It was a blast (literally) to be at The New Haven Coliseum - Part 2
As I became more involved with Mr. McMahon and his organization, I had no choice but in 1979 to say goodbye to the Coliseum, as I was moving on to work full time with this great company that I am still a part of today. But every time we ran live events at the New Haven Coliseum throughout the 80's and 90's, I could not wait to get back to perform in front of former co-workers, friends, and fans alike. I was proud to return to New Haven, in a true sense of the term "local boy makes good."
In 1986, we wound up taking our two television programs at that time on the road to various cities nationwide. I always beamed with pride whenever the New Haven Coliseum was given the national TV spotlight, although to me it really did not have the "look" of a major arena, with those four pillars at the ends of the building always bringing the look down a couple of notches. But with our corporate offices being about 40 miles away in Stamford, it was certainly an equal pleasure to perform in our own "backyard".
Two matches of note that took place in New Haven stick out in my mind from the early 90's. New Haven can boast that the first-ever meeting between Bret Hart and Ric Flair took place at the Coliseum in 1991. Also, September of 1993 saw Razor Ramon and Ric Martel emerge as co-winners of a Battle Royal, and then faced each other in the Coliseum for the vacant Intercontinental Championship, which Ramon emerged victorious to become the new title holder. New Haven was also our "off Broadway" location (per se) to try things out before they made it to the big stage. For instance, before the SmackDown TV show was born, we did a pilot episode at the Coliseum, a dry run of the new show, which always is a good thing to do. To me, another feather in the cap of the New Haven Coliseum.
Unfortunately, times changed, and increasing competition from other entertainment venues in the area spelled the ultimate demise of the Coliseum. In 2002, the building closed its doors to sports and entertainment events. Fittingly enough, it was World Wrestling Entertainment who had the honors of presenting the last event in the building, featuring the Superstars of SmackDown.
I will never forget Monday, August 26, 2002 as long as I live. I was hell-bent on doing the ring announcing for the final event in New Haven, and Monday Night Raw also had an event in New York's Madison Square Garden that same day. Talk about being in two places at once.
SmackDown ring announcer Tony Chimel graciously was going to step aside for me to work the New Haven event. However, I had to begin my day at the Garden to do some behind the scenes work. I also knew full well that I might be needed as a part of the Raw telecast that night, because at that time I had an issue with Raw ring announcer, Lilian Garcia—we had to settle our differences sooner or later.
Needless to say, my heart was being pulled in two different directions. I wanted to be at Raw, but I also HAD to be in New Haven. At around 2:30 PM that afternoon I got word that I was free and clear to go to New Haven; I was elated! I took a taxi to Grand Central Station, and hopped on a train to Stamford. Once in Stamford, I got in my car and was on my way up I-95 North towards New Haven. No sooner than I got about five minutes into my ride, I received a call from our folks at Raw in New York, telling me that a further decision was made, and Lilian and I must settle our differences on Raw tonight. Well, I knew that was a distinct possibility, and now it became a reality. I turned my car around, went back to the train station in Stamford, and took a train to head right back to the Garden, where I got my comeuppance in doses from Lilian that night. I called Chimel on the way to New York, let him know of the change in plans, and said to Tony: "Make me proud tonight, close it out in style," and he did.
The next day, I got a call from Jack Lanza, who was one of the producers of the event in New Haven. He said to me "Howard, we missed you last night, but rest assured, you were with us." That gave me goose bumps, because everyone knew how much that evening meant to me.
And this past Saturday, the mood was festive, kind of like a big party to bid farewell. A funeral? No. A celebration? Without a doubt!
I was among the 5,000 or so folks that crammed every nook and cranny of the Temple Street Garage for an excellent view of the proceedings. It was estimated that nearly 20,000 people made their way to the area to witness this once in a lifetime event. In a mere seventeen seconds in the early morning of Saturday, January 20, 2007, the New Haven Coliseum went down by way of implosion. Certainly it was the end of an era, and it was time to turn the page and move on.
After going to breakfast following the event with some Coliseum people I had not seen in years, the roads adjacent to the Coliseum opened up. I drove around the block of the Coliseum for one last time, my own special encore if you will. And to the New Haven Coliseum I said thank you for the memories, and thank you for the opportunity to take the ride of my life that I continue to very much enjoy with World Wrestling Entertainment.