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March 21, 2022

Remembering Veterans Stadium 18 years after it was demolished

Eagles NFL
Veterans Stadium - Wiki PhillyPartTwo/Wikipedia

The iconic Liberty Bell replica atop Veterans Stadium is shown in 1986.

There's a question young millennials and Gen Z kids across the Delaware Valley will come to ask one day.

"What was The Vet like?"

Veterans Stadium, a multi-purpose venue that became outdated almost the second it was officially opened, was demolished 18 years ago today:

The home of the Eagles from 1971 to 2002 and the home of the Phillies from 1971 to 2003, perhaps no stadium in sports history has as dirty of a legacy as the Vet. Viewed as an unruly toilet seat to outsiders and an endearing dump to Philly fans, the Vet was home to fights, rats, cats, oodles of booze and lots of losses for the home team. Across those 65 combined seasons of NFL and MLB play, Philly teams won the championship exactly once with the 1980 Phillies.

Can you blame the fans for being so testy, angry and ready for their umpteenth cold one when they were watching disastrous outing after disastrous outing? Who was supposed to be a cheery soul when the 2000 Phillies lost 97 games and you were sitting in the 700 level sweating it all out in that textbook Philly summer humidity? I'm not condoning senseless fighting, but swearing like a sailor and enjoying a brew feels deserved at times.

When the Eagles didn't have a team with a winning record for their first seven seasons at the Vet, I can't quite fault the fans who braved the elements to watch a disastrous team for being so out for blood. Their quarterback was John Reaves in 1972. He started seven games and lost all of them. He completed 48.2 percent of his passes while throwing for just seven touchdowns against 12 interceptions. If you were going to get away with bringing an entire case of beer into a game, fans might as well have done it if they were going to be treated to that slop on the field. 

As a soon-to-be 28-year-old dude, I never saw an Eagles game at the Vet. I've seen probably seen close to 100 at Lincoln Financial Field, but that stadium's atmosphere isn't in the same universe as what went on at the Vet. My father, an animated South Philly union worker who passed on his crazed love of sports to me, wouldn't take me to a Birds game there. The man who made it clear that Cowboys fans were the lowest of the low in the Philly region even thought the action went way overboard in the no man's land of the Vet. 

"Oh, jeez." My dad says when I called him to see what the Vet was like for Eagles games. "The best part about the Vet is that everyone hated to come. Every opponent hated to come here. I was glad it went at the end. The 700 level? I could never take a kid there. It was nasty."

I remember waking up and heading towards the Sports Complex on that day in March 2004 to see the stadium I had known my whole life implode. Would any other city treat the demolition of a decrepit stadium as if it was a Spring Fling darty? It was only right that the ultimate party stadium in sports went down with the party of the year. Anything to have an excuse to drink before noon in South Philly, right?

It feels fitting that after the Vet finally went by the wayside, both the Eagles and Phillies experienced the highest highs in franchise history. The Eagles made the Super Bowl that upcoming season. About a dozen or so years later, they brought the Lombardi Trophy home. The Phillies made five consecutive playoff berths from 2007-2011, hosting two World Series and winning one. 

A building that saw so many losses gave way to a period of Philly sports rebirth. The years of disappointment and irrelevance that made those eventual triumphs so special were forged at the Vet. Let it stand as a place that was simultaneously disgusting and glorious. 

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