I was driving into Philadelphia on I-95, Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” playing on my car stereo, and I looked out my window to see the sports complex. Towering over everything was Lincoln Financial Field. Not far off was the Wachovia Center. Near it all was Citizens Bank Park. Three amazingly modern behemoths to house the Philadelphia sports franchises, a testament to owners with deep pockets and a city that lives and dies with its teams. These are not the landmarks I grew up with, not the destination of my myriad trips to Broad and Oregon streets as a child and young adult living in the city of brotherly love, growing up on the teams of our forefathers. As I drove into Philadelphia on that afternoon not so long ago I thought about the change of landscape…
1990. The Spectrum. Michael Jordan and the Bulls are in town to play the 76ers. We have nosebleed seats, the highest you can get without hitting your head on the roof. But we had fun. The rotting posts holding up the old roof are like old friends we wanted to high five (and then wash our hands immediately afterward). The game is one-sided with the Bulls winning big, but the experience of being in the same building where Dr. J had won the NBA Championship, it is incredible.
1996. Waiting outside the Spectrum for tickets to an Oasis concert (the first concert to be staged at the new Wachovia Center). There is a Phillies game tonight at Veterans Stadium and we see the crowds of people pass by as they queue to go in. They are rabid fans, I see, as they wear old-school Phillies jackets, shirts and caps. Remember, this is 1996. The Phillies are abysmal this year but the fans don’t seem to notice, at least not out here.
1997. The Spectrum parking lot. A free Metallica concert is raging for three hours.
1998. Veterans Stadium. The Eagles are playing the Giants, one of those grudge matches where everyone comes out muddy (it is raining cats and dogs). We are sitting in the area directly behind the player family seats and we see Holly Robinson Peete (her husband is Rodney Peete, our quarterback of the moment) pass by. She is as stunning in real life as she ever was on 21 Jump Street. My uncle is wearing a Giants cap. I swear there will be a riot if the Giants win this game and they get a hold of him.
I miss Veterans Stadium. I miss the Spectrum. I miss the feeling of those places. The history associated with them. Veterans Stadium opened the year I was born. That it had outlived its usefulness by the time I was 30 I just cannot wrap my mind around. Citizens Bank Park is a wonderful place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Same with Lincoln Financial Field, but the Vet was like home. Beaten down and overused, but like a member of the family. All this talk is paid to the “new” Yankee Stadium, but Veterans Stadium was the place to be in South Philly.
And I will see the Eagles play at their new digs. I will watch Halladay pitch in Citizens Bank Park. But I will also always remember the places I grew up in, the places that helped me become a fan. Of Philadelphia. Of sports. Of life.