April 4, 1972 -- You could hear the collective exhale all over Western New York.
Ever since the American Football League had merged with the National Football League in 1966, it was quite obvious that War Memorial Stadium would not be adequate for the needs of the Buffalo Bills. The stadium had been built in 1937 and had hosted plenty of events. But its seating capacity was under 50,000 -- even after 10,000 seats way above the sidelines were added in 1965.
Western New York's legislators had a grand plan to build a domed stadium, along the lines of the Houston Astrodome, in Lancaster in the late 1960s. But that project collapsed into a sea of controversy, complete with lawsuits, accusations and the like. Attention was then turned to a football-only few-frills-attached stadium in Orchard Park, in part because that's what Bills' owner Ralph Wilson wanted. Wilson also preferred lots of seats.
Eventually, he got those seats. Ground-breaking ceremonites for the new stadium were held on this day. Wilson and Erie County Legislature Chairman Richard Keane turned the first shovel of dirt.
There was a lot of digging in the days ahead. Crews removed 370,000 feet of shale to construct a giant hole for the lower level. It only took 14 months to build it, as it was ready for occupancy in August, 1973.
And here's an example of the changes in the stadium construction business in 25 years. The original facility cost about $23 million to build. In 1998, several changes were made to the facilty -- which cost a total of $63 million. And the seating capacity has gone from 80,020 to just under 74,000.
--- Budd Bailey