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More untold stories of Mellon Arena

Trib readers share their memories of the arena:

It will always be the CIVIC Arena

I still call it that. I can’t help it!

I had Penguins’ season tickets for about 25 years – from the mid-‘70s to mid-‘90s – but my stories involve other unique events:

1960s: my grandparents took me to an Ice Capades practice. The first time I saw the roof open. Cool!

1970s: the ABA Condors had discount clubs for kids: (John) Brisker’s Banditos and the Kondor Kings. I was a “King!”

1980s: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Doobie Brothers concerts. The roof was opened during the concerts (I think to let out all that “wacky” smoke!)

1990s: Pittsburgh Phantoms roller hockey team. They played in the summer and opened the roof for their games.

I miss the Igloo, just as I miss Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium (notice that I didn’t mention Three Rivers Stadium!).

MSgt. Bill Costello, Coraopolis

Not in Kansas anymore

I grew up in Pittsburgh, and the Civic Arena was a special place for me during my youth. My family and I attended many concerts, hockey games, circus events and Ice Capades shows.

I was there to see the roof open for a concert starring Judy Garland, who was my Mother’s favorite singer. She couldn’t afford seats facing the stage, so we had to sit towards the back and side of the stage. We could still hear her beautiful voice, but what turned out to be quite a surprise is that our seats were on the side of the stage that Judy Garland had to enter and leave. We saw her also leaving the front of the stage to take drinks from a clear glass from time to time during her performance. We weren’t sure what she was in the glass, but given her reputation, guessed it wasn’t water!

When the roof opened, even Ms. Garland addressed how the sky’s beauty added such splendor to the evening.

We saw Dick Buttons and my mentor, Peggy Fleming, in the Ice Capades, too. My high school buddies and I were not in the Polish Army, but we were a part of the ‘Megaphone Men,’ who cheered on the Penguins and our Churchill Chargers!

The Civic Arena was designed for the next century. We all thought it was a unique building way ahead of its time. It will always be in my memories.

Marian Penn, Washington, D.C.

Something called hockey

On Oct. 11, 1967, my father told me that our next-door neighbor gave him two tickets to a hockey game. I was 10-years old and it was my first trip to the Civic Arena to watch something called “hockey” against a team from Montreal. All I knew about the sport was that it was played on ice.

When we went inside it seemed to be so big. Our tickets were in the sixth row, behind the goal. They had the old scoreboard from basketball that I think said Us/Them or Home/Visitor with the red lights for the four periods.

The game was great, even though I didn’t understand all of the rules. The most confusing thing was at the end of the third period, everyone got up and left. My father and I were expecting a fourth period. Basketball and football, both had four periods; why not hockey? We finally figured out that three periods of 20 minutes was the same as four 15-minute periods.

Since that first game, for both me and the Pens, I have been hooked. I have been to the Arena many times: St. Louis playoffs in 1975, where ticket prices were way less than $10; and I organized a group of people I worked with for a game in 1988. My wife was pregnant in 1988 and tracked me down at the Super Bowl bar right before the game to tell me she was in labor. I labored for a while and decided for the sake of my life, I should probably go home. It was false labor and I missed the game. My son was born a week later and I now play hockey with him in a beer league.

I have also had the opportunity to see the bowels of the Arena. Two years ago, for Christmas, my wife got me the Pens’ fantasy camp as a gift, probably the best Christmas present ever. Two days at the Arena with former players, a Pens and Caps practice up close, the Pens-Caps game, a Q&A session with Ray Shero (after the session, I told my wife he was going to be a great GM), playing the final game with full-video taping and PA announcer and winning the Penguins Cup. My picture with the winning team is still on the Pens’ web site under community/adult amateur hockey.

