by Phil Hecken and Jim Vilk
I’m joined this fine Friday by DIYer and memorabilia collector Jim Vilk, who’s about to regale us with a fascinating story of his days working at the Richfield Coliseum, the Coliseum’s subsequent demise, and the trove of treasure Jim and his brother were able to secure in the hours prior the wrecking ball felling that once-proud structure. Fittingly, with Paul visiting
The Mistake By The Lake The Forest City this weekend, Jim will take us inside (literally) the Coliseum and, after a quick history lesson, show us some of the things left behind, for the taking.
So, then, with that brief intro, here’s Jim:
With Paul coming to Cleveland this week, I did some math and realized he is here during a milestone year in Northeast Ohio sports history. The upcoming 2009-10 NBA season will be the 40th for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The year 2009 also marks 15 years of Cavs basketball at Quicken Loans Arena, or “The Q” (formerly Gund Arena) and 15 years of Indians baseball at Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field, or “The Jake,” as some of us still call it). Not only that, but 2009 marks 10 years of the new and not-so-improved Browns playing football at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns’ last title was 45 years ago, but it wasn’t the city’s last. The Cleveland Crunch won the National Professional Soccer League title 15 years ago at Cleveland State’s Convocation Center. Take what you can get C-town, it counts.
That’s nice, I suppose. I’m a Pittsburgh fan, though, so most of it means bubkes to me. I do like the Cavs, but not nearly as much as I did when they spent 20 years playing ball amidst the serene, pastoral landscape of Richfield, far from the bright lights of the big city. Nestled in northern Summit County, the Richfield Coliseum was located almost halfway between Cleveland and the Akron-Canton area. I say “was,” because it’s been 10 years since they tore it down — but not before my brother Tom and I got a lot of great memorabilia.
The milestones continue. It’s been 35 years since the building opened with a Frank Sinatra concert, 30 years since Sports Illustrated said, “No arena was more beautiful than The Coliseum, a magnificent structure in Richfield, Ohio,” 20 years since “The Shot” by Michael Jordan and 15 years since the place closed with a Roger Daltrey concert. In between were many more concerts, truck pulls and rodeos, circuses and ice shows, boxing and wrestling matches, hockey and arena football games, some great indoor soccer (as we talked about recently) and of course, the good, bad and ugly years of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Tom and I worked as vendors there, and even shared a souvenir stand for a few years. He started a year after the building opened, so he was there for “The Miracle of Richfield.” I officially started in 1983. Unofficially, I got to work the 1981 NBA All-Star Game, which was cool. Tom stayed at the Coliseum all the way to the end, and even works at “The Q” to this day. I quit in 1992 to get on with my life’s work, but asked to come back in 1994 to work the Cavs’ playoff run. I lost my seniority but gladly sold soda in the seats for the final games.
When the building closed it sat for five years while they figured out what to do with it. There was talk of it becoming an outlet mall, a prison, a workout facility, you name it. Finally, the Gund brothers sold it and the surrounding land to what is now the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. They didn’t implode the building. Rather, they gutted the interior, then took a wrecking ball to the exterior.
A day before the wreckers came, my brother got a call. We knew one of the guys doing the interior work, and he said we could come in and take anything we could fit into our vehicles. Everything that was left would be buried on site. Tom hopped in his pickup and I got in my station wagon (if that’s what you want to call a Saturn SW1). When we got there, it took a few minutes to get over seeing the gutted remains. Memories came back and flooded our minds. Once we started finding things, though, our reaction quickly turned to joy; we were like kids on Christmas morning.
The first items we found (by the way, the items you’ve seen so far are things Tom and I bought or received as giveaways) were in the employee locker rooms. We took two types of patches from the ushers’ and security guards’ uniforms. I liked the ushers’ patches, which were issued when the Coliseum was ten years old. The blue and gray depiction of the building was a definite alternative to the simple blue-and-green patch. Both were good in their own way, though.
Next, we snagged some warm and toasty dark blue coats the parking lot attendants wore. I wore mine as my winter coat for a few years before I had to retire it. The simple design made it go with almost anything. The big white Coliseum logo on the back sure started a lot of conversations in public. I lost count how many times strangers started reminiscing with me when they saw it. Then we found a brown coat worn by the ticket takers. The brown welcome patch harkened back to the original logo.
Speaking of uniforms, the vendors had a few nice ones. Unfortunately, I don’t have those anymore. The only one I still have is the ugliest of the set — a red-and-green-striped bowling shirt with a horizontal strip of black thrown in for bad measure. We had a cool yellow polo shirt before that and a nice blue-white-and-orange rugby shirt afterward, but those are gone for some reason. Tom still has his rugby shirt, though.
