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Shea Stadium History

On a cold and blustery day on October 28, 1961, shovels broke ground in Queens for the first stadium to be built in New York City since 1923. The steel and concrete structure that grew in Flushing was originally going to be named "Flushing Meadows Stadium" but in the fall of 1962, civic leader Bernard Gimbel spearheaded a campaign to rename the facility Shea Stadium in honor of the man (popular attorney William A. Shea) who was the driving force in bringing a National League team back to the Big Apple.

The architectural firm of Praeger-Kavanagh-Waterbury designed the stadium to be the second all-purpose facility in the country capable of hosting baseball and football games, seating 55,300 for baseball and over 60,000 for New York Jets games. D.C. Stadium in Washington, opened in 1962, was the first all-purpose facility built just a year earlier. In June of 1962, steel grids began crawling skyward. Six months later the shell of Shea was completed and by July of 1963 pre-cast concrete units covered the steel framework.

Two bitterly cold winters in 1962 and 1963 and more than 17 different labor strikes forced Shea to open a year later than planned. The 45-acre plot where the young Mets could finally feel at home was the same land the city offered to Dodgers President Walter O'Malley in the mid 1950's before he bolted for the comforts of Los Angeles. (Folklore stories have long rumored that when city officials scouted out stadium sites, they went during the winter, when flight paths into LaGuardia are different, so they never anticipated the amount of aircraft noise during the summer).

On April 16, 1964, the day before Shea Stadium officially opened, Bill Shea christened the Mets' new home with two symbolic bottles of water: one from the Gowanus Canal, near Ebbets Field, the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers and one from the Harlem River, near the Polo Grounds, where the New York Giants had played and later the Mets during their first two years. The next morning, April 17th, construction workers were painting outfield signs and fresh sod was being laid in the outfield as the teams took batting practice. The Mets lost, 4-3, to Pittsburgh that afternoon. The New York Times trumpeted the new stadium with the headline "50,312 attend opener at Shea Stadium; Lack of parking causes backups."

The Grand Opening of Shea Stadium
The Grand Opening of Shea Stadium on April 17, 1964

The structure which the Amazin's called home contained 21 escalators, 54 public rest rooms, four public restaurants and an oversized scoreboard. The scoreboard - one of the largest in the majors - was 86 feet high, 175 feet wide, and weighed over 60 tons. The majestic giant board provided fans with out of town scores, scoring information, showed color slides and led the crowd in sing-alongs. The final bill for Shea was $24.5 million with the Mets chipping in an additional $6.5 million for their own office space, clubhouses, scoreboard, restaurants and press room.

Casey Stengel was particularly impressed. "With these escalators you won't get a heart attack going to your seats," said Stengel. "Anybody can come out and see us, women, men and children, because we got 50 bathrooms all over the place." Despite being built at a time when stadiums were popping up all over the country, Shea was quite unique. John Waterbury was responsible for the architecture of Shea and developed its circular shape, which included two rotating stands each consisting of 5,000 seats for perfect vision lines for baseball or football. Shea Stadium was the first major league stadium in America to utilize two moveable stands. (DC Stadium had one moveable stand section).

The stands moved to convert the field from baseball to football by two motor-operated sections that moved on underground railroad tracks. For baseball seating, the seats are behind first and home and third base and home; for football seating, the leftfield stands move clockwise to the centerfield and the rightfield stands move counterclockwise to centerfield that created seats parallel to the sidelines.

Shea also was the first stadium to feature a "light ring." The illumination comes from banks of lights built into the top of the facility instead of stadiums whose lighting comes only from light towers. While there has never been a domed baseball or football stadium in the metro area, Shea was originally designed to be covered and to expand to seat 80,000 fans. However, due to cost overruns that idea never became a reality. Forty years later, as Shea embarks on a year-long anniversary celebration, the ballpark has become the fifth oldest in the majors.