During the Pens’ practice, Mario came down to the ice to watch. It was when he was still trying to get the new arena. Everyone was asking him about it and it was clear he didn’t want to talk about it. I went up to him for an autograph and started talking to him about wine (one of my other passions in life). For the next half-hour we sat there during the practice discussing wine. He would sign autographs for others and then shoo them away and talk to me more about wine. For the record, the 66 vintage was not that great. It was an incredible weekend inside The Arena.

We moved to Cincinnati in 1989, but still make it back for a few games each year, plus I travel a lot and have seen the Pens all over the country. We went to the exhibition game in Columbus two weeks ago.

I am going to miss the Civic Arena, but I am looking forward to being at the first game at Consol Energy Arena.

Frank Yantek, Cincinnati via Clairton

“Here’s Grossest!”

That was cheer when I was in eighth grade and had a partial season-ticket plan for Pens games. Back then, in 1972, one could pay on an installment plan and four of us from Spring Hill bought into the plan and we used to walk to the games.

The walk to the games was always interesting since we would walk across the old railroad bridge by the May Sterns building (or at least that was advertisement painted on the exterior wall). There was nothing exciting as being on the bridge when a train would go over it. We always walked on the bottom part since the trains typically ran the top trestle. You wanna talk about four kids scared to death. The whole bridge would shake and the floor of the bridge had gaping holes in it. Not to mention being chased by the occasional bum that used to harass us.

Anyways, we would always be in our seats, and right before the national anthem at every game this big dude would come running up the steps, and the group he sat with would cheer, “Here’s Grossest!” The guy used to wear the same football jersey to every game but it was hilarious to hear the whole upper section cheer as he ran up the aisle. When he got there the whole section seemed to come to life and he was like the cheerleader for the entire section. And, oh, we would get nasty on occasion especially when the Blues were in town.

One the funniest pre-games I ever saw was when Andy Brown played in goal for us. On that night, as on all nights, when asked to stand for the national anthem there was that just brief second or two when the arena was almost silent and out of nowhere this guy burst out with a cheer. He yells, “Andy Brown you clown!” Needless to say the whole place heard it and even though in appropriate I don’t think anyone wasn’t laughing. And there was Andy Brown, no mask, head down just shaking his head. He had to be thinking, ‘Oh it’s going to be a long night.’

I still have one program from the days of Syl Apps, Jean Pronovost and Bugsy Watson and even though worn and torn I am glad I saved it.

In closing, I was 12 years old at the time and as life went on I ran into a guy at work in our fabrication shop that I had worked with for years and we started talking hockey one day. I mentioned about season tickets and section D-27 and looks at me and says, “Here’s Grossest!” I was I tears laughing as we recalled the days of “Grossest”. I never knew it but I worked with the guy for years and as an adolescent I had sat next to him for the Pens’ game.

Small world, huh?

John Strahs, Sewickley

Comments

  1. A.V. Allen says:

    I was/am a huge Frank Sinatra fan, and when it was announced that he was making an appearance at the Civic Arena, I was one of the first to buy tickets. I should have known better. The opening act for the concert was a “Borscht Belt” comedian, whose humor was not suited for the parochial partisans of Pittsburgh. The poor guy was heckled throughout his performance, and lustily booed when, mercifully, he was finished. I can still feel the empathy and embarrassment I felt for that comedian. Sinatra then appeared and began to reprimand the audience for typical Pittsburgh boorish behavior. He stated that he had not appeared in Pittsburgh in a very long time, and now remembers why. Furthermore he stated that “Pittsburgh has always been a shot and beer town, and always will be, and furthermore, I will never appear here again. I will do my performance, but there will be no encores or repartee with the audience.” Pittsburgh may have been named the “best sports town,” but still to this day has all the class and culture of the Barbary Coast.

  2. p.mitcheltree says:

    i recall wwwf wrestling comin to the arena. still des tilthis day;
    ringside rosie and her umbrella
    george steel bruno sammartino among others.
    the arena was a vital wwf point in the 1960s and still is today.
    and it was always full to capacity during wrestling venues;

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