Anyway, on to the good stuff. We went out to the arena floor and grabbed a few sections of floor seats. My set actually gets some use in our basement. Tom has the rest tucked away in the bowels of his home. Then, we headed to a storage area, where we found a giant NBA logo and some floor stickers for the playoffs. We almost left the room, until we saw some rolled up fabric. Good thing we were curious, because we ended up finding the banner for the scorers table, as well as the banner for the Cavaliers’ 75-76 division title.
After that, we went up to the main concourse and stopped at our old location between sections 208 and 209. Tom grabbed the sign for it, while I took the “Drive Safely” sign above the exit. I like to keep it in my garage as a reminder to, you know, drive safely.
Finally, we headed up to the infamous loge area. The Coliseum was one of the first arenas to have a set of luxury boxes. Problem is, they put them way at the top of the building. That turned out to be the reason for the building’s early demise — the corporate types ended up with the worst view of the game. Whatever. We didn’t find much up there, until we got to a meeting room which contained a scale model of “The Q.” Well, if it was a full scale model, someone got to it before us and dismantled it. We found almost half of the seating area, which makes it kind of worthless. That didn’t matter to my brother, who never met a piece of memorabilia he didn’t like. Actually, with a little creativity some DIYer could turn it into a retro-looking baseball stadium. (Ah, if I had the time…)
By this time, our vehicles were filled beyond capacity. We left the building for the absolute last time, and I saluted as I drove out of the parking lot. It wasn’t the last time I’ve been on the site, however. The national park was just going to let trees grow naturally, but someone noticed birds were starting to use the land as a migratory pit stop. Now they keep the area trimmed for birds and bird watchers alike. You can walk around there, but the ground settled where the arena was, so that’s fenced off for safety. The small threat of poison ivy was enough to keep me from venturing around … until this past winter. We had lots of snow, so I put on my big rubber boots and hiked from the road to the fence (quite a feat in shin-deep snow over tall grass). I got to the approximate area outside of sections 208-209, noticed the calm around me, then closed my eyes and listened for the distant echoes of cheering fans. I think I heard a few — if nothing else I felt them.
Okay, what’s a Jim Vilk story without a little DIY? Most of you have seen my Lego tribute to the Miracle of Richfield and my latest indoor soccer game, but very few people have seen my first attempt at a Coliseum/Cleveland Force tribute. I made this from an old table hockey game, using cardboard cutouts for the players and clothes pins covered in hockey tape for the bases. It’s a bit primitive, but I thought I should dig it out of the closet and share it with you anyway.
Oh, and you hockey fans – that inflatable Cleveland Crusaders guy was goalie Gerry Cheevers, in case you were wondering.
Thanks, Jim, for that trip down memory lane. You got some great stuff out of that old place. And thanks for the brief history lesson too — like many readers, I’m sure we weren’t aware of the great events hosted inside the Coliseum. And I, for one, wholeheartedly express support for a future DIY of turning that scale model of the Q into a retro baseball park. Maybe next spring?
Guess The Game From The Scoreboard: OK…there’s going to be a theme with today’s post, starting with the scoreboard. So, right off the bat, in case you don’t recognize the stadium, there’s your hint. That’s the only hint you should need, since this one is probably pretty easy, especially if you know how to cheat. Try not to, OK? Ready? Guess The Game. As always, date, location and final score, and let us know how you came about your answer.
