Tonight marks the last regular season game the Pittsburgh Penguins will play at Mellon Arena, formerly known as the Civic Arena and affectionately known as the Igloo. My wife and I will be there sitting in our seats in section B28 hoping for a victory and reminiscing about this place that was a big part of both of our lives. Despite my threat to bring a ratchet and take the seats with us after the game, I have promised to behave and not do anything that will get us on the eleven o'clock news.
The arena was born a few years before me back in 1961. It was an engineering marvel for the time built by local companies using local materials- U.S. Steel providing stainless steel for the roof and Westinghouse the motors that would open the roof for special occasions. Originally, the arena was conceived and built for the purpose of being home field for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. How they thought a 16,000 seat arena could be filled by an opera in a shot and beer town like Pittsburgh is beyond me, but the Penguins eventually became the primary tenant of the building.
My earliest memory of going to the arena was when I was 4 or 5 to see the circus. I remember this was probably when I developed a lifelong fear of clowns as my older brother casually mentioned out of parental earshot that the clowns were going to take me back to clownville, or wherever the hell they lived, after the show. I went to the arena many other times over the years to see hockey games, indoor soccer games, concerts and monster trucks. Despite the fact that the majority of Penguins fans only know a championship team, I recall many, many nights of sitting through shitty hockey games with a couple of thousand other souls who received free tickets. A couple of other highlights I will remember will be playing indoor soccer there as a youth, skating with my son on the ice during one of the Penguins free skates and seeing my kid emerge from the visitor's tunnel onto the ice during a skills competition. Pretty cool.
What will I miss about the arena ? What I call the Igloo funk, a strange smell of stale beer, old popcorn and forty plus years of human b.o. that has impregnated the structure. I swear that on cold nights when they open the doors the Igloo funk rushes out like a warm embrace welcoming you back home- part pretzel smell, part wet fart, part zamboni exhaust fumes. What won't I miss ? Escalators that were built with a maximum safe load of 2 or 3 people instead of a couple of hundred trying to jam themselves into the tunnels, seats that were built with such close clearances that you are tempted to rest your beer on the fan's head in front of you and the strange lumps of unknown substances that have fossilized under the seats.
Favorite memory of the arena ? Probably the greatest hockey fight of all time only it didn't occur on the ice, it occurred on the sidewalk after the game. My brother and I were leaving one freezing night when an obviously drunk fan, wearing a suit, tie and wire rimmed glasses pounded on the hood of a car waiting at the light. He screamed at the car because they had the gall to honk at someone (that being him) crossing against the light. He looked like an attorney, at least that's what I hope he was based on what happened next. All of a sudden a petite young lady who couldn't have been more than 100 pounds dripping wet jumped out of the driver's seat walked straight towards him and punched him in the face. "Wham !" Attorney boy made sort of a yelp as his glasses flew off and his face was flushed. My brother and I looked at each other, completely stunned. "Wham, Wham, Wham" Like a diminutive version of Tie Domi she was all over him knocking him to his knees. I remember my brother yelling some advice like "pull his coat over his head" but she was content to just whack him a few more times, jump back in the car and sped off.
Ah memories. By this time next year the Igloo will be gone, replaced by the uber corporate and chic Consol Pepsi Coke Fritos Gatorade Accenture Mellon PNC CCM Verizon Arena. It's going to take another 40 years to lose that new arena smell.
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