Three Rivers Stadium

Three Rivers Stadium was a multi-purpose stadium located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from 1970 to 2000. It was home to the Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League (NFL).

Three Rivers Stadium
The Blast Furnace
The House that Clemente Built
Location792 W General Robinson St
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15212
Coordinates40°26′48″N 80°0′46″W
OwnerCity of Pittsburgh
OperatorPittsburgh Stadium Authority
CapacityFootball: 59,000
Baseball: 47,971
Field sizeLeft Field — 335 ft / 102 m
Left-Center — 375 ft / 114 m
Center Field — 400 ft / 122 m
Right-Center — 375 ft / 114 m
Right Field — 335 ft / 102 m
Wall height — 10 ft / 3 m
SurfaceTartan Turf (1970–1982)
AstroTurf (1983–2000)
Broke groundApril 25, 1968
OpenedJuly 16, 1970
ClosedDecember 16, 2000
DemolishedFebruary 11, 2001
Construction costUS$55 million
($376 million in 2018 dollars[1])
ArchitectDeeter Ritchy Sipple
Michael Baker, Jr.
Structural engineerOsborn Engineering
Services engineerElwood S. Tower Consulting Engineers[2]
General contractorHuber, Hunt & Nichols/Mascaro[3]
Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB) (1970–2000)
Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL) (1970–2000)
Duquesne Dukes (1971)[4]
Pittsburgh Maulers (USFL) (1984)
Pittsburgh Panthers (NCAA) (2000)
DesignatedNovember 26, 2007[5]

Built as a replacement for Forbes Field, which opened in 1909, the US$55 million ($375.8 million today) multi-purpose facility was designed to maximize efficiency. Ground was broken in April 1968 and an oft behind-schedule construction plan lasted for 29 months.[6] The stadium opened on July 16, 1970, when the Pirates played their first game there. In the 1971 World Series, Three Rivers Stadium hosted the first World Series game played at night. The following year, the stadium was the site of the Immaculate Reception. The final game in the stadium was won by the Steelers on December 16, 2000. Three Rivers Stadium also hosted the Pittsburgh Maulers of the United States Football League and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers football team for a single season each.[7][8]

After its closing, Three Rivers Stadium was imploded in 2001, and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Steelers moved into newly built stadiums: PNC Park and Heinz Field, respectively.


Planning and construction

A proposal for a new sports stadium in Pittsburgh was first made in 1948; however, plans did not attract much attention until the late 1950s.[9] The Pittsburgh Pirates played their home games at Forbes Field, which opened in 1909,[10] and was the second oldest venue in the National League (Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium was oldest, having opened only two months earlier than Forbes). The Pittsburgh Steelers, who had moved from Forbes Field to Pitt Stadium in 1964, were large supporters of the project.[9] For their part, according to longtime Pirates announcer Bob Prince, the Pirates wanted a bigger place to play in order to draw more revenue.[11]

In 1958, the Pirates sold Forbes to the University of Pittsburgh for $2 million ($17.4 million today). The university wanted the land for expanded graduate facilities.[11] As part of the deal, the university leased Forbes back to the Pirates until a replacement could be built.[12] An early design of the stadium included plans to situate the stadium atop a bridge across the Monongahela River. It was to call for a 70,000-seat stadium with hotels, marina, and a 100-lane bowling alley.[13] Plans of the "Stadium over the Monongahela" were eventually not pursued.[14] A design was presented in 1958 which featured an open center field design—through which fans could view Pittsburgh's "Golden Triangle".[15] A site on the city's Northside was approved on August 10, 1958, due to land availability and parking space,[15] the latter of which had been a problem at Forbes Field.[9] The same site had hosted Exposition Park, which the Pirates had left in 1909.[16] The stadium was located in a hard-to-access portion of downtown, making it hard in later years to get in before games and leave after games.[11] Political debate continued over the North Side Sports Stadium and the project was often behind schedule and over-budget.[15] Arguments were made by commissioner (and former Allegheny County Medical Examiner) Dr. William McCelland that the Pirates and Steelers should fund a higher percentage of the $33 million project ($254.8 million today). Due to lack of support, however, the arguments faded.[15][17]

Ground was broken on April 25, 1968,[15] and due to the Steelers' suggestions, the design was changed to enclose center field.[15] Construction continued, though it became plagued with problems such as thieves stealing materials from the building site.[15] In April 1969, construction was behind schedule and the target opening of April 1970 was deemed unlikely.[18] That November, Arthur Gratz asked the city for an additional $3 million ($20.5 million today), which was granted.[19] In January 1970, the new target date was set for May 29; however, because of a failure to install the lights on schedule, opening day was pushed back to July 16.[19] The stadium was named in February 1969 for its location at the confluence of the Allegheny River and Monongahela River, which forms the Ohio River.[20][21] It would sometimes be called The House That Clemente Built after Pirates' right-fielder Roberto Clemente.[22]

