Taking a stroll in L.A's Exposition Park, you will most likely stumble upon a vast stadium filled with wonder and excitement. Walk a little closer and you will notice 64 individual plaques spread throughout the Peristyle arches that lead into the stadium. Look a little closer and it's almost impossible for your mind's eye to wander to so many memories that stretch for a century. Yes, tomorrow, May 1, 2023 marks the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum's centennial.
Each of those plaques that overlook the field below represents either an important moment or period of time for not only the Coliseum but for California and even America. Names such as Frank Leahy, Knute Rockne, Howard Jones and Pop Warner recall to mind so many great battles that were waged on the gridiron. If you listen close enough, you can practically hear the roar of the crowd on fall Saturdays.
Images of O.J. Simpson dashing up the sideline against the hated Bruins on that muggy day call to mind the gladiators of the original Coliseum in Rome two millennia ago. Surely, somewhere on that turf below remains the giddy footprints of the Men of Troy after making a historic 24-point deficit disappear in a 55-point avalanche against the Fighting Irish.
In its history, "the Greatest Stadium in the World" has housed 11 national championship teams and eight Heisman Trophy winners. But if it was just known for college football, there would be a vast void in the heart of the Coliseum. As in life, the Coliseum is so much more than football, although it has hosted the Rams, Chargers and Raiders for various periods of time and has even hosted two Super Bowls.
Of course, no article about the Coliseum would be complete without at least mentioning the Olympics. As of this writing, it is the only venue on earth to host two Olympics (1932 and 1984). In five years, it will be the only venue in the world to have hosted three Olympics as America is set to host the 2028 Olympics.
It helped usher in major league baseball's expansion to the West Coast. Its vastness looked and surely felt strange, but the World Series seemed bigger than ever in 1959 when it held the largest crowd in the history of the Fall Classic, 92,706. Laughable as it may seem, that number paled in comparison to what the Dodgers drew 49 years later in an event commemorating their move to the West Coast, 115,300, the largest crowd ever gathered to watch the National Pastime. It almost didn't matter that the beloved Dodgers had lost to the defending World Series champion Red Sox 7-4, the Coliseum had once again set an attendance mark that will likely never be broken.
It was as if it had been constructed for that very purpose. On July 15, 1960, John F. Kennedy gave a speech accepting the state's nomination for President in front of 80,000 people. At the time, it was considered the largest attendance for a political speech. Three years later and just months before President Kennedy's assassination, famed evangelist Billy Graham held a Crusade there. On the last night of the Crusade, he drew a crowd of 134,254, an all-time record for the Coliseum.
But big speeches and incredible athleticism isn't the only thing that has drawn a crowd to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. It's also been known as a great concert venue. Since Bruce Springsteen held a concert there in 1985, the Coliseum has hosted numerous bands such as U2 (1987), Pink Floyd (1988, spring), Monsters of Rock (1988, summer), Rolling Stones/Guns N' Roses/Living Colour (1989), the Grateful Dead (1991), RBD (2006, record attendance for Latin concert in U.S. with 63,101) and Ye with Drake (2021).
Indeed, the Coliseum has encompassed all that anyone in America has ever dreamed of becoming. Dreams such as rockstars, Olympians, ballplayers, ministers, politicians and movie stars. It is only fitting that it hosted the "I Am an American Day" in 1943. Under the dark cloud of World War II, the L.A. Coliseum hosted 60,000 individuals who had just gained citizenship into the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave". While patriotism may not be the first word that comes to mind when looking upon the Coliseum, its founding and name echo loud for all to hear, for after all, it was named for those who gave their lives for our country in World War I.
With so much happening in one venue in just 100 years, one must wonder: what will the next 100 years bring for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum?