Friday, April 09, 2010

Goodbye 'Ol Friend

As I was hit recently with a deep personal tragedy, it helps deepen the understanding of the loss of one of the city's historical landmarks. The Mellon Arena, as it is named now, is celebrating it's final run for the NHL in the regular season. If it were a passing on, local broadcasters and network personalities have taken every opportunity to eulogize the old sports arena.

I remember my first game sitting in the Arena seats in the mid-1980s watching the Penguins versus the Capitals with my classmates as my parochial school treated us to a field trip. The experience for me never changed from that first impression. I would see many more Arena events since then, but the awesome ambiance of the arena makes fans feel like they are welcome as well as entertained with something truly special. It was also all about the little pebbles among the bricks of memorable moments that makes the Igloo so charming. I also saw the Penguins play the Capitals in the last game before the lockout due to the generosity of my "Washington Insider" and doing so was able to see the last NHL goal of my then favorite Penguin Milan Kraft. I also had great seats behind the Penguins bench when I was hosting a gal pal Penguin fan from Louisiana to see our beloved team take on the Flyers and Rangers capped off with a reunion of a childhood sweetheart.

I wasn't always treated to the best of the Penguins at the Igloo, I've seen some rough times. I once made a treacherous drive across Pennsylvania roads in a bleak snowstorm from my home in State College, PA. The Penguins were routed by the Senators that night, but it was the time that I spent with my broadcast colleague to talk about the misadventure that makes the list. And another day, I took my brother to the Arena when we were both on American Thanksgiving break from college as the Penguins played the rival Flyers. I talked him into taking advantage of the student rush program they used to have to fill the building during the leaner years. But when I got to the ticket window, it was cash only. So, my brother and I had to rely on the kindness of strangers as we borrowed a couple of dollars to cover the remaining balance due.

It wasn't only hockey that I got to enjoy at the igloo. I was treated to the glamor of the Ice Capades and Barnum & Bailey's and savored the short lived Pittsburgh Spirit indoor soccer team. I knew the Pittsburgh Phantoms of the Roller Hockey International as a fun 1990s fad. The true best seat in the arena was experienced with floor seats to a WWE pay-per-view wrestling events as I marveled at the athletic men and dynamic divas.

One thing that I have yet to see mentioned among the Igloo memories is the fact that the Arena itself is featured in not only one, but two major Hollywood motion pictures. Jean-Claude Van Damme's action film "Sudden Death" was the last time that fans were treated to the last time the Igloo's roof was opened. When I play the VHS tape of the movie, I can point to many familiar areas. Most recently, She's Out of My League has a scene in the Mellon Arena during a date. Though this was a fictitious coupling, how many people have met their significant others at the Arena?

The memories of the Mellon Arena aren't quite done, Pittsburgh will still see the Arena on the horizon for a little while more. Not bad for 42 plus years.

When the Penguins move next door to the Consol Energy Center, the new technology is expected to be glitzy, but it still won't shine brighter in the hearts of Pittsburghers than what the Mellon Arena has stood tall for for over 40 years.

If you were a visitor to Pittsburgh, especially a visitor from Canada, please leave your own personal memory in the comments section below.

[Cross Posted Over at:]
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