Shea changes through the years…
1967Clear plexiglass replaced parts of the outfield wall in right and leftfield so fans could see who was warming up in the bullpens.
1973Shea became the first ballpark to feature distance markers behind the outfield walls to better judge long home runs (they were removed in 1979)
1978The outfield fences were extended foul line to foul line, cutting the distance in the corners from 341 feet to 338 feet on the advice of then manager Joe Torre. Prior to his suggestion, the corners had a brick wall with an orange line. If the ball hit above the line it was a home run; a ball hit under the line was in play.
1979-1980A matrix scoreboard was built in left-centerfield to display statistics. In addition, the original wooden seats were removed and plastic ones were installed.
1980The orange and blue steel panels were removed from the exterior of the stadium and large blue wind shield panels were installed. A picnic area and leftfield bleachers were also added during this time period.
1981The Big Apple Top Hat was built behind the centerfield wall in 1981 (every Mets home run at Shea is topped off with the Big Apple lighting up and rising out of the black Top Hat). The company that produced the Apple was located in Edgewood, NJ and also made floats that appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
1982The giant DiamondVision video display screen debuted in left-center field. The screen - 35 feet, 8 inches wide by 26 feet, 3 inches high - shows replays, special in-game features, statistics and more.
1985-1987Major stadium renovations during this time included the addition of 50 suites on Shea's press level. The entire outside of the stadium was painted "Mets blue" and neon outlines of baseball players were placed on each of the six panels.
1988A new scoreboard is put in place. White Way Sign Company built the new board that fit in into the shell of the old one. Also, prior to the 1988 season, the wooden outfield wall is replaced with a padded fence. Auxiliary scoreboards located along the fa├žade of the Loge section down the right and leftfield lines were moved and tri-vision signage was added.
1992Huge dioramas are hung inside Shea featuring color action shots of memorable players and moments in Mets history.
1999Seats were added behind home plate.
2000Seats were added along the right and leftfield baselines.
2003Collages highlighting the 1969 and 1986 world championships were painted on the side of the right and leftfield façades. Also the ring around the stadium below press row features highlights throughout Mets history.