Did I mention there’s a bit of a theme today? Well, even today’s Benchies plays along with that theme. Ricko did this one a long time ago (notice the stirrups on Ozzie), so take it for what it’s worth. And it’s pretty funny. So, on that note, enjoy a special Friday edition of Benchies.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Uni Watch Prexy Paul Lukas checks in first with this, heads up from the Buccaneers, who will be unveiling their 1976 throwback uniforms at 11:00 am today … Also noticing this was Wayne Edward Koehler who provides the “heads up” from The St. Pete Times … Mr. Lukas also notes these pics from Pats practice, ad patches everywhere … In a related story, Tom Adjemian checks in with this little story on the Pat’s Jersey Ads, with another pic. … Northwest UW correspondent Jeremy Brahm notes “The Japan Volleyball Federation (JVA) has just released logos for their men’s and women’s national teams. The women’s logo is on the left ‘Hinotori (Phoenix) Nippon (Japan)’ and the men’s is on the right ‘Ryuujin (Dragon King) Nippon (Japan).’ This is in collaboration with Tezuka Productions or the company that owns the rights to the Seibu Lions logo.” … More jersey sponsor news comes from Nick Houser who advises that the Cincinnati Bengals have signed a practice jersey deal with SpongeTech Delivery Systems according to the Cincinnati Enquirer (via twitter) … Ribby Paultz found this interesting article in which Russian airline “Aeroflot ditches ‘revolting’ hostess uniforms and reveals: ‘We will only hire attractive girls’.” Says Ribby, “‘Bout time.” … Following up upon a ticker item yesterday about Tadahito Iguchi’s batting gloves, Robert Steinau produced a picture of him from his days as a member of the Phillies … In addition, Jeremy has also supplied pics of him as a member of the White Sox, and also his current team, the Chiba Lotte Marines … Sneakerhead Matt Powers called me from Fenway Park yesterday to report that Rajai Davis is still wearing the logoed stirrups (here’s a better view from a different game) … Aaron Bolerjack writes: “I’ve been a Manchester United fan for a long time, and a Uni Watch supporter since the Page 2 days. Can’t believe that nobody from one camp or the other hasn’t jumped on this yet — A few weeks ago, Man U announced their new 09/10 home uniform, which they claimed was ‘reminiscent of the shirt worn by Manchester United’s 1909 FA Cup-winning team. This new design features a similar sash across the front. The club has used the same design components to honor that historic accomplishment of 100 years ago, the first of its eleven Cup titles.'” Here’s the problem, according to Aaron: The 1909 shirts looked like this (WHITE shirt, LONG sleeves, RED chevron and cuffs); The 2009/2010 shirts look like this (RED shirt, SHORT sleeves, BLACK chevron, BLACK neck ring, NO cuffs). “Ironically, the 2009/2010 goalkeeper’s jerseys (designed to CONTRAST with their teammates) are a LOT closer to the original design,” he continues. “Please help me bring attention to this travesty.” … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: reader Brian makes an astute observation — Is a commemorative bat really a the right type of memorabilia to celebrate a perfect game? … Jake Elwell found this bit about “These blogging sisters were featured in the Times style section today. I note they recently posted some fun uni-related stuff your readers might like (scroll down a bit).” … Zac Neubauer was fortunate enough to go to the Giants game on Monday night and got an up close look at the Sue Burns patch. Sadly, the ones on the ushers were either stapled or safety pinned on … Bill Scrowther notes, “I noticed during Wednesday night’s MLS All-Star game that each MLS player had their team’s crest on their left sleeve, which can be seen here.” Bill adds, “However, the second goalkeeper (Zach Thornton) for the MLS side had his crest on the front of his jersey, right chest. What made him so special? My only thought is maybe it has to do with him only being added to the roster on Monday.” … Check out this collection of old baseball photographs from the University of California Library system (with thanks to Robert Ruszczyk … Jim Zorn “lays down the law,” according to Alain Nana-Sinkam, who notes that in the last graf of the Chris Cooley blog, there are to be no cutoff sweats. “We have retained a seamstress to take care of that for you,” he states. … Hayden Jackson thinks, we “might enjoy this photo set of a book my grandfather owned about Babe Ruth called ‘Babe Ruth: The Idol of an American Boy’.” I’d say so … Chris Hodge found this incredibly cool gallery of old photos of the Bears at Wrigley Field. … Reprinted from last night’s comments: the Buffalo Bills have “officially” unveiled their throwback uniforms for next season (thanks TJ), and they’re already on sale — although there is some question as to the actual sleeve striping (if they’ll even have noticeable sleeves, that is) … OCD DIYer Robert Marshall, whose team apparently won their softball game yesterday, sent this awesome pic of his hosiery (at least I think that’s his legs) … Matthew Dubroff, Philly fan, loves his Phillies — but “then I saw this t shirt that is embarrassingly stupid. If this starts a trend if nickname jersey/shirts … god help us all.” And finally, the previously mentioned Matt Powers sent along the following: DWade has decided to join the mothership. Matt continues, “And for a sneakerhead, this news is like winning the lottery, going out with Kim Kardashian, and dunking on Gheorge Muresan after coming home from Spring Break and watching Sixth Sense for the first time.” He explains that these are often thought of as the best of all 23 Jordan signatures. And finally, a super rare retro. Thanks Matt, I don’t know what we’d do with out you.
Hope everyone who was able to attend the UW gathering in Cleveland had a great time. Thanks to Paul for letting me steer the ship in his stead yesterday and today. Of course, you’re stuck with me for the weekend too. Be sure to check back Sunday for a couple of announcements on “uni tweaks” and “uni tracking” and a bit of potpourri. Have a great Friday everyone. — Phil