American Football Wiki
Three Rivers Stadium
Three Rivers Stadium
Location 600 Stadium Circle
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15212
Broke ground April 26, 1968
Opened July 16, 1970
Closed December 16, 2000
Demolished February 11, 2001
Owner City of Pittsburgh
Surface Tartan Turf (1970–1982)
AstroTurf (1983–2000)
Construction cost US$55 million
Architect Deeter Ritchy Sipple, Michael Baker, Jr. and Osborn Engineering
Tenants Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB) (1970–2000)
Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL) (1970–2000)
Pittsburgh Maulers (USFL) (1984)
Pittsburgh Panthers (NCAA) (2000)
Capacity Football: 59,000
Baseball: 47,952

Three Rivers Stadium was a multi-purpose stadium located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1970 to 2000. It was home to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the city's Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise and National Football League (NFL) franchise respectively.

Built as a replacement to Forbes Field, which opened in 1909, the US$55 million multi-purpose facility was designed to maximize efficiency. Ground was broken in April 1968 and an oft behind-schedule construction plan lasted for 29 months.[1] The stadium opened on July 16, 1970 when the Pirates played their first game. In the 1971 World Series, Three Rivers Stadium hosted the first World Series game played at night. The following year the stadium was the site of the Immaculate Reception. The final game in the stadium was won by the Steelers on December 16, 2000. Three Rivers Stadium also hosted the Pittsburgh Maulers of the United States Football League and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers football team for a single season each.[2][3]

After its closing, Three Rivers Stadium was imploded in 2001, and the Pirates and Steelers each moved into newly built stadiums.


Planning and construction[]

A proposal for a new sports stadium in Pittsburgh was first made in 1948; however, plans did not attract much attention until the late 1950s.[4] The Pittsburgh Pirates played their home games at Forbes Field, which opened in 1909,[5] and was the oldest venue in the National League (Chicago's Wrigley Field was next-oldest, having been built in 1914).[4] The Pittsburgh Steelers, who had moved from Forbes Field to Pitt Stadium in 1964, were large supporters of the project.[4] For their part, according to longtime Pirates announcer Bob Prince, the Pirates wanted a bigger place to play in order to draw more revenue.[6]

In 1958, the Pirates sold Forbes to the University of Pittsburgh for $2 million. The university wanted the land for expanded graduate facilities.[6] As part of the deal, the university leased Forbes back to the Pirates until a replacement could be built.[7] An early design of the stadium included plans to situate the stadium atop a bridge across the Monongahela River. It was to call for a 70,000 seat stadium with hotels, marina and even 100 lane bowling alley.[8] Plans of the "Stadium over the Monongahela" were eventually not pursued.[9] A design was presented in 1958 which featured an open center field design—through which fans could view Pittsburgh's "Golden Triangle".[10] A site on the city's Northside was approved on August 10, 1958, due to land availability and parking space,[10] the latter of which had been a problem at Forbes Field.[4] The same site had hosted Exposition Park, which the Pirates had left in 1909.[11] The stadium was located in a hard-to-access portion of downtown, making it hard in later years to get in before games and leave after games.[6] Political debate continued over the North Side Sports Stadium and the project was often behind schedule and over-budget.[10] Arguments were made by commissioner Dr. William McCelland that the Pirates and Steelers should fund a higher percentage of the $33 million project. Due to lack of support, however, the arguments faded.[10]

Ground for Three Rivers Stadium was broken on April 25, 1968.[10] Due to the Steelers' suggestions, the stadium's design was changed to enclose center field.[10] Construction continued, though it became plagued with problems such as thieves stealing materials from the building site.[10] In November 1969, Arthur Gratz asked the city for an additional $3 million, which was granted.[12] In January 1970, the opening target date of the stadium was set for May 29, however, because of a failure to install the lights on schedule, opening day was pushed back to July 16.[12] The stadium was named due to its location at the confluence of the Allegheny River and Monongahela River, which forms the Ohio River. It would sometimes be called The House That Clemente Built after Pirates' right fielder Roberto Clemente.[13]

Design and alterations[]

