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Memories not all bad for this vet of the Vet  
Vic Carucci  By Vic Carucci
National Editor, NFL.com

(March 19, 2004) -- You aren't a true veteran of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium unless you have a story.

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Not a football story. Not a baseball story. Not a sports story of any kind.

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 place aged.

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 risk.

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 street level.

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."

After 33 years of lasting memories, Philadelphia's Veteran Stadium will be leveled for good. 
After 33 years of lasting memories, Philadelphia's Veteran Stadium will be leveled for good.  
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."

"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.

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Yeah, the Vet is going down, and probably not a moment too soon.

But for all that was wrong with the place, for all of the "stories" it produced, this is one vet of the Vet who is not ashamed to admit he's going to pick up a small, though figurative, piece of that rubble and give it permanent storage space in his heart.

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