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Erik Brady: 48 years ago, Rich Stadium opened with a bang

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The football stadium in Orchard Park hosted its first game 48 years ago today.

We’ve heard a lot lately about how the football stadium in Orchard Park is old and falling apart. (Some of us who were there the night it opened are starting to feel the same way.) As it happens, the first game there came 48 years ago today. And Herb Mul-Key made history on the opening kickoff.

He returned it 102 yards for a touchdown. And that’s not nearly the best part of his story.

The Buffalo Bills have enthralled and enraged fans on this playing field for more than 40 years, first when it was called Rich Stadium and since 1998 as Ralph Wilson Stadium.

But there was a time when the stadium existed only on a drawing board.

And as a painting.

There was a time when people could only imagine what it would look like to watch their team play there.

Once the plan was approved, earth-moving machines had to be brought in to make the land in Orchard Park ready for what was to come.

This is one of the first images in which the land that would become the stadium came into focus.

Slowly, the outline of what would become a football stadium began to take shape.

When both the name of the team and the name of the stadium were not what they were supposed to be.

Work crews had to spend a lot of time in the dirt. In this 1972 photo, men pour the first concrete for the foundation of the exterior wall of the stadium.

While work was going on outside, models were demonstrating how comfortable the stadium's new seats would be. (Look familiar?) This photo was taken March 28, 1972.

A shot of the parking lots, Aug. 18, 1973.

The scoreboard was not quite ready for prime time, in this photo taken four days before the stadium opened.

A "state-of-the-art" scoreboard, which would be unlike anything fans had ever seen, was placed at one end of the stadium.

Speaking of state of the art ... The broadcast booth was made ready.

If you had enough money, you could buy seats that did not leave you exposed to the elements.

Everything but the yard markers and the end zones - and the people.

The light standards that eventually would be visible from miles away had to be erected.

Here is one of the seats in its natural habitat. The caption below this photo, which ran in The News six months before the stadium opened, said: "STADIUM SEAT - High living will be these 'club level' seats with armrests. Showing off one is Robert Lustig, Bills vice president and general manager, whose hard hat sports the team's decal. They'll sell for $12 per game or $120 for a season of seven league and three exhibition games."

This photo ran in The Buffalo Evening News on July 6, 1973, a month before the stadium opened. The caption said: "FIELD DONS ITS PADDING - Playing field of Erie County's new Rich Stadium started going down Thursday as workers for Monsanto Co. of St. Charles, Mo., began unrolling 4 miles of what is called 'energy pad.' It is glued to the asphalt surface as a base for strips of Astro Turf, which are rolled out later."

On Aug. 7, 1973, the stadium was ready for its first game, a preseason tilt with the Super Bowl runner-up Washington Redskins. This is how it looked before fans were let in for the first time.

After more than a decade at War Memorial Stadium, it took fans time to figure out where their new seats - and the new restrooms - would be.

The tunnel end zone, before the first player had emerged.

Fans needed these signs to find their way around the new facility.

Ever wonder what it feels like to sit on the 50-yard line? This is pretty close. Imagine what it must have felt like the first time.

This was the scene from what would soon be called the scoreboard end of the stadium, before the familiar green turf was in place.

The News did a feature a year after the stadium opened on how workers kept the stadium clean. (The better feature might have been "Have Bills fans ever heard of a garbage can?")

This photo was taken Aug. 27, 1973, with a caption that said fans had solved "at least for one game" - traffic congestion problems.

Maintenance supervisor Al Hojnowski kept the field free of snow. In this Dec. 8, 1973, photo, he was clearing the field for the final home game against the Patriots, which the Bills won, 37-13. (It was a long time ago.)

Nov. 9, 1974: "As the last spectators trickle from the stands, a 130-150 man cleanup force will begin clearing the paper cups, peanut shells and sandwich wrappers from Rich Stadium and putting it back in shape for the next game."

The Rolling Stones played four shows at the stadium, the first one on Aug. 8, 1975.

By 1975, Rich Stadium was well-established as a stadium rock concert venue. In this July 10, 1975, photo, crews are preparing the stage for a show two days later that would feature YES and the J. Geils Band.

On Sept. 14, 1980, work crews had an unexpected job: erecting new goal posts. The reason was one that fans had been waiting for: The old ones were torn down and damaged in celebration a week earlier after the Bills beat the Dolphins, ending a 20-game losing streak.

It took a lot of work to keep the turf in good shape. In this photo from July 17, 1981, the stitched turf is rolled back, glue is sprayed on the padding and then the turf is stuck back down.

There have been countless memorable moments on the field, like the goalposts coming down when the team won the 1990 AFC East championship.

Not every Bills-Oilers game at the stadium had a happy result. On Nov. 10, 1974, Houston defeated Buffalo, 21-9.

The Bills opened the........

© The Buffalo News

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