In this historic structure, with its peristyle entryway and majestic cauldron, while the strains of Philip Glass’ original composition wafted in the gathering dusk, decathlon legend Rafer Johnson ascended the steps and lit the flame to begin the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
The ambience, alas, has changed somewhat.
Speakers blaring, like a jacked-up Torino cruising the neighborhood, the NFL made its return Saturday with an exhibition game featuring the Dallas Cowboys and the new home team.
I hardly recognized the place. I’m fairly certain that the crowd of 91,000 didn’t recognize the immigrants from St. Louis, the Rams, either.
The Rams, indeed, are back, but it hardly seemed necessary to scream about it all night, as the new PA man did. Wasn’t there a Monster Truck Rally somewhere that this guy was missing?
Constructed in 1923, the Los Angeles Coliseum has a completed bucket list that even the White House would envy — two Olympic Games (1932 and 1984), two Super Bowls (I and VII), baseball’s 1959 World Series, 10 decades of Southern Cal football, a Billy Graham crusade, a Nelson Mandela appearance and a Pope John Paul II Mass.
The Coliseum, along with its adjoining LA Sports Arena, almost single-handedly tugged professional sports westward. The Rams moved into the stadium from Cleveland in 1946. The Dodgers followed from Brooklyn in 1958. The Lakers moved into the Sports Arena from Minneapolis in 1960.
But when the vagabond Raiders, tired of waiting for stadium renovations to begin, left town in 1994, NFL football left with them.
The University of Southern California holds a 98-year lease to improve, maintain and operate the facility. The state, city and county jointly own the Coliseum.
The Trojan family has done well, for the most part. There’s a $100 million renovation project in the works to upgrade the cramped seating and modernize the press box, which was condemned following the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
Included in the renovations are plans to restore the peristyle end of the stadium — the one with the columns and Olympic cauldron — to its former glory.
At the 1984 Olympics opening, the peristyle end of the Coliseum’s seating bowl featured 84 grand pianos, manned by 84 grand pianists, simultaneously performing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
At Saturday’s exhibition game, the DJ dialed up the Red Hot Chili Peppers and turned the volume up to 11.
I have nothing against loud music, even at my advanced age. But it was jarring to hear piped-in background noise where the cheers of the world have so often rang out.
The track that Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses and Evelyn Ashford raced to gold medals on has been removed. The stately columns at the east end — the Coliseum’s signature feature — are all but invisible, because the Rams constructed 20 temporary luxury suites along the stadium curve.
Tacky. But not quite as tacky as the club area — with more suites — that was constructed at field level, just beyond the east end zone. There wasn’t a lot of football-watching in the Rams Club on Saturday night.
But maybe that’s just LA. This NFL thing just got to town. It’s not trendy yet. Maybe they can get the Kardashians to come?
Granted, the Los Angeles Coliseum, listed on the national register of historic places, will only be a temporary home for the Rams. Their new stadium is scheduled to open in 2019.
In the meantime, try to imagine what it once was. Browse the park surrounding the Coliseum. See its controversial nude athlete statues just outside the entrance. Wonder what it was like, that evening in 1984, when the best of the world’s athletes were gathered here.
Don’t let the screaming PA guy tell you otherwise.