Shea Stadium Moments
April 17, 1964
First Mets game at Shea
July 7, 1964
All-Star Game at Shea. The NL scores four times in the ninth inning to beat the AL
September 12, 1964
First Jets game at Shea
August 15, 1965
The Beatles play at Shea
October 9, 1965
Army - Notre Dame college football - Future President Nixon attended the game
October 30, 1965
Pitt - Syracuse college football - Floyd Little, Larry Csonka and current Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin played for Syracuse
August 26, 1966
The Beatles return engagement at Shea
June 1-8, 1967
Ice Capades - In June? Outside? Very unique
December 29, 1968
Jets - Raiders AFC Championship Game. The Jets advance to the Super Bowl III with 27-23 win
July 9, 1969
Tom Seaver's Imperfect Game The Franchise retires 25 straight Cubs before the perfect game is broken up by Jimmy Qualls. That outing is one of the turning points of the magical 1969 season. The crowd rocks Queens, 59,083 fans are in attendance including Nancy and Seaver's parents.
September 9, 1969
Black Cat Game
September 24, 1969
Mets clinch NL East with a 6-0 win over St. Louis
October 6, 1969
Mets defeat Atlanta, 7-4, in Game Three of the NLCS to advance to the World Series
October 14, 1969
First World Series game at Shea. The Mets beat the Orioles, 5-0
October 15, 1969
A 2-1 Mets walkoff win over the Orioles in Game Four of the World Series
October 16, 1969
Mets win their first world championship with a 5-3 win over Baltimore
April 22, 1970
Tom Seaver strikes out 19 Padres in a 2-1 win over the Padres
June 23-28, 1970
Billy Graham
August 6, 1970
Summer Festival for Peace (Janis Joplin)
July 9, 1971
Grand Funk Railroad
May 14, 1972
Willie Mays first game at Shea as a Met
October 9, 1973
NLCS Game Five - The winner take all game ends in a 7-2 Mets win over Cincinnati
October 18, 1973
The Mets beat Oakland, 2-0, in Game Five of the World Series
October 12, 1975
The Giants (NFL) host the Dallas Cowboys in their first game at Shea The Cowboys win 13-7
November 1, 1975
The Giants beat the San Diego Chargers 35-24 for their first win at Shea
November 15, 1975
Grambling - Norfolk State college football - Legendary coach Eddie Robinson is at Shea. Future Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams is the quarterback
August 17, 1976
Cosmos-Washington (pro soccer) - Pele at Shea
October 3, 1979
Pope John Paul II
October 15, 1980
Howard Cosell and ABCs Monday Night Football makes it first appearance at Shea. The Jets beat Minnesota, 14-7
October 12-13, 1982
The Who
August 6, 1983
Simon & Garfunkel
August 18, 1983
The Police
September 17, 1986
Mets clinch NL East with a 4-2 win over Chicago
October 11, 1986
Lenny Dykstra's two-run home run in the ninth lifted New York to a 6-5 win in Game Three of the NLCS vs. Houston
October 14, 1986
Gary Carter's 12th inning single gave the Mets a 2-1 win in Game Five of the NLCS vs. Houston
October 25, 1986
Game Six of the World Series vs. Boston. Enough said
October 27, 1986
Game Seven of the World Series vs. Boston. New York wins its second title with an 8-5 triumph
September 22, 1988
Mets clinch NL East with a 3-1 win over Philadelphia
October 8, 1988
New York scored five times in the eighth inning to beat the Dodgers in Game Three of the NLCS
October 10-11, 1989
Rolling Stones
October 25-26, 1989
Rolling Stones
October 28-29, 1989
Rolling Stones
August 21-22, 1992
Elton John/Eric Clapton
April 15, 1997
President Clinton comes with Bud Selig and Rachel Robinson to celebrate Jackie Robinson
April 15, 1998
After a piece of concrete falls at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees play Anaheim at 12:05 p.m. at Shea while the Mets host the Cubs for their regularly scheduled 7:40 p.m. start in an unusual Shea doubleheader
October 9, 1999
Todd Pratt hits a solo home run in Game Four of the NLDS vs. Arizona to send the Mets to the NLCS
October 17, 1999
Robin Ventura's 15-inning grand slam single over Atlanta in Game Five of the NLCS
June 30, 2000
New York scored a franchise-record 10 runs in the eighth inning highlighted by Mike Piazza's three-run home run as New York tops the Braves 11-8
October 7, 2000
Benny Agbayani's solo home run in Game Three of the NLDS in the 10th inning gave the Mets a 3-2 win over San Francisco
October 8, 2000
Bobby Jones one hits the Giants as the Mets advance to the NLCS with a 4-0 win in Game Four of the NLDS
October 16, 2000
Mets advance to the World Series with a 7-0 win over St. Louis in Game Five of the NLCS
September 21, 2001
Mike Piazza's home run helps heal the city in the first sporting event in New York after 9/11
October 1-3, 2003
Bruce Springsteen
May 19, 2006
David Wright's RBI single in the ninth inning off Marino Rivera and the Yankees
September 18, 2006
Mets clinch NL East with a 4-0 win over Florida
October 4, 2006
Two Dodgers are tagged out at home as the Mets beat the Dodgers 6-5 in Game One of the NLDS
October 18, 2006
John Maine forces a Game Seven as the Mets beat the Cardinals, 4-2, in Game Six of the NLCS
Baseball at Shea…
In its first year, Shea hosted Major League Baseball's All-Star Game. On July 7, 1964, the National League rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat the American League, 7-4, in the Mid-Summer Classic. Willie Mays led off with a walk and came around to score on Orlando Cepeda's RBI. After Johnny Edwards walked, Johnny Callison belted a home run over the rightfield wall off Dick Radatz to end the game. That contest marked the only time the All-Star Game has taken place in Shea.

Monumental moments in Mets history have taken place at Shea. The Amazin's clinched National League East titles at home in 1969, 1986 and 1988 and captured the Wild Card at home in 2000. The Mets qualified for their first World Series on October 6, 1969 when they beat Atlanta, 7-4, in Game Three of the National League Championship Series. Ten days later on October 16th, the Mets celebrated their first world championship with a 5-3 win in Game Five. Leftfielder Cleon Jones caught the final out off the bat of future Mets manager Davey Johnson as Shea erupted in delight.