Opening Day

In their first game after the All-Star Break in 1970, the Pirates opened the stadium against Cincinnati on Thursday, July 16.[23][24] The team donned new uniform designs for the first time that day, a similar plan was for new "mini-skirts" for female ushers. However, the ushers' union declined the uniform change for female workers.[25] A parade was held before opening ceremonies. The expansive parking lot, both Pirates and Steelers team offices, the Allegheny Club (VIP Club) and the press boxes and facilities were not opened until weeks later due to extended labor union work stoppages. Instead of allowing cars to park, the team instructed fans to park downtown and walk to the stadium over bridges or take shuttle buses. The opening of Three Rivers marked the first time the Pirates allowed beer to be sold in the stands during a game since the early 1960s.[25]

During batting practice on that day, a stray foul ball hit a woman named Evelyn Jones in the eye while she was walking the stadium's concourse. She sued the Pirates and their subsidiary that managed the stadium, arguing that the Baseball Rule, which usually prevents spectators at baseball games from holding teams liable for foul ball injuries, did not apply because she was away from the seating areas and not watching what was going on on the field. A jury awarded Jones $125,000, but it was reversed on appeal. That decision was in turn reversed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which agreed with her argument about the Baseball Rule and also noted that the opening to the concourse through which the foul had passed was a purely architectural choice that was not necessary to the game of baseball.[26]

Design and alterations

Three Rivers Stadium was similar in design to other stadiums built in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, the Houston Astrodome, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, and Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis, which were designed as multi-purpose facilities to maximize efficiency.[27][28] Due to their similar design these stadiums were nicknamed "cookie-cutter" or "concrete doughnut" ballparks.[11] The sight lines were more favorable to football; almost 70% of the seats in the baseball configuration were in fair territory.[11] It originally seated 50,611 for baseball,[11] but several expansions over the years brought it to 58,729.[29] In 1993, the Pirates placed tarps on most of the upper deck to create a better baseball atmosphere, reducing capacity to 47,687.[11][30][31]

Three Rivers was the first multi-purpose stadium and the first in either the NFL or MLB to feature 3M's Tartan Turf (then a competitor to the dominant AstroTurf), which was installed for opening day.[32][33] It had a dirt skin infield on the basepaths for baseball through 1972,[23] until converted to "sliding pits" at the bases for 1973.[34] Renovations for the start of the 1983 baseball season included replacing the Tartan Turf with AstroTurf, the center field Stewart-Warner scoreboard being removed and replaced with new seating—while a new Diamond Vision scoreboard with a White Way messageboard was installed at the top of the center field upper deck—and the outfield fence being painted blue from the previous aqua.[35][36] The field originally used "Gamesaver vacuum vehicles" to dry the surface, though they were later replaced by an underground drainage system.[33]

In 1975, the baseball field's outfield fences were moved ten feet (3 m) closer to home plate, in an attempt to boost home run numbers.[33] The bullpens were moved to multiple locations throughout the stadium's history; however, their first position was also their final one—beyond the right-field fence.[33] A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story in 1970 stated that the new stadium boasted 1,632 floodlight bulbs.[37]

Due to Three Rivers Stadium's multi-purpose design, bands including Alice Cooper (band), Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and The Who hosted concerts at the venue.[38][39] On August 11, 1985,[40] Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band hosted the largest concert in Pittsburgh history, when they performed for 65,935 on-lookers.[41] And in 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated their second Stanley Cup victory at the Stadium.[39] The stadium hosted various Jehovah's Witnesses conventions, including international conventions in 1973 and 1978, and a centennial conference in 1984. A Billy Graham Crusade took place at Three Rivers in June, 1993.[42] The venue also served as the premiere of the 1994 Disney film Angels in the Outfield which, despite being based around the California Angels, paid homage to the original 1951 film, which featured the Pirates in "heavenly" need.[43]

Three Rivers Stadium had a beverage contract with Coca-Cola throughout its history. It was during the Steelers' stay in Three Rivers that the now famous "Mean Joe" Greene Coke commercial aired, leading to a longstanding relationship between the two. When Heinz Field opened, Coca-Cola also assumed the beverage contract for that stadium (the Pirates signed a deal with Pepsi for PNC Park before signing with Coke again in 2014), and also became the primary sponsor for the Steelers' team Hall of Fame, the Coca-Cola Great Hall. After the initial 10-year contract expired, Heinz Field contracted with Pepsi for exclusive pouring rights, breaking a 50-year tradition with the Steelers.


