stadiums has a rich Pittsburgh sports history.
Thanks to Doug Brendel for creating the four-ballpark image.

Childhood Memories at Three Rivers Stadium

Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and ... me!

A boyhood dream come true! Having a grandfather who was a sportswriter had its benefits, and knowing Mr. Klingensmith was icing on the cake. On this special day I met Manny Sanguillen, Jose Pagan and Willie Stargell. I played catch with Dave Giusti and got tips on throwing a palmball, his signature pitch.

This photo with Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Clemente ranks among my most treasured moments. The Pirates were on their way to a 1971 World Series triumph and I had just rubbed hands with two future Hall of Famers!

Years later, in September 2010, I was privileged to have the opportunity of writing an article covering the unveiling of the Bill Mazeroski statue at PNC Park. Shortly afterwards, Bill Mazeroski was kind enough to sign the photo.

Doug's Big Moment

Here is another cherished memory of Three Rivers Stadium. The date was June 29, 1973. It was a night game. Pirate batter Bob Robertson hit a foul ball high into the lights along the first base railing. Montreal Expo first baseman Mike Jorgensen and eleven year old Doug Brendel both went for the ball. Brendel edged out Jorgensen, caught the ball and kept a Pirate rally alive. For his efforts, Doug's achievement was duly noted on the outfield scoreboard and he was given an Honorary Pirate Contract. Doug still has the contract and the ball.

Doug Brendel -
Honorary Pirate.

Pittsburgh Pirate Yearbooks/Scorebooks (1951-1995)

Pirate Yearbooks 1951-1996
A collage of Pittsburgh Pirates yearbooks, and a few scorebooks, covering the years 1951 through 1995.
Click on image for a larger file showing the detailed artwork by such artists as Jack Berger and Cy Hungerford.

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