Mile High Stadium

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For Denver's current NFL stadium, see Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Mile High Stadium
Mile High Stadium in 1995.jpg
Mile High Stadium in 1995
Former names Bears Stadium (1948–1968)
Location 2755 West 17th Avenue
Denver, Colorado
Coordinates 39°44′46″N 105°1′18″W / 39.74611°N 105.02167°W / 39.74611; -105.02167Coordinates: 39°44′46″N 105°1′18″W / 39.74611°N 105.02167°W / 39.74611; -105.02167
Owner City & County of Denver
(1968–2001)
Rocky Mountain Sports, Inc.
(Denver Bears / Broncos,
1948–1968)
Operator Denver Parks and Recreation
Capacity 76,273   (1986–2001)
51,706   (1968)
34,000   (1960)
18,000   (1948)
Field size Left Field: 333 ft (101 m)
Left-Center: 366 ft (112 m)
Center Field: 423 ft (129 m)
Right-Center: 400 ft (122 m)
Right Field: 370 ft (113 m)[1]
Surface Natural grass
Construction
Broke ground 1947
Opened August 14, 1948 [2]
Expanded 1959, 1968, 1976, 1977, 1986
Closed December 23, 2000 [2]
Demolished April 17, 2002 [2]
Architect Stanley E. Morse[3]
General contractor Platt Rogers
Construction Company[4]
Tenants
Denver Bears / Zephyrs (AA / PCL) (1955–1992)
Denver Broncos (AFL / NFL) (1960–2000)
Denver Dynamos (NASL) (1974–1975)
Colorado Caribous (NASL) (1978)
Denver Gold (USFL) (1983–1985)
Colorado Rockies (MLB) (1993–1994)
Colorado Rapids (MLS) (1996–2000)

Mile High Stadium (originally Bears Stadium) was an outdoor multi-purpose stadium in the western United States, located in Denver, Colorado.

It was built 68 years ago in 1948 for the Denver Bears baseball team,[5] which was a member of the Western League during its construction. Originally designed as a baseball venue,[5] the stadium was expanded in later years to accommodate the addition of a professional football team to the city, the Denver Broncos, as well as to improve Denver's hopes of landing a Major League Baseball team. Although the stadium was originally built as a baseball-specific venue, it became more popular as a pro-football stadium despite hosting both sports for a majority of its life.

The Broncos called Mile High Stadium home from their beginning in the AFL in 1960 until 2000. The Bears, who changed their name to the Zephyrs in 1985, continued to play in the stadium until 1992 when the franchise was moved to New Orleans. The move was precipitated by the awarding of a Major League Baseball franchise to the city of Denver, and in 1993 the Colorado Rockies season opened in Mile High. The team played the 1993 and strike-shortened 1994 seasons in Mile High setting MLB attendance records while Coors Field was being constructed in downtown Denver.

In addition to the Broncos, Bears/Zephyrs, and Rockies, Mile High Stadium was home to several other professional teams during the course of its history. The Denver Gold of the United States Football League called Mile High home from 1983 to 1985, and the stadium played host to the inaugural USFL championship game on July 17, 1983. Two professional soccer teams also played at Mile High. The first was the Denver Dynamos of the North American Soccer League, who were founded in 1974 and played their first two seasons in Denver before moving to Bloomington, Minnesota and becoming the Minnesota Kicks. Denver was home to one of Major League Soccer's 10 charter franchises as the Colorado Rapids were formed and played in Mile High from 1996 until 2001, making them the last franchise to play in Mile High Stadium prior to its closure.

After the Rapids' 2001 season, Mile High Stadium was closed and in 2002 the stadium was demolished.

History[edit]

Early years as Bears Stadium (1948–1959)[edit]

Mile High Stadium was originally built as Bears Stadium for minor league baseball by Bob Howsam in 1948 at the site of a former landfill. The stadium initially consisted of a single 18,000-seat grandstand stretching along the north side from the left field foul pole to the right field foul pole on the west side.[5] Luther "Bud" Phillips hit the first official home run out of Bears Stadium.[6] In its first full season in 1949, the Bears averaged over 6,600 per game to lead the minor leagues in attendance.[5]

In the late 1950s, there was an attempt to form a third major league, the Continental League, helmed by former Dodger general manager Branch Rickey. Howsam, who had worked with Rickey years before with the St. Louis Cardinals, joined ranks with Rickey, pleading for a major league team in Denver. Advised that to get a major league franchise Denver would need a much larger ballpark, Bears Stadium would begin the first of its many expansions. Over 8,000 seats were added to the south stands, bringing stadium capacity to 23,100.