By the early 1990s, the multipurpose stadiums had gone out of fashion. They were considered by many to be ugly and obsolete, as well as not financially viable. Joining a wave of sports construction that swept the United States in the '90s, both the Pirates and Steelers began a push for a new stadium. This eventually culminated in the Regional Renaissance Initiative, an 11-county 1997 voter referendum to raise the sales tax in Pittsburgh's Allegheny County and ten surrounding counties ½% for seven years to fund separate new stadiums for the Pirates and Steelers, as well as an expansion of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and various other local development projects. After being hotly debated throughout the entire southwestern Pennsylvania region the initiative was soundly defeated in all 11 counties; only in Allegheny County was it even close (58-42).

The initiative's defeat led to the development of "Plan B", an alternate finding proposal that used a combination of monies from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (an extra 1% sales tax levied on Allegheny County), state and federal monies and a number of other sources. Despite polls which showed that the public was opposed to this plan as well, on February 3, 1999, the state funding portion of "Plan B" passed the Pennsylvania State House and Senate, clearing the way for construction.

Ground was broken for the new stadiums in 1999.[44][45] On October 1, 2000, the Pirates were defeated 10–9 by the Chicago Cubs in their final game at Three Rivers Stadium.[31] After the game, former Pirate Willie Stargell threw out the ceremonial last pitch (he died the following April hours before the first regular season game was played at PNC Park).[46] Two months later on December 16, 2000, the Steelers concluded play at Three Rivers Stadium, with a 24-3 victory over the Washington Redskins.[47]

Three Rivers Stadium was imploded on February 11, 2001, at 8:03 a.m. on a chilly 21 °F (−6 °C) day. Over 20,000 people viewed the implosion from Point State Park. Another 3,000-4,000 viewing from atop Mount Washington and an uncounted number of people viewed the demolition from various high points across the city. Mark Loizeaux of Controlled Demolition, Inc. pushed the button that set off the 19-second implosion, while Elizabeth and Joseph King pushed the "ceremonial old fashioned dynamite plunger".[48] The demolition cost $5.1 million and used 4,800 pounds (2,180 kg) of explosive.[49][50] With the newly constructed Heinz Field only 80 feet (24 m) away, effects from the blast were a concern. Doug Loizeaux, vice president of Controlled Demolition, Inc., was happy to report that there was no debris within 40 feet (12 m) of Heinz Field.

At the time of the demolition, Three Rivers Stadium still had $27.93 million in debt ($39.5 million today), some of it from the original construction but the rest from renovations in the mid-1980s, bringing more criticism to the public funding of sports stadiums. The debt was finally retired by 2010.[51][52]

Like most stadiums demolished during this time whose replacements were located nearby (including the Civic Arena over a decade later), the site of Three Rivers Stadium mostly became a parking lot. Much like the Pittsburgh Penguins would do with the site of Civic Arena, the Steelers retained development rights to the site of Three Rivers, and would later build Stage AE on portions of the site, as well as an office building that hosts the studios for AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, the headquarters of StarKist Tuna, and the regional headquarters of Del Monte Foods. On December 23, 2012, on the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, the Steelers unveiled a monument at the exact spot where Franco Harris made the reception in the parking lot.[53] In 2015, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette moved into a new office building also built on a portion on the site after 53 years in the former Pittsburgh Press building and more than two centuries in Downtown.[54]

In 2011, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that the Three Rivers Stadium website was still active, 11 years after the facility's demolition.[55] The newspaper has revisited the issue and reported several times that the website remained active.[56][57]

Seating capacity

Stadium usage


The Pitt Panthers played at Three Rivers Stadium on multiple occasions. The Panthers played their full home schedule here for the 2000 season. The Panthers went 7-4 in the stadium. They played here in the following games:

