Fifty of us stood silent in the darkness at the top of the ramp that led down to the lush green field. Clad in gold helmets, brown jerseys and gold pants, we braced each other, shoulder pad to shoulder pad.
The nervous anticipation of the coming battle provided us with a sliver of metaphorical electricity that kept us joined as one. We were young men, unable to grasp the significance of the moment, waiting for Coach Bob Mattos’ signal that it was time for us to charge down the ramp into the bright lights of Pacific Memorial Stadium ... and into our futures.
We were the Stagg High Delta Kings football team, and we played our home games at the stadium for decades. The field was the cradle of memories for generations of the Stagg family and area sports fans alike. But the stadium has grown old, sitting empty for years. Time passed it by quickly, just like the hundreds of drivers on Pershing Avenue do each day. It is now in the latter stages of being demolished to make way for a University of the Pacific athletic complex. All that is left is a big pile of dirt.
Pacific Memorial Stadium, or Amos Alonzo Stagg Stadium as it has been called since 1988, was the home field for the Pacific Tigers football team from 1950 through 1995. Gridiron greats from Eddie LeBaron to Willard Harrell to Lionel Manuel played there. Former Lodi High star Greg Bishop starred on the field from 1989 to 1992, before spending seven years in the NFL.
As kids, we looked forward to that day in August when they posted the big Pacific home football schedule on the press box facing Pershing. “Oregon State is coming? Cool. Who’s Louisiana-Lafayette?”
We enjoyed watching the Tigers take on top college talent on Saturday afternoons in the fall. One youngster would buy a ticket, then, filled with paranoia like someone passing secrets in a park in East Germany, shove the ticket through the fence to a co-conspirator near the pool. Delinquency has its price. I still have the Pacific fight song rattling around in my head and they haven’t played a football game in almost 20 years.
The concession stands served “Tiger Food,” the rich folks watched the games from the bright orange seats below the Pacific Athletic Foundation, and the cannon blast after a Tiger touchdown startled the unaware.
There were plenty of big high school games played there, too. The Lodi High Flames, led by Arizona State-bound linebacker Bob Carl, came to the stadium to take on our undefeated Delta Kings in 1975. I stood on the field and marveled at how many people were in the stands. There were 23,000 fans in attendance and, as a Stockton kid, I pondered, “Who’s left in Lodi tonight?”
(Sorry, Flames fans, but the Delta Kings left the field that night still undefeated.)
My 5-year-old son and I attended a scrimmage between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers there in 2000. The stadium was packed to a “quit kneeing me in the back, stranger” capacity, and we actually had to sit in the ice plant near the scoreboard.
The stadium was a multi-purpose venue. There were drum and bugle corps competitions, concerts, a Promise Keepers convention, and Pacific women’s soccer matches. And I know there are exactly 61 steps to the top of the stadium, because I ran those stairs many times during SWAT training.
Those of us who competed there, from runningbacks to goalies to trombone players, will always remember the musty smell of the old wooden bleachers in the fall — and how you could feel the temperature drop ever so slightly as you walked down to field level.
Stagg held their graduation on the field for decades. I and the majority of my classmates would have much preferred to receive our diplomas in the climate-controlled Spanos Center than in that very hot and very windy stadium many years ago. (Wink.)
Over the years, we’d often notice the Pacific Memorial Stadium lights glowing in the night sky as we headed down Interstate 5. The lights, along with most of the stadium, are gone now. But the memories we shared there will be with us always.
Chris Piombo is a Lodi writer.