Major League Baseball's (MLB) answer to the Continental League was to expand its two Leagues, which would eventually lead to the folding of the Continental League. Although Denver was not awarded a franchise, MLB promised teams in the future for Denver and other cities. Howsam was now trapped with a massive debt load and a stadium far too big for a minor-league team. Frantically searching for a solution, he concluded the only way out was to extend the stadium's season with football.

The Broncos as the primary tenant (1960–1992)[edit]

The Broncos at Mile High Stadium in 1996

A large bleacher section was added along the south side and temporary east stands were built in 1960, raising the capacity to 34,000.[6]

Howsam's ownership in the AFL was short-lived, as overwhelming debt forced Howsam to sell all his sports interests in 1961. His dream of major league baseball in Denver would be placed on hold for another 30 years.

Denver had to settle for the minor league Bears and the AFL Broncos, who resembled football's version of the early New York Mets. The players looked comical in their yellow and brown vertical striped socks and mustard yellow and brown uniforms, and the team was sometimes derided by local fans in the stadium when the Broncos would take the field. It took a few years to gain a following. In 1961, they drew fewer fans in a year than the Broncos now draw in a single game. In the middle of the 1960s, the team changed its colors to orange and blue, became slightly more competitive, attendance turned around and more locals caught what came to be known as "Bronco Fever".[citation needed]

One condition of including Denver in the AFL-NFL merger announced in 1966 was expanding Bears Stadium to at least 50,000 seats. This required adding second and third decks along the west sideline (first base line). This expansion was completed in 1968, when the stadium was sold to the city of Denver, which renamed it Mile High Stadium and built the upper deck along the west side, thus raising capacity to 50,657.[7]

1970s[edit]

Early '70s expansion[edit]

The Broncos sold out every game in their inaugural NFL season. Every Broncos game—preseason, regular season (not including games with replacement players) and playoffs—has been sold out since, a streak that continued after the Broncos left Mile High. As ticket sales increased, the stadium expanded to 51,706 seats. With a $25 million bond issue in 1974 another stadium renovation added more seats. By 1976, seating was up to 63,532 as the upper decks construction was completed along the north end zone (third base line).

The east stands[edit]

An ingenious expansion that took place from 1975–1977 raised the capacity to 75,103 by extending the upper deck that was along the north side and building a movable, triple-decked stands along the east side. When fully retracted toward the field, the stands would form a horseshoe for football, appropriate considering the team was the Denver Broncos. Yet when fully extended by 145 feet (44 m), the stadium could still fit a normal-sized baseball field with outfield distances of 335 feet down the left-field line, 375 feet to left-center and 423 to center field.[8]

The movable structure was 450 feet (137 m) long, 200 feet (61 m) wide, and weighed nearly 9 million pounds (4,500 short tons, 4,000 metric tons). When a game or event required moving the stands the 145 feet in or out, engineers pumped water into 163 water bearings spaced out beneath the stands, lifting the structure off its foundation. A sheet of water ⅓-inch thick formed under the structure. Hydraulic rams then pushed the stands forward at the rate of two feet per minute, taking stadium engineers about six hours from start to finish to move the stands.[8]

"Bucky Bronco"[edit]

In 1975, Denver approached actor Roy Rogers to commission a statue of his horse, Trigger, for display at the stadium. A 24-foot, 1,300-pound fiberglass replica of the horse had previously been produced for the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, California. Rogers agreed, with the stipulation that the new statue not be named "Trigger". Denver fans were polled by The Denver Post to decide on a different name, and "Bucky" was chosen. Painted white to match the Broncos logo, the statue was mounted atop the scoreboard at Mile High, where it remained for 25 years before the being relocated to the new stadium. Mounted, the statue measures 27-feet and 1,600 pounds.[9]

1980s[edit]

Mile High Stadium, in the 1970s and 1980s, was the only professional-caliber baseball facility to have an all grass infield, with sliding pits around bases. This unique feature was similar to several newer Major League Baseball stadiums that also used sliding pits, except those other stadiums all had artificial turf infields.[citation needed] In 1986, 77 luxury suites were added atop the west stands, increasing the official seating capacity to 76,123.

