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Tim Benz: Personal memories of Three Rivers Stadium from yesterday’s implosion anniversary

Tim Benz
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Tribune-Review
Three Rivers Stadium implosion seen from Point State Park on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2001.

Monday marked the 18th anniversary of the Three Rivers Stadium implosion.

#OTD: 1994 Divisional Round

#OTD in 1995, we defeated the Browns 29-9 in the 1994 AFC Divisional Round at Three Rivers Stadium.#SteelersHistory

Posted by Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, January 7, 2018

John L. Williams had a 26-yard touchdown run that made the building shake. I’ve never enjoyed being a fan at an NFL game as I did that day. And I was never happier exiting a stadium as I was after that victory.

Everything was going in the right direction. Nothing was going to keep those Steelers from the Super Bowl.

There was no way they could lose the next Sunday in the AFC Champi…

Uh, oh.

My Worst Game at Three Rivers: Steelers lose to the Chargers 17-13 in the AFC Championship Game, Jan. 15, 1995

Yes, I was there. Two rows from the top of Three Rivers on that freakishly warm January day, making things plenty hospitable for the massive underdogs from San Diego.

We don’t have to go down memory lane for this one, do we?

Ok, fine. Alfred Pupunu. Tim McKyer. Tony Martin. Stan Humphries. And you know the rest.

I don’t know what else Dennis Gibson did in his life, but that day he ruined mine.

Obviously, that was my worst day at Three Rivers Stadium. The only day that could’ve possibly been worse was if THIS game had been played at home.

BreamScore

Had that been the case, they could’ve just let the fans tear down the stadium on their own and opened PNC Park eight years earlier.

My First Game at Three Rivers: Pirates beat the Cardinals 6-3, Sept. 24, 1980

If you are like me, you can’t remember what your schedule for the day is supposed to be. But you can remember random sports stuff from the misty-water-colored days of your youth.

I was in first grade. But since my whole childhood was spent obsessing over the Pirates and Steelers, my first game at Three Rivers was an indelible occurrence. It may be the first vivid memory of my life.

Forty years removed from the moment, here’s how I remember it.

My father was considering taking a job in Pittsburgh. So I got to skip school to go with him on the recruiting trip and attend my first Pirates game. The remaining synapses of my impressionable childhood brain see the scene as:

• Being way above home plate

• The Pirates had just won the World Series the year before

• They beat the Cardinals

• I was mad Kent Tekulve didn’t pitch, and Willie Stargell didn’t play

I called my dad last night to see how close I was on the details, and if he could approximate the date of the game.

He said, “Look for a win against St. Louis in September-ish of 1980.”

The box score on Baseball Reference wasn’t hard to find . It was one of just two home games between the Cardinals and Pirates in September 1980.

Sure enough, the Bucs won. Grant Jackson got the save instead of Teke. Pops didn’t play. His season ended in August that year.

But Bill Madlock had three hits. Rick Rhoden got the win and a hit that drove in two.

So I was pretty close.

My Last Game at Three Rivers: Pirates beat the Brewers 3-0, May 14, 2000

Working in Columbus, Ohio, at the time, I was hoping to get out to one more Steelers game before the stadium came down. But the overlap between the Ohio State schedule and the Steelers home dates wouldn’t allow it.

So this warm, sun-splashed afternoon would be my last time in the old building watching the 17-19 Buccos beat the 14-24 Brew Crew, whether I knew it at the time or not.

Our section of Three Rivers was virtually empty at the start of the game. It was me, my girlfriend, and her friend.

And two nuns.

Apparently, they weren’t praying for offense because it was quite the pitchers’ duel between — contain your enthusiasm — Pittsburgh’s Kris Benson and Milwaukee’s Jeff D’Amico (who would become a Pirate in 2003).

Benson was en route to 184 strikeouts in 217 innings that year. He hadn’t had Tommy John surgery yet. Anna Benson hadn’t gone bonkers yet. And it looked like the Pirates were laying the foundation for a team that would do big things in the new stadium.

They were.

It took 14 more years to build off of that foundation, of course. But they were.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.