L.A. Memorial Coliseum is America's most historic sporting venue

LOS ANGELES — Whether Colonial Williamsburg, Boston's Freedom Trail or Washington's monuments, tracing the steps of patriots, presidents and pioneers never ceases to inspire.

Same holds for iconic sports arenas. Among those of us who revel in the games people play, there's nothing like a pilgrimage to Lambeau Field, Madison Square Garden or Augusta National.

Luxury suites and wider-than-a-city-block flatscreens don't define these experiences. Tradition and history do.


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Late Saturday night, the University of Virginia played football at America's most historic sports venue: the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Sharing Exposition Park with museums, gardens and the Los Angeles Sports Arena, this 87-year-old stadium looks its age, battered and yellowed.

But, oh, that welcoming arch, emblazoned with the Olympic rings and topped by the Olympic torch. And, oh, what has transpired here — all, smog permitting, with a view of L.A.'s skyline and surrounding mountains.

The Coliseum hosted two Summer Olympics, two Super Bowls, including the first, and one World Series. The NFL's Rams and Raiders played here, as did UCLA's Bruins and baseball's Dodgers.

Southern California's Trojans, Virginia's opponent Saturday, have called the Coliseum home since its 1923 opening (construction cost $800,000), staging classics with rivals such as Notre Dame, UCLA and Oklahoma, and winning 11 national championships in the process.

Now consider some of the individuals and teams crowned here.

Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers at the first Super Bowl in 1967; Babe Didrickson in the 1932 Olympics, Carl Lewis in the '84 Games; Don Shula's 17-0 Miami Dolphins at Super Bowl VII — their victims were the Washington Redskins.

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitched here before Dodger Stadium opened; Frank Gifford, O.J. Simpson and Marcus Allen ran here for the Trojans; Pop Warner, Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno coached here against USC.

Some or all of those names and events may escape young folk, but that's their loss. For those of a certain vintage, the Coliseum is hallowed ground.

And it's not only sports. Billy Graham, Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II spoke on this field. Springsteen, the Stones and U2 rocked the joint.

The old Yankee Stadium rivaled the Coliseum. Steeped in baseball lore, of course, the House that Ruth Built also saw heavyweight title fights, intersectional college football games such as Army-Notre Dame and the NFL's first overtime championship contest, between the 1958 Baltimore Colts and New York Giants.

But like many of its vintage, Yankee Stadium was replaced by a new model.

Among football stadiums, Miami's Orange Bowl once rated with the Coliseum. Bobby Bowden and Tom Osborne won national championships there, Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas and Terry Bradshaw quarterbacked Super Bowl victories there.

But the Orange Bowl, too, went the way of the wrecking ball. In fact, the Miami Hurricanes' final home game there was a 48-0 loss to Virginia in 2007.

The only member of Virginia's football program to play in the L.A. Coliseum before Saturday is linebackers coach Vincent Brown. He and the 1989 New England Patriots fell to the Los Angeles Raiders 24-21.

Not surprising, the place's history was lost on Brown.

"Naturally I tried to keep my mind on what was going on in the game," Brown said. "As a player at the time, there was a guy on the other side (to worry about) named Bo Jackson."

For what it's worth, Jackson did minimal damage that day, rushing for 60 yards on 24 carries and catching two passes for 35 yards before a less-than-half-full house.

With a 93,607-seat capacity, the Coliseum is as big as it is old. Game 4 of the Dodgers- White Sox World Series in 1959 attracted 92,706, a Series record that never will be broken.

The Trojans haven't drawn a sellout since their home opener two years ago against Ohio State, but the venerable Coliseum still stands tall, even after suffering nearly $100 million in damages during a 1994 earthquake.

If 6.7 on the Richter Scale wasn't her demise, surely she'll endure a while longer.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP. Sign up for text alerts by texting "BIGSPORTS" to 71593.

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