The Jacksons performed two concerts at Mile High Stadium on September 7 and 8, 1984 during their Victory Tour.[10]

Billy Graham held his "Rocky Mountain Crusade" at the stadium in 1987.

The stadium hosted the final show of The 1988 Monsters of Rock Festival Tour, featuring Van Halen, Metallica, Scorpions, Dokken and Kingdom Come, on July 30, 1988.

1990s[edit]

Notable events[edit]
Mile High Stadium in 1994

Metallica and Guns N' Roses brought the Guns N' Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour to the stadium on September 19, 1992, with Body Count as their opening act. Lynyrd Skynyrd played at the Stadium June 27, 1976, as part of their One More From The Road tour.

On 21 October 1992, U2 performed at Mile High as part of the third leg of their Zoo TV Tour.[11] U2 would return again to perform in concert 1 May 1997 on the first leg of their PopMart Tour.[12]

In August 1993, Denver hosted World Youth Day. On August 12 and 13, Mile High Stadium hosted two events with Pope John Paul II, the Papal Welcoming Ceremony and the Way of the Cross.[13]

The stadium played host to Ozzfest on June 24, 1997.

June 27, 28, and 29, 1969, concert promoter Barry Fey held The Denver Pop Festival at Mile High Stadium with many well known acts performing every evening. The city of Denver supported the festival and made available areas for camping and other services. The Denver Police however allowed non-ticket holders to enter the parking area whereupon they attempted to climb over chain link fencing to see the show while claiming that music should be "free". Police responded by lobbing tear gas canisters toward the fences knowing full well that the gas would affect everyone in attendance at the outdoor venue. Sunday night's final act was The Jimi Hendrix Experience which proved to be the Experience' final performance as a trio as well. Bassist Noel Redding quit and simply flew back to England that night. Jimi did not perform again for 6 weeks until mid August when he closed The Woodstock Music and Art Fair with his new band. Jimi Hendrix died 13 months later in September 1970.

The Colorado Rockies arrive[edit]

The stadium's large capacity combined with enthusiasm for the new team and the lowest MLB ticket prices allowed the expansion Rockies to set Major League Baseball attendance records before moving to Coors Field for the 1995 season. The stadium was known for its loudness with the sound of fans stomping in the bleachers echoing within the horseshoe. The large center and right fields, foul territory areas (although left field was shorter than average), and center field's 30-foot (10 m) high fence, was not as problematic for pitchers as Coors Field would be. The club's 1993 season attendance was 4,483,350 in 79 home dates (81 games – 2 doubleheaders), an average of 56,751 per home date. The Rockies were on pace to exceed the record during the strike-shortened 1994 season. They had drawn 3,281,511 in 57 home dates (also 57 games), an average of 57,570 per home date. (Season attendance figures from The Sporting News Baseball Record Book, 2007, p. 234; Game counts are from game logs on Retrosheet.)[14][15]

Final years (2000–2001)[edit]

The final football game at Mile High Stadium was December 23, 2000, in which the Broncos routed the 49ers, 38–9. The Broncos had defeated every visiting franchise from the stadium's opening to close, enjoying perfect records against the Arizona Cardinals (3-0), Baltimore Ravens (1-0), Carolina Panthers (1-0), Green Bay Packers (5-0), and Indianapolis Colts (5-0).[16]

The stadium again hosted Ozzfest, for the second and last time, on June 21, 2001 and hosted The Area:One Festival on July 28, 2001. The stadium was featured in Michael Moore's 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine as the backdrop for Moore's interview with controversial rock musician Marilyn Manson during the 2001 Ozzfest tour.[17]

The Colorado Rapids were the final professional team to play in Mile High Stadium, their home since 1996. Team Captain John Spencer that year became the first Rapids player ever to record a hat trick when he scored three times against Chicago in a 3-1 win in the Rapids' annual Independence Day blowout celebration at Mile High Stadium on July 4 in front of 60,500 fans.The Rapids played the last ever professional sporting event ever held at Mile High on Sept. 8 of this year, a 2-0 loss to the LA Galaxy. The Rapids were scheduled to play the first ever professional sports event ever held in Invesco Field at Mile High soon after, but the match was cancelled following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

