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Sunday, March 22, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Wrecking Ball To Leave Only Memories Of Jfk Stadium

AP

PHILADELPHIA - The last ball to fly at John F. Kennedy Stadium will belong to a wrecker.

JFK Stadium, once the site of the Army-Navy football game, championship fights, professional football and world-famous concerts, is being demolished to make way for a new indoor sports arena.

It was opened in 1926 as part of a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. At various times through its history, it's been known as Sesqui Stadium, Municipal Stadium and Philadelphia Stadium.

It was renamed for President John F. Kennedy after he was assassinated in 1963.

For at least two reasons, the huge horseshoe-shaped stadium was the home of the Army-Navy game for decades: the 100,000-seat stadium was big enough for the masses of fans who once turned out and it was about halfway between Annapolis, Md., and West Point, N.Y.

The game attracted most of the top brass in the U.S. military and presidents of the United States.

Such stars as Glenn Davis, Doc Blanchard, Pete Dawkins and Bill Carpenter, famed in Coach Earl "Red" Blaik's revolutionary "Lonesome End" formation starred at the stadium for Army.

Roger Staubach, Joe Bellino and Cleveland Cooper played their for Navy. None who saw the game will forget 1948, when winless Navy played unbeaten Army to a 21-21 tie.

In its heyday, the stadium also packed them in for boxing. It hosted Gene Tunney's heavyweight-championship victory over Jack

Dempsey, Sept. 23, 1926. According to reports, 134,000 fans paid $1.88 million to see the fight.

The next year, without any major events, the stadium was described as a financial flop. The cost of building it was reported at $3 million, with yearly upkeep of $15,000. In 1927, revenue was listed at $3,000.

The Philadelphia Eagles played there for four years in the early 1930s, including a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers that drew just 1,880 fans in a torrential rainstorm.

Team owner Bert Bell invited the fans to huddle under the press box and provided free hot dogs.

In 1950, after the NFL absorbed three teams from the All-America Conference, the Eagles, defending NFL champions, met the Cleveland Browns, defending AAC champions, before 71,237 fans at the stadium, Sept. 16. The Browns, led by quarterback Otto Graham, won 35-10.

One of the best heavyweight-championship fights was held there on Sept. 23, 1952, when Rocky Marciano defeated Jersey Joe Walcott.

Marciano, the unbeaten challenger, was knocked down in the first round, badly cut and well behind on points. But he knocked out the 38-year-old champion in the 13th round.

The fight was shown live at 39 movie theaters in 30 cities, the first championship fight to be offered on closed-circuit television.

JFK was the venue for everything from auto races and horse-jumping contests to rock concerts and religious services.

An annual event was the city's Hero Scholarship Thrill Show to raise money for the education of the children of police and firefighters who died in the line of duty.

The show wasn't nearly as thrilling after it moved up Broad Street to the newer Veterans Stadium. Some of its spectacular motorcycle stunts couldn't be staged on the artificial turf at the Vet.

Despite its size - or maybe because of it - JFK Stadium never became a financial success. And in an era of electronic scoreboards, domes and skyboxes, it became more and more a dinosaur.

It still had its moments in the `80s. The International Live Aid concert in 1985 raised a reported $50 million. Artists like Bruce Springsteen, Hall and Oates, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner sang for African famine relief while dozens of rockers did the same at London's Wembley Stadium.

The stadium hosted giant crowds again in 1988 for Amnesty International's Human Rights Now concert, featuring Joan Baez, Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and others.

JFK Stadium was condemned as unsafe several years ago. Its 60-acre site will be the location of a $100 million, 21,000-seat arena that will be the new home of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers.

The only standing memory of JFK will be the VIP entrance, where U.S. presidents entered to see Army-Navy games. Builders say they plan to incorporate the portal into the design of the new arena.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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