New York also conjured up Shea's magic in the deciding Game Five of 1973 NLCS vs. Cincinnati's Big Red Machine. The Mets rolled to a 7-2 victory over the Reds to advance to their second World Series, which the Mets lost in seven games. The Mets played one of the most memorable games in World Series history on October 25, 1986. Down by two runs, with two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the 10th inning, trailing three games to two in the series, the Mets rallied to beat the Boston Red Sox, 6-5. Official records show that 55,078 fans were at Shea that night, but many more have claimed to be in the ballpark. Two days later, after a rainout, the Mets beat the Red Sox, 8-5, to win their second World Series title.

President Bill Clinton became the first sitting President to attend a baseball game at Shea on April 15, 1997. President Clinton along with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson, announced the retirement of Jackie Robinson's uniform number 42 throughout major league baseball.

President Clinton, Rachel Robinson & Bud Selig honor the retirement of Jackie Robinson's number
President Clinton, Rachel Robinson & Bud Selig honor the retirement of Jackie Robinson's number at Shea Stadium

The club's fourth trip to the Fall Classic came after a 7-0 Game Five shutout vs. St. Louis on October 16, 2000 at Shea. The Mets met the Yankees that October in the city's first Subway Series since 1956. Shea Stadium has even served as the home field for the Mets' cross-town rivals, the New York Yankees. The Yankees moved to Shea for the 1974 and 1975 seasons while Yankee Stadium underwent extensive renovations. Again in the 1998 season, the Yankees were forced to play at Shea due to a fallen piece of concrete at Yankee Stadium. On Wednesday April 15th, the Yankees played Anaheim in a 12:05 p.m. day game and the Mets hosted the Cubs for their regularly scheduled 7:40 p.m. start, creating a very unusual Shea doubleheader.

The Jets tenure at Shea…
Shea's other tenant christened the facility in 1964. The New York Jets, who also had moved in from the Polo Grounds, hosted the Denver Broncos on September 12th of that year. The Jets rolled to a 30-6 victory that Saturday night before 45,665 fans in the first AFL game at Shea. The Jets' Gene Heeter scored the first touchdown at Shea on a 16-yard pass from Dick Wood. From 1964-1983, Gang Green called Shea Stadium home before they moved to Giants Stadium in New Jersey. New York went 69-69-3 all-time at Shea.

During Weeb Ewbank's tenure as the Jets Head Coach, he would often watch a couple of innings of the Mets game at the end of the day before heading home. The Jets set an AFL attendance record in 1967 when 437,036 fans packed in to watch seven games that season at Shea. And the following the year they gave their fans something to really cheer about. On December 29, 1968 the Jets defeated the Oakland Raiders, 27-23, in the American Football League Championship in front of 62,627 fans to advance to Super Bowl III. Joe Namath tossed three touchdowns, including two to Don Maynard in that game.

      "I remember the cold wind, great fans and a warm tremendous win against the Raiders on a bleak December day in 1968," recalled Namath.

Joe would later garner MVP honors as he led the Jets to a 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Recently, Namath shared his thoughts on the facility that will turn 40 this year.

      "Shea Stadium…the strong winds…the brutal cold…the frozen turf…one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, but a great home field advantage for us," noted Namath.

Howard Cosell and ABC television's Monday Night Football made its first ever appearance at Shea on October 15, 1979 as the Jets beat Minnesota, 14-7. The only other MNF game at Shea was a 17-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins on October 27, 1980.

Despite tremendous fan support and playing in the heart of the city, the Jets weren't always happy at Shea. The Jets were forced to practice in Flushing Meadow Park until the baseball season was over and in 1973, the Jets played their first six games on the road because the Mets made it to the World Series and were still using Shea for post-season games. Ten years later, on October 6, 1983, the Jets announced their plans to move to the Meadowlands for the 1984 season. Gang Green lost, 34-7, to Pittsburgh on December 10, 1983 in the last NFL game ever played at Shea.

College gridders play at Shea…
Four college football games have been played at Shea (two in 1965 and one each in 1974 and 1975). The first college contest paired two of the most traditional teams in college football: Army and Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish, ranked seventh nationally, defeated the Cadets, 17-0, before 61,000 on October 9, 1965.

      "I recall that (future) President Nixon attended the game and sat in a box near my family," remembered Notre Dame Head Coach Ara Parseghian. "It was a brand new stadium, but frankly it was kind of a dull game."

Later that month, buoyed by a backfield of Floyd Little, Larry Csonka and current Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin, the 19th ranked Syracuse University football team crushed Pittsburgh, 51-13, on October 30th. Little's spectacular four touchdown day was capped with a 95-yard TD run.

Legendary college football coach Eddie Robinson traveled to play at Shea twice. On November 9, 1974, Grambling played North Carolina A & T. The following year, the Tigers and their future NFL quarterback Doug Williams defeated Norfolk State on November 15, 1975.

      "Coach Robinson always told us that everything happens in New York," recalled Williams, who would later earn Super Bowl XXII MVP honors helping the Washington Redskins to a 42-10 victory over Denver. "It was an honor to play at Shea especially for me, since I followed the 1969 Mets because Tommie Agee was a Grambling graduate. I also remember getting sacked on the infield dirt by Turkey Jones."

Shea in 1975…
In 1975, Shea was the center of the New York's sports universe. The Mets, Yankees, Jets and Giants all called Shea home that season, marking the first and only time in professional sports history that two baseball teams and two football teams shared the same facility in the same year. The Giants, who like the Yankees, had to find another venue to call home while Yankee Stadium underwent renovations. Only the baseball teams were able to post winning records that season: the Mets went 82-80 (42-39 at Shea) while the Yankees were 83-75 (43-35 at Shea) in 1975. The Jets were 3-11 (1-6 at home) and the Giants were 5-9 (2-5 in their only season at Shea) before they moved into their new Stadium in the Meadowlands the following year.

      "Without question, Shea was the most challenging place to kick a football," noted Giants punter Dave Jennings. "The wind was always in your face no matter which way you turned. The people, the fans, the grounds crew were great, but I was so happy that we only played there for one year because of the conditions."

Other sporting events at Shea…
Shea has seen a variety of other sporting events as well. Brazil played England in a soccer match on June 17, 1965 as part of the International Soccer League. The soccer field at Shea was positioned from centerfield to homeplate. Argentina met Italy on June 22, 1976 and the immortal Pele graced Shea's grass with his flair and magic feet when the New York Cosmos played Washington on August 17, 1976 in a North American Soccer League playoff game. Pele netted the first goal of the game to help lead the Cosmos to a 2-0 triumph as 22,698 rejoiced. Recently, Columbia has hosted Honduras (in 1996), El Salvador (in 1997) and Slovakia (in 2003) in soccer matches at Shea.

Championship boxing fights have also taken place at Shea with the ring located in the middle of the infield. On May 21, 1966, former Puerto Rican Silver Medalist Jose "Chegui" Torres defeated Wayne Thornton in 15 rounds to defend his Light Heavyweight Championship. A little over a year later, on August 16, 1967, boxing Hall of Famer Carlos Ortiz defended his title against Ismael Laguna in a 15-round victory in a Light Heavyweight Championship. The last title fight to take place at Shea occurred on September 29, 1967, when Emile Griffith won a 15-round decision over Nino Benvenuti, considered the greatest boxer ever from Italy, to capture the World Middleweight Championship.

Shea has even hosted three wrestling cards (1972, 1976 and 1980). Popular wrestling icons Pedro Morales, Bruno Sammartino, Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan and former Jet lineman "Wahoo" McDaniel all grappled in Flushing. Ironically enough, during the hottest week of the year in 1967, Shea welcomed the Ice Capades in early June. Sections of ice were put down in the infield and held up despite the heat and humidity.

Pope John Paul II graces Shea…
In the second ever papal visit to the United States, Pope John Paul II made a stop at Shea on October 3, 1979 as part of his seven-day tour. More than 60,000 fans flocked to Shea to see His Holiness. It rained hard all morning before the skies cleared almost on cue as the Pope led a prayer service. Other religious activities at Shea include Billy Graham leading services in June, 1970, and gatherings of Jehovah's Witnesses in July of 1978 and the Promise Keepers in September of 1996.

The Beatles and other rock-n-roll shows at Shea…
In what has been called one of the most important rock concerts in the history of the music industry, The Beatles played Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr took a helicopter from Manhattan to the Worlds Fair site and then hopped in an armored car that brought them into the stadium. The quartet dressed in the umpires room before Ed Sullivan introduced the group.

The Beatles entered from the visitor's dugout at 9:17 p.m., ran onto the stage set up near second base, and sent the Shea crowd into a frenzy by opening with "Twist and Shout." Nearly 50 amplifiers were scattered along the baselines. It was the first major outdoor stadium concert in America and it was an overwhelming success. Over 60,000 screaming teenage Beatles fans jammed Shea to listen to the 30-minute performance.

      "The Beatles had played at Carnegie Hall previously and we had turned away thousands of fans," recalled legendary promoter Sid Bernstein. "So we started talking about bringing the band to Madison Square Garden. But then I had an idea. Lets forget about MSG and I suggested Shea Stadium in Queens to The Beatles manager Brian Epstein. He asked 'Do you think we could sell it out?' and I told him 'I'll give you $10 for every unsold seat.' He called me back a day or so later and said we had a deal."

The Beatles rock out at Shea Stadium
The Beatles rock out at Shea Stadium
They say history can't repeat itself, but the following August, The Beatles returned to Shea for another engagement. On August 23, 1966, Paul, John, George and Ringo played Shea for a second and final time.

      "Years later I was at a Jimmy Cliff concert with John Lennon and during the intermission he leaned over and said 'I saw the top of the mountain when we were at Shea.' I nodded and said 'So was I,'" recalled Bernstein.

The success of The Beatles concerts made Shea an extremely attractive venue to rock-n-roll groups. In August, 1970, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix visited Shea during the Summer Festival for Peace. The following July, Grand Funk Railroad played at Shea. Jethro Tull belted out songs at Shea on July 23, 1976, The Who performed two days (October 12-13) in 1982 and Simon & Garfunkel graced Shea on August 6, 1983. The Police took to Shea's stage in August 18, 1983 just before the group was slowly set to go their separate ways.

      "During the performance I thought, 'This is it, you can't do any better than this,' said Police frontman Sting. 'That's the point I decided to stop.'"

The Rolling Stones performed six times at Shea in October, 1989. Elton John and Eric Clapton combined to put on two shows on August 21-22, 1992. Nearly 14 years later, in October of 2003, rock-and-roll returned to Shea when Bruce Springsteen closed his world tour by playing three dates at Shea.

The big screen at Shea…
Shea has seen some legendary Hollywood endings, including the 1969 Miracle Mets season and the dramatic final two games of the 1986 World Series. Hollywood took notice and has used Shea Stadium in several box office hits. Perhaps the most famous film was The Odd Couple (1968) starring Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison and Jack Lemmon as Felix Unger. A scene takes place from the press box at Shea in which Lemmon calls Matthau, who is a sportswriter, on the phone. During the call, Matthau misses seeing the Mets turn a triple play hit into by Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski. The scene was staged before the Pirates-Mets game on June 27, 1967. Dave 'King Kong' Kingman bashed home runs at Shea from 1975-1977 and again from 1981-1983. King Kong starring Jessica Lange debuted in 1976. The giant gorilla appeared to rise up from a stadium made to look like Shea, but the movie was not filmed in Flushing.

However, Shea was used to film some of the scenes in The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) which highlighted James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor. Robert DeNiro's Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) and The Wiz (1978) starring Diana Ross also had scenes that included Shea. Recently, box office hits such as Men in Black (1997) starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith featured a scene at Shea with former Met Bernard Gilkey, and Two Weeks Notice (2002) with Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant included a scene at Shea with Mike Piazza.

Never forget…
Shea served as a relief center after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Most of the gate areas and parking lots were filled with food, supplies and makeshift lodging for the massive rescue effort. Supplies and food were brought into the city by the truckloads for the city's heroes. Ten days later, on September 21st, the Mets made a star-spangled return against the Atlanta Braves. On one of the proudest nights in Shea Stadium history, 41,275 fans attended the first regular season sporting event in New York after the tragedy.