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Friday, August 2, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
 
Material on this page was published when Seahawks Stadium, now called Qwest Field, opened in 2002.
 
Steve Kelley / Times staff columnist
Take comfort in stadium's unique feel, new touches

From Center City, we walked through the ugly, blackened slush, the remains of a snowstorm earlier in the week. It was the day after Christmas, 1960. The late-morning sun had broken through the cold haze, and I know I'd never been more excited in my life.

My father was taking me to the NFL championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Finally, I was going to see the inside of Franklin Field.

I felt like a priest getting his first look at the Vatican, or a Muslim finally making the pilgrimage to Mecca. This wasn't just football. This was holy.

As we crossed street after street, the pedestrian traffic began to swell and the stately brick stadium loomed like a medieval castle.

Some say all football stadiums look alike. After all, there are no nooks or crannies like you have in baseball stadiums. There are no quirky foul lines, no yawning outfield gaps.

Every football field is 100 yards long. Every goal post and crossbar is the same. And, back then, every playing field was grass.

But Franklin Field was different. It was rich. It was enormous. It practically hung over the playing field, the way the balcony at La Scala seems to hang over the stage.

You weren't just a fan at Franklin Field. You were a member of the jury. Even in the upper deck, you felt close to the field, close enough to render a verdict on every missed tackle and completed pass.

We squeezed through the small entrance portals, and for the first time in my life I sensed how a stadium could feel human.

A buzz echoed off the bricks. Vendors' high-pitched voices pierced the martial music being playing on the loudspeakers. The stadium itself seemed to groan with anticipation. And the sunlight through the portals drew us like a magnet, up the winding stairs, to the second deck, where we sat with an unobstructed view of the field.

It all seemed so romantic then. Time has obscured the inconveniences.

When I think of that day, I only remember how green the field was, how loud the crowd was, how warm the sun felt on my face, how tortuously long those final minutes were, when the hated Packers were driving on my Eagles.

I don't remember the inch of snow we had to dust off our bench seats. I don't remember the crush of the crowd in the cramped corridors as we left the stadium.

Truth be told, watching a football game at Franklin Field could be as uncomfortable as sitting in a middle seat on a trans-Atlantic flight in a DC-10.

One of the first things I saw when we entered that day were grown men standing with their backs to us, urinating on the great interior walls of the stadium. The bathrooms, an hour before kickoff, had overflowed. This was the alternative.

At halftime, men of all ages threw blankets over their laps and did their business in empty beer cups. Nobody complained. Nobody wrote angry letters to the editors of the Philadelphia Inquirer the next morning moaning about Franklin Field's lack of amenities.

This still was the Spartan age of sports. Before luxury suites, before massive restrooms that looked like Roman baths, before every seat was a theater seat.

Now the Seahawks are opening a stadium that is so splendid, so comfortable, so architecturally pleasing, it makes me wonder how I survived that day. Going to a football game at Franklin Field in December, sitting on the old wooden benches, was like accompanying Admiral Byrd on an antarctic expedition.

Going to Seahawks Stadium in any month will be as luxurious as accompanying Paul Allen on a trip to Cannes.

This is what we demand now. Sports fans in this country have gone soft. They expect comfort. They don't want lines at the restrooms. They don't want backaches from the seats. The high cost of going to a game means the venue has to be as pleasing as the event.

Seahawks Stadium meets all of those needs and more. I wish the playing field were grass. I wish the stadium could accommodate a Major League Soccer franchise, but I must admit the place is dazzling. If you spill a beer at your seat, you're going to feel as if you're spoiling the Taj Mahal.

But the best thing about Seahawks Stadium is that, like Franklin Field, it feels unique. The view of downtown is spectacular. The stands loom over the field as they did at Franklin Field. It too has the feel of a museum.

All that is missing now is a history that will begin to be written this week.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or at skelley@seattletimes.com.

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