File:Pittsburgh Stadium.JPG

Three Rivers Stadium in 1996 during a Steelers game

Three Rivers Stadium was similar in design to other stadiums built in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Riverfront Stadium, the Houston Astrodome, and Busch Memorial Stadium, which were designed as multi-purpose facilities to maximize efficiency.[14][15] Due to their similar design these stadiums were nicknamed "cookie-cutter" ballparks.[6] The sight lines were more favorable to football; almost 70 percent of the seats in the baseball configuration were in foul territory.[6] It originally seated 50,611 for baseball,[6] but several expansions over the years brought it to 58,729.[16] In 1993, the Pirates placed tarps on most of the upper deck to create a better baseball atmosphere, reducing capacity to 47,687.[6][17][18] The stadium originally contained Tartan Turf, though it was replaced by a number of other surfaces including AstroTurf.[19] The field originally used "Gamesaver vacuum vehicles" to dry the surface, though they were replaced by an underground drainage system.[19] In 1975, the baseball field's outfield fences were moved ten feet closer to home plate, in an attempt to boost home run numbers.[19] The bullpens were moved to multiple locations throughout the stadium's history; however, their first position was also their final one—beyond the right-field fence.[19]

Due to Three Rivers Stadium's multi-purpose design, bands including Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones & The Who hosted concerts at the venue.[20] [21] In 1985, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band hosted the largest concert in Pittsburgh history, when they performed for 65,935 onlookers.[22] And in 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated their second Stanley Cup victory at the Stadium.[21] The stadium hosted various Jehovah's Witnesses conventions, including international conventions in 1973 and 1978, and a centennial conference in 1984. A Billy Graham Crusade took place at Three Rivers in June, 1993.[23] The venue also served as the premiere of the 1994 Disney film Angels in the Outfield which, despite being based around the then-Disney owned California Angels, paid homage to the original 1951 film, which featured the Pirates in heavenly need.[24]

Three Rivers Stadium had a beverage contract with Coca-Cola throughout its history. It was during the Steelers' stay in Three Rivers that the now famous "Mean Joe" Greene Coke commercial aired, leading to a longstanding relationship between the two. When Heinz Field opened, Coca-Cola also assumed the beverage contract for that stadium (the Pirates signed a deal with Pepsi for PNC Park), and also became the primary sponsor for the Steelers' own hall of fame, the Coca-Cola Great Hall.


In September 1991, planning began to build a new baseball park for the Pittsburgh Pirates.[25] As talks continued, a proposal to re-model Three Rivers Stadium into a full-time football stadium was made.[26] However, Steelers ownership did not support the idea, stating that a new venue would be needed for the franchise to remain competitive.[27] On July 9, 1998, the Allegheny Regional Asset District board approved an $809 million plan which would fund the Pirates' PNC Park and the Steelers' Heinz Field.[28] Ground was broken for the new stadiums in 1999.[29][30] On October 1, 2000, the Pirates were defeated 10–9 by the Chicago Cubs in their final game at Three Rivers Stadium.[18] After the game, former Pirate Willie Stargell threw out the ceremonial last pitch.[31] Two months later on December 16, 2000, the Steelers concluded play at Three Rivers Stadium, with a 24-3 victory over the Washington Redskins.[32]

Three Rivers Stadium was imploded on February 11, 2001 at 7:59 a.m. on a chilly 21 °F day. Over 20,000 people viewed the implosion from Point State Park. Another 3,000-4,000 viewing from atop Mount Washington and an uncounted number of people viewed the demolition from various high points across the city. Mark Loizeaux of Controlled Demolition, Inc. pushed the button that set off the 19-second implosion, while Elizabeth and Joseph King pushed the "ceremonial old fashioned dynamite plunger".[33] The demolition cost $5.1 million and used 4,800 pounds of explosive.[34][35] With the newly constructed Heinz Field only 80 feet away, effects from the blast were a concern. Doug Loizeaux, vice president of Controlled Demolition, Inc., was happy to report that there was no debris within 40 feet of Heinz Field.

