Not a football story. Not a baseball story. Not a sports story of any
A true vet of the Vet has a story about the stadium itself -- about
something that didn't work quite right, didn't look quite right, didn't
feel quite right, didn't sound quite right, and didn't smell quite right.
A true vet of the Vet spent enough time at the place as a stadium worker
or security guard, or as an employee of one of its tenants, or (in my
case) as someone who regularly chronicled the games and day-to-day
activities of one of its tenants to experience the ungraceful way the
What started out as a state-of-the-art, all-purpose venue 33 years ago
steadily became an old, ugly, rotted-out, concrete shell that will
finally be put out of its misery early on the morning of March 21.
That's when someone will push a button to launch a series of detonations
from 3,000 pounds of explosives. It will take all of 60 seconds for the
former home of the Eagles and Phillies to collapse into a 50-foot-high
pile of smoking rubble.
I spent a few seasons covering the Eagles for the Courier-Post in
South Jersey and returned to the Vet many times while writing for the
Buffalo News and later for NFL.com. I have a story about the
temperamental press box elevator that you always entered at your own
With my column finished and my briefcase packed, I'm stuck square in the
middle of a crowd of bodies as the elevator suddenly stops on the way
down. It isn't supposed to stop. I know that because the befuddled
elevator operator says so while pushing every button on the control
panel in vein.
After a few minutes of going nowhere, we start going up. Fast. We keep
climbing, higher and higher, faster and faster. The collective look of
worry/panic on all of our faces confirms what we're all thinking: "Is
this thing headed into orbit?" Fortunately, we make another stop.
Unfortunately, we are on the 700 level, or the very top, of the Vet.
We sit there for what seems like an eternity, hoping everyone remembered
to use deodorant after that shower that by now was at least several
hours old while praying our steel box doesn't begin a rapid descent.
Finally, members of a maintenance crew pry open the door. We all spill
out. We all hear that they'll "have the problem fixed in a few minutes."
We all roll our eyes and proceed to take the long walk down the ramps to
In 1995, during his first week as the Eagles' offensive coordinator, Jon
Gruden couldn't help but notice the many cats he would see everywhere
around the Vet at all hours of the day and night. After a few days, he
finally asked a security guard, "What's with all the cats?"
"You want cats or rats?" the guard told him. "The cats eat the rats."
As time went on, the cats and rats that Gruden didn't see, he could
hear, crawling up and down the walls and across the ceilings. He could
smell them, too, "along with every other foul odor that just collected
in the place through the years."
|After 33 years of lasting memories, Philadelphia's Veteran Stadium will be leveled for good. || |
"We'd be sitting in a quarterback meeting, watching film, and all of a
sudden an exterminator would just walk in carrying a big metal can with
a hose attached to it," Gruden recalls. "He wouldn't say anything; he'd
just start spraying all over the room. Rodney Peete
(one of the Eagles quarterbacks at the time) would turn to me and ask,
'What's he doing? Should we be breathing that stuff? Is it safe?' I
didn't know what to tell him, but if it did anything to keep the rats
away I was all for it."
Sure, the Vet had problems. Big problems that got bigger as the
structure grew older. In the summer of 2001, it reached the height (or
depth) of embarrassment when a preseason game between the Eagles and
Baltimore Ravens was called off because the proliferation of ruts under
the synthetic turf made for unsafe playing conditions. Rowdy fan
behavior, which at one point prompted the need for a judge and makeshift
court to be present during football games, is as large a part of the
Vet's legacy as any great performances on the field.
The Eagles and Phillies have much nicer digs today. One glimpse of
Lincoln Financial Field from an airplane window, and it's hard to
imagine that the Eagles actually once called the Vet their home.
But I'm sorry. My sentimental side simply won't allow me to forget that
that decrepit dump of a stadium is where I:
Saw Dick Vermeil cry for the first time.
Marveled as Wilbert Montgomery tore through the Dallas Cowboys for a
42-yard touchdown on the second play of the 1980 NFC Championship
Game, then witnessed the Eagles and their fans celebrate (yes, I said
celebrate) a trip to the Super Bowl.
Joined the large gathering of reporters that could always be found in
front of the dressing cubicle of Ron Jaworski, the quarterback we all
knew would one day make the great football analyst he has become.
Watched Tony Franklin always remove two shoes after practice and games
even though he only wore one when he lined up a kick.
Met John Travolta after he made a surprise visit to the Eagles'
training room for treatment of an ankle injury suffered while running
through Philadelphia's 30th Street Station during the filming of the
1981 movie Blow Out.
Rubbed elbows with Red Smith, who was in the final years of his
legendary sportswriting career, as well as with great Philly
sportswriters such as Bill Lyon, Ray Didinger, Gary Smith, Stan
Hochman and Mark Whicker.
The Vet is also where my father took me to see one of my first NFL
games. We lived in upstate New York at the time, but I was a rabid fan
of the Los Angeles Rams and their visit to Philadelphia in the early
'70s provided a golden opportunity to see my heroes from the West Coast
in person. With my father's recent passing, it's a memory I treasure now
more than ever.