Brown offered a full ride on my tennis, MIT on academics … even then I knew, I want to learn in college. I have a choice. Chris Doleman, Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino, the lucky athletes who soared to glory — their generations passed through Pitt Stadium right outside my office window. I marveled as the Coliseum was demolished; one early morning at the end when no one else was looking, the facade with the entrance gate fell, the last grand relic to come down, broke the street and the sewer beneath and I finally understood that choice I made at sixteen.
Now it’s an event center, The Pete — glass and concrete, food mall and wifi, Judas Priest and basketball, Foo Fighters, hockey and Disney on Ice.
Sometimes I ride up the escalator. Mostly I walk outdoors through the hedges, alive with birds, feral cats and groundhogs. Either way you can’t miss that vaulted interior, limitless ceiling, video wall large as a house, sports news constantly running, generations of trophied athletes displayed in locked cases like numbered Audubon prints or rare baseball cards.
In the morning I pass by the gym. Even at 6 there are students on the treadmills, boys fit and massive, beautiful, girls fit and beautiful too. I see them on campus with their teammates, lounging and laughing, bruised and braced, casts and crutches.
Often a bird strikes The Pete windows in flight, then lies still on the concrete till the janitor comes. Sometimes I carry one back to the hedges, when it’s been days. Last week I saw a sparrow by the glass wall standing on the concrete like a statue, even when I knelt beside it. I touched his belly, urged him, step up. He hopped over my finger, then turned and flew onto my hand — the life and quickness in that tiny body, the bright trust of a stranger. I slowly stood and walked him up to the hedges, urged him once more, and he flew free, on to his own life.