Stadium usage[]


Three Rivers Stadium opened on July 16, 1970, when the Pittsburgh Pirates lost to the Cincinnati Reds, 3–2, in front of 48,846 spectators.[17][36] The first pitch was thrown by Dock Ellis—a strike—to Ty Cline.[37] The first hit in the stadium was by Pittsburgh's Richie Hebner, in the bottom of the first inning.[37] The Pirates lifted their local blackout policy so that local fans could see the inaugural game.[38] In the Pirates' lowest season of attendance, 1985, an average of 9,085 people attended each game.[39] The average attendance would peak in 1991, when Pittsburgh attracted 25,498 spectators to an average game.[39] Game one of the 1970 National League Championship Series, at Three Rivers Stadium, was the first postseason baseball game to be played on an artificial surface.[9] The following season, the Pirates advanced to the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. Three Rivers Stadium hosted game four, in which the Pirates defeated the Orioles in the first ever World Series game played at night.[9] Pittsburgh hosted its third Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 1974. The National League won the game by a score of 7–2. Pirates' pitcher Ken Brett was the game winning pitcher.[40] Twenty years later, the midsummer classic returned to Three Rivers Stadium. In front of 59,568 spectators, the largest crowd to ever attend a baseball game at the stadium,[17] the National League won 8-7 in the 10th inning. On July 6, 1980, the Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs 5-4 in 20 innings—the most innings ever played at the stadium. The longest game at the stadium was played on August 6, 1989, when Jeff King hit a walk-off home run 5 hours and 42 minutes into the 18-inning contest, as the Pirates once again beat the Cubs 5-4.[41] On September 30, 1972, Pirates' right-fielder Roberto Clemente got his 3,000th hit at Three Rivers Stadium, three months before his death.[9]

Bobby Bonilla hit one of the only thirteen home runs ever hit into the upper deck of Three Rivers Stadium, and one of the six to the right-field side. Willie Stargell is the all-time leader in upper deck shots at the stadium, hitting four of the remaining five right-field blasts; Mark Whiten hit the other. The left-field upper deck had been reached by Jeff Bagwell twice, and Bob Robertson, Greg Luzinski, Howard Johnson, Glenallen Hill and Devon White (his home run struck the facade) once each.[42]



The Pittsburgh Steelers played their first game in Three Rivers Stadium on September 20, 1970—a 19–7 loss to the Houston Oilers.[18] Throughout their 31 seasons in Three Rivers Stadium, the Steelers posted a record of 182–72, including a 13-5 playoff record. The Steelers sold out every home game from 1972 through the closing of the stadium, a streak which continues through 2008.[43] The largest attendance for a football game was on January 15, 1995, when 61,545 spectators witnessed the Steelers lose to the San Diego Chargers.[18] On December 23, 1972, Three Rivers Stadium was site to the Immaculate Reception, which became regarded as the greatest play in NFL history.[44] Three Rivers Stadium hosted seven AFC Championship Games from 1972 to 1998,[18][45] the Steelers won four.[46] In the 1995 AFC Championship Game, the Steelers' Randy Fuller deflected a Hail Mary pass intended for Indianapolis Colts receiver Aaron Bailey as time expired, to send the franchise to their 5th Super Bowl.[45][45] A Steelers symbol recognized worldwide, The Terrible Towel debuted on December 27, 1975 at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers would move to Heinz Field after it was closed.[47]

The Three Rivers Stadium is also part of a sequence from The Song Remains the Same (1976), a documentary of Led Zeppelin's 1973 tour. Many other Pittsburgh landmarks are also shown, including the Fort Pitt Tunnel, the old Pittsburgh International Airport (1952-1992) and Fort Pitt Bridge.


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  25. Bouma, Ben (1998). On Deck: the Official Magazine of the Pittsburgh Pirates pp. 42–8. Retrieved on 2008-07-20.
  26. Cook, Ron. "Plan B flawed; option is worse", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1998-06-22. Retrieved on 2008-04-05. 
  27. Bouchette, Ed. "Heinz Field: Standing up to the competition", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2001-08-24. Retrieved on 2008-08-05. 
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  36. Koppett, Leonard. "Pirates Open Their New Park, But Reds Celebrate 3-2 Victory", Sports, The New York Times, 1970-07-17. Retrieved on 2008-08-07. 
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  42. [1]
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  46. NFL & Pro Football League Encyclopedia. Retrieved on 22 February 2010.
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 Diamonds: The Evolution of the Ballpark,Gershman, Michael (1993). . Houghton Mifflin.  ISBN 978-0-395-61212-5.
 Take Me Out to the Ballpark,Leventhal, Josh; Jessica MacMurray (2000). . Workman Publishing Company.  ISBN 978-1-57912-112-9.
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  • Mehno, John (1995). Pittsburgh Pirates Official 1995 Commemorative Yearbook. Sports Media, Inc.. Retrieved on 2008-08-07.


External links[]


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