Mile High Stadium was closed in 2001, after the Colorado Rapids and Denver Broncos moved to neighboring Sports Authority Field at Mile High (then known as Invesco Field at Mile High), upon completion of the new stadium. The demolition of Mile High Stadium began in January 2002, an event covered extensively by local newspapers and broadcast live on television. The demolition was performed by Spirtas Wrecking Company of St. Louis, Mo., the same group that led the demolition of arenas and stadiums in St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

The former stadium is now a parking lot for Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The historical site of many games and events for 40 years is marked by the hills forming the west and north stands, the corner between them descended by a staircase, much as the stands were. The location of home plate is identified by a marker located at 39°44′47″N 105°01′19″W / 39.74637°N 105.02187°W / 39.74637; -105.02187 (Mile High Stadium home plate marker).[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Philip J. Lowry, "Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of Major League and Negro League Ballparks (New York: Walker Publishing Co., 2006)
  2. ^ a b c "Mile High Stadium". Project Ball Parks. 2010. 
  3. ^ "Stanley E. Morse architectural records, 1924-2008-Denver Public Library". ARCHIVEGRID. OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  4. ^ "History of GH Phipps". GH Phipps Construction Company. 2015. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d Lynch, R.G. (October 16, 1949). "Denver shows way to get Milwaukee ball park". Milwaukee Journal. p. 3, sports. 
  6. ^ a b "Mile High Stadium". Ballparks of Baseball. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  7. ^ Shrout, Brian (8 June 2012). "Little Known Broncos Facts: We Have a General Manager?". SB Nation - Mile High Report. Retrieved 29 April 2015. Saban was a driving force behind a fund raising campaign which allowed the city of Denver to purchase the stadium and expand its seating to 50,657. The stadium was subsequently renamed "Mile High Stadium." 
  8. ^ a b Moss, Irv (August 17, 2010). "Jim Tolle, Mile High Stadium stands engineer". Denver Post. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Bucky Bronco". Waymarking.com. 
  10. ^ Victory Tour
  11. ^ Axver, Andre; Muehlbradt, Matthias. "U2 Denver, 1992-10-21, Mile High Stadium, ZOO TV Tour - U2 on tour". U2gigs.com. Retrieved 22 January 2016. 
  12. ^ Axver, Andre; Muehlbradt, Matthias. "U2 Denver, 1997-05-01, Mile High Stadium, PopMart Tour - U2 on tour". U2gigs.com. Retrieved 22 January 2016. 
  13. ^ "Apostolic Journey to Jamaica, Mexico and Denver (Colorado) (August 8–16, 1993)". John Paul II: Travels. The Vatican. 
  14. ^ "The 1993 Colorado Rockies Regular Season Game Log". Retrosheet. 
  15. ^ "The 1994 Colorado Rockies Regular Season Game Log". Retrosheet. 
  16. ^ "Mile High Stadium Memories". Denver Broncos - Traditions. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  17. ^ "Marilyn Manson Interview on Bowling for Columbine". Bowling for Columbine Official Website. October 11, 2002. Retrieved 2010-11-15.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  18. ^ "Bears Stadium - Denver, CO - Colorado Historical Markers on Waymarking.com". Waymarking.com. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 

External links[edit]

Events and tenants
Preceded by
None
Home of the
Colorado Rockies

1993–1994
Succeeded by
Coors Field
Preceded by
None
Home of the
Denver Broncos

1960–2000
Succeeded by
INVESCO Field at Mile High
Preceded by
None
Home of the
Colorado Rapids

1996–2001
Succeeded by
INVESCO Field at Mile High
Preceded by
Franklin Field
Host of the
Drum Corps International
World Championship

1977–1978
Succeeded by
Legion Field
Preceded by
Oakland Coliseum
Cleveland Municipal Stadium
Riverfront Stadium
Three Rivers Stadium
Host of AFC Championship Game
1978
1988
1990
1999
Succeeded by
Three Rivers Stadium
Riverfront Stadium
Ralph Wilson Stadium
EverBank Field
Preceded by
None
Host of the
United States Football League championship game

1983
Succeeded by
Tampa Stadium