1974: #10 Penn State 31 vs #18 Pitt Panthers 10

1975: #10 Penn State 7 vs #17 Pitt Panthers 6

1976: Penn State 7 vs #1 Pitt Panthers 24

1982: #5 North Carolina 6 vs #1 Pitt Panthers 7

1998: West Virginia 52 vs Pitt Panthers 14

2000: Kent State 7 vs Pitt Panthers 30

2000: Penn State 0 vs Pitt Panthers 12

2000: Rutgers 17 vs Pitt Panthers 29

2000: Boston College 26 vs Pitt Panthers 42

2000: North Carolina 20 vs Pitt Panthers 17

2000: West Virginia 28 vs Pitt Panthers 38


Three Rivers Stadium opened on July 16, 1970, but the Pirates lost 3–2 to the Cincinnati Reds in front of 48,846 spectators.[30][58] The first pitch was thrown by Dock Ellis—a strike—to Ty Cline.[59] The first hit in the stadium was by Pittsburgh's Richie Hebner, in the bottom of the first inning.[59] The Pirates lifted their local blackout policy so that local fans could see the inaugural game.[60] The Pirates' lowest season of attendance was 1985, at an average of 9,085.[61] The average attendance would peak in 1991, when the Pirates averaged 25,498 per game.[61] Game one of the 1970 NLCS, at Three Rivers Stadium, was the first postseason baseball game to be played on an artificial surface.[14] The following season, the Pirates advanced to the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. Three Rivers Stadium hosted game four, in which the Pirates defeated the Orioles in the first night game in the history of the World Series.[14] Pittsburgh hosted its third All-Star Game in 1974. The National League won the game 7–2 and the Pirates' Ken Brett was the winning pitcher.[62] In 1979, the Pirates again won a World Championship, yet again defeating the Baltimore Orioles in a seven-game World Series. Games 3, 4 and 5 of the Series were played at Three Rivers. 15 years later, the midsummer classic returned in 1994. With 59,568 in attendance, the largest crowd to ever attend a baseball game at the stadium,[30] the National League won 8-7 in the 10th inning. On July 6, 1980, the Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs 5-4 in 20 innings—the most innings ever played at the stadium. The longest game at the stadium was played on August 6, 1989, when Jeff King hit a walk-off home run 5 hours and 42 minutes into the 18-inning contest, as the Pirates once again beat the Cubs 5-4.[63] On September 30, 1972, Pirates' right-fielder Roberto Clemente got his 3,000th hit at Three Rivers Stadium, three months before his death.[14]

Bobby Bonilla hit one of the only 13 home runs ever hit into the upper deck of Three Rivers Stadium, and one of the six to the right-field side. Willie Stargell is the all-time leader in upper deck shots at the stadium, hitting four of the remaining five right-field blasts; Mark Whiten hit the other. The left-field upper deck had been reached by Jeff Bagwell twice, and Bob Robertson, Greg Luzinski, Howard Johnson, Glenallen Hill and Devon White (his home run struck the facade) once each.[64]


"No matter what happens, when they tear Three Rivers down, a monument ought to be built there. Even if they end up building a hockey rink there, they should put some kind of a monument to that area where the Immaculate Reception took place."

"Frenchy" Fuqua[65]

The Pittsburgh Steelers played their first game in Three Rivers Stadium on September 20, 1970—a 19–7 loss to the Houston Oilers.[31] Throughout their 31 seasons in Three Rivers Stadium, the Steelers posted a record of 182–72, including a 13-5 playoff record, and defeated every visiting franchise at least once from the stadium's opening to close, enjoying perfect records there against seven teams. The Steelers sold out every home game from 1972 through the closing of the stadium, a streak which continues through 2008.[66] The largest attendance for a football game was on January 15, 1995, when 61,545 spectators witnessed the Steelers lose to the San Diego Chargers.[31] On December 23, 1972, Three Rivers Stadium was site to the Immaculate Reception, which became regarded as one of the greatest plays in NFL history.[65] Three Rivers Stadium hosted seven AFC Championship Games from 1972 to 1998;[31][67] the Steelers won four.[68] In the 1995 AFC Championship game, the Steelers' Randy Fuller deflected a Hail Mary pass intended for Indianapolis Colts receiver Aaron Bailey as time expired, to send the franchise to their 5th Super Bowl.[67][67] A Steelers symbol recognized worldwide, The Terrible Towel debuted on December 27, 1975, at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers would move to Heinz Field after it was closed.[69]



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  • Gershman, Michael (1993). Diamonds: The Evolution of the Ballpark. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-395-61212-5.
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  • McCollister, John (1998). The Bucs! The Story of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lenexa, Kansas: Addax Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-886110-40-3.
  • Mehno, John (1995). "History of the Stadium". Pittsburgh Pirates Official 1995 Commemorative Yearbook. Sports Media, Inc.
Events and tenants
Preceded by
Forbes Field
Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates
1970 – 2000
Succeeded by
PNC Park
Preceded by
Pitt Stadium
Home of the Pittsburgh Steelers
1970 – 2000
Succeeded by
Heinz Field
Preceded by
Pitt Stadium
Home of the Pittsburgh Panthers
Succeeded by
Heinz Field
Preceded by
Royals Stadium
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Host of the MLB All-Star Game
Succeeded by
Milwaukee County Stadium
The Ballpark in Arlington
Preceded by
Miami Orange Bowl
Oakland Coliseum
Mile High Stadium
Ralph Wilson Stadium
Foxboro Stadium
Host of AFC Championship Game
Succeeded by
Miami Orange Bowl
Oakland Coliseum
Jack Murphy Stadium
Foxboro Stadium
Mile High Stadium

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