FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) - Two years before the first football game was played at Hughes Stadium, students were lined up outside for two hours before the doors opened to Colorado State University’s new basketball arena.
It was Jan. 24, 1966, and everyone wanted to see coach Jim Williams’ Rams play their first game inside Moby Arena.
“It was push and shove,” said Jan Carpenter, a student at the time and longtime fan of the Rams. “We wanted to be behind the coach … so we’d rush down to get the best seats.”
The iconic arena, with a curved roof that was immediately likened to the shape of a whale and later named for “Moby Dick,” was built for $2.2 million and has undergone numerous changes over the past 50 years. Changes that have made the 8,745-seat, multi-use facility one that should be able to serve Colorado State University for at least another 15 to 20 years, athletic director Joe Parker said.
Hughes Stadium, which cost $2.8 million to build and opened in 1968 on a site 3 miles west of the school’s main campus, underneath Horsetooth Reservoir’s Dixon Canyon Dam, is being replaced in 2017 by a new $220 million on-campus facility currently under construction.
Although it underwent major renovations in 2005-06, adding permanent seating to the north end zone, expanding the press box and booster gathering areas, and adding 12 new luxury boxes and replacing the natural grass playing surface with artificial FieldTurf, little has been done to modernize Hughes in the past decade.
Its useful life, school officials have determined, is coming to a close following the 2016 football season, the school’s 50th at the stadium.
Moby Arena, built two years earlier as a replacement for the 1,500-seat South College Gymnasium, has a longer lifespan. It’s not only usable, it’s viewed as a treasure by the coaches and athletes of the teams who play there and the fans who pay money to come watch those games.
“I think the look is old-school and kind of special,” men’s basketball coach Larry Eustachy said.
Senior guard Joe De Ciman, a member of Eustachy’s team, said: “When you’ve got it filled up, it’s one of the loudest places in the country.”
To those close to CSU’s basketball and volleyball programs, Moby Arena holds a special place in their hearts. They’ve watched the Rams win and lose hundreds of games in the building over the past 50 years. They’ve attended commencement ceremonies there, for themselves, for friends, for relatives and neighbors, some graduating from CSU and others from the Poudre School District high schools that rent the building out each year.
People have packed the building to hear several notable speakers over the years: former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleeze Rice, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and South African activist and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Top musical acts, including the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson and Van Halen, have drawn sellout crowds to Moby. Many of the scenes in the 1976 movie “One on One,” starring Robbie Benson, Annette O’Toole and G.D. Spradlin, were filmed in and around Moby.
The facility has been home to first- and second-round games in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a Western Athletic Conference basketball tournament and an NCAA regional in volleyball. It served as the home gym for CSU’s wrestling and gymnastics teams before those programs were eliminated in the mid-1970s. The women’s swimming and diving team still holds its home meets in Moby Pool on the east end of the building that houses the main arena.
“It’s amazing what’s taken place inside that facility that people don’t realize,” said Gary Ozzello, the school’s sports information director for more than 30 years and now CSU’s vice president for external relations and the director of community engagement.
One that stands out to him was a men’s basketball game in 1966, just weeks after the building opened, against the Texas Western team coached by Don Haskins that went on to win the national championship that season. Texas Western used a half-court shot at the buzzer to beat the Rams 68-66.
“It’s a wonderful facility that’s been upgraded and renovated,” Ozzello said.
Basketball doesn’t demand some of the fan amenities that football does, Parker said. Fans don’t need luxury boxes, club seating areas or places to hold tailgate parties before or after basketball games. They don’t need to make a day of attending a two-hour basketball game the way many do for football games that last 3 1/2 to four hours.
At least they aren’t as willing to pay for high-end amenities for basketball the way they would for football, Eustachy said. So old basketball venues are more likely to be renovated instead of razed and replaced.
Even those that house some of the top programs in the country. Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium opened in 1940. Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas opened in 1955. The list goes on and on and on.
“Basketball’s just a very historic sport,” De Ciman said. “Duke could expand numerously and still sell it out every night, but it just wouldn’t have that kind of atmosphere and environment. Just knowing the people that have played before you, and they come back and see the same tradition, and they see the same floor that you just played on is just something that’s very historic.”
Instead of replacing Moby Arena, CSU has continued to update it.
“Moby’s a facility that for its 50 years of service has been used year-round and not just for athletics, but there’s a lot of academic programming that’s taking place in that building,” Parker said. “So I think for that reason there’s been a different schedule of maintenance and the way they’ve addressed the care of the facility” compared to Hughes, which is “entirely mothballed” and “in a state of hibernation,” with steam and water turned off for months at a time.
“There’s been as little as possible done on that facility (Hughes), where I think Moby has just had a consistent annual investment of, ‘Let’s make sure this thing is functioning at the highest level possible,’ “Parker said.
“I think the two biggest differences are just the location of the facilities and then the investment of a consistent maintenance program on both, to the point where, 50 years later, Moby stands ready to serve in a pretty sound way for the next few decades.”
Information from: Fort Collins Coloradoan, https://www.coloradoan.com
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