Five months after it opened in June 1923, the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum hosted its first football game on Oct. 6. A crowd of 12,836 watched the University of Southern California (USC) beat Pomona College 23-7. Since then, the Coliseum has become one of the world’s greatest sports venues, home to legendary athletes, milestone achievements and classic games. The Coliseum has also hosted numerous historic figures and milestone cultural events. Read on for the greatest sports moments in the history of the L.A. Coliseum.
The Coliseum hosted the 1932 Summer Olympic Games from July 30 to Aug. 14. Officially known as the Games of the X Olympiad, it was the first of two Olympiads hosted at the stadium. Along with the opening and closing ceremonies, the Coliseum was the site for field hockey, gymnastics, show jumping equestrian events, and track and field. Babe Didrikson won two track and field gold medals, in javelin and hurdles. Clarence “Buster” Crabbe (later the star of the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials) won the gold in 400-meter freestyle swimming. An Olympic Village was built for the first time. It was located in Baldwin Hills and was occupied by the male athletes. Female athletes were housed at the Chapman Park Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. Another innovation was the victory podium, which was used for the first time at the ‘32 Olympics. Interesting trivia: 10th Street was renamed Olympic Boulevard in honor of the Olympic Games.
The Coliseum was the home stadium of the Los Angeles Rams from 1946-1979. The Rams hosted the 1949, 1951, and 1955 NFL Championship Games at the Coliseum. When the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles, the commissioners of the Coliseum stipulated the team had to be integrated as part of the agreement. As a result, the team signed UCLA star Kenny Washington on March 21, 1946, making him the first African American player signed to the NFL post-World War II. A few months later, the Rams signed Washington’s fellow Bruin, Woody Strode. (Factoid: Jackie Robinson played in the same UCLA backfield as Washington and Strode.) Washington’s signing jumpstarted the reintegration of pro football and the Rams’ move to L.A. paved the way for sports on the West Coast, including the westward moves of the Dodgers and Giants. Washington broke the NFL’s color barrier when the Rams opened the season against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 29, 1946.
After a 22-year hiatus, NFL football returned to the City of Angels in 2016 and the Rams are once again the Los Angeles Rams.
The Coliseum was the site of the first-ever NFL-AFL Championship Game, which is now the annual sports spectacle known around the world as the Super Bowl. The NFL champion Green Bay Packers defeated the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. The MVP of the game was Green Bay’s Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr. The teams were coached by Hall of Famers Vince Lombardi (Green Bay) and Hank Stramm (Kansas City). Other Hall of Fame Packers included Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Paul Hornung, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Dave Robinson, Jim Taylor and Willie Wood. Chiefs Hall of Famers included Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Len Dawson and Emmitt Thomas.
The Los Angeles Dodgers played at the Coliseum for four seasons, from 1958 to 1961. The Dodgers began their L.A. story on April 18, 1958 before a crowd of 78,672 - at the time a single-game major league record. There were numerous memorable games and more records broken at the Coliseum before the team moved to Dodger Stadium in 1962.
Roy Campanella Night (May 7, 1959): An exhibition game between the Dodgers and the New York Yankees in honor of Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella drew a crowd of 93,103. At the time it was the largest crowd ever to see a baseball game in the U.S. until the Dodgers 50th Anniversary celebration in 2008 (see below).
All-Star Game (Aug. 3, 1959): The second of two All-Star games played in the 1959 season (the first was in Pittsburgh on July 7) was also the first All-Star Game played west of St. Louis. The American League defeated the National League 5-3. Hall of Fame All-Star starters included Dodger pitcher Don Drysdale, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Stan Musial and Willie Mays. Drysdale also started the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh and thus became the first and only pitcher to start two All-Star Games in the same year.
World Series (Oct. 4-6, 1959): During the 1959 World Series against the Chicago White Sox, attendance at all three Dodgers home games exceeded 90,000. Game 5 drew 92,706 fans, a World Series record that will likely remain unbroken. The Dodgers won the series 4-2, capturing their first World Championship on the West Coast.
Dodgers 50th Anniversary (March 29, 2008): In an exhibition game that celebrated the team’s 50th anniversary in L.A., the Dodgers lost to the Boston Red Sox 7-4. The crowd of 115,300 set a new Guinness World Record for attendance at a baseball game. Because the Coliseum’s running track and football field were undergoing renovations, the left field wall was only 201 feet from home plate at the foul line and the left field screen was 60 feet high.
In 1972, the Coliseum hosted the inaugural Super Bowl of Motocross. The event was the first motocross race held inside a stadium. In a fairytale ending, sixteen-year-old Marty Tripes beat top European stars and won the Super Bowl of Motocross by finishing second in all three races. Today, the hugely popular AMA Supercross Championship series is held in 17 stadiums across the United States and Canada.
The Super Bowl was played in L.A. for the second time when the Coliseum hosted Super Bowl VII, featuring the AFC champion Miami Dolphins and the NFC champion Washington Redskins. The Dolphins beat the Redskins 14-7 to become the first - and currently the only - team in NFL history to complete a perfect, undefeated season with a record of 17-0. Future Hall of Fame Dolphins included Don Shula (coach), Nick Buoniconti, Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, Jim Langer, Larry Little and Paul Warfield. Redskins Hall of Famers included George Allen (coach), Chris Hanburger, Sonny Jurgensen and Charley Taylor. Super Bowl VII was the first to be televised live in the city in which it was being played.
The University of Southern California (USC) has a long history with the Coliseum that dates back to Oct. 6, 1923, when the first football game was played at the stadium. The USC Trojans defeated Pomona College 23-7 before a crowd of 12,836. The Trojans have called the Coliseum home ever since. Many memorable games have been played on that field over the decades, and one of the greatest was USC vs. Notre Dame on Nov. 30, 1974. Known as “The Comeback,” the Trojans erased a 24-point deficit and routed the defending national champion Fighting Irish 55-24. With the Trojans trailing 24-7 at the end of the first half, Anthony Davis returned the second half kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown. Davis ignited an offensive explosion as USC outscored Notre Dame 49-0 in the second half, including 35 points in the third quarter. Incredibly, the Trojans had scored 55 points in under 17 minutes.
In 1984, Los Angeles became the only U.S. city to host two Olympic Games, and the Coliseum became the only U.S. stadium to host the Olympic Games twice. Officially known as the Games of the XXIII Olympiad, the 1984 Summer Olympic Games took place from July 28 to Aug. 12. Once again, the Coliseum was the primary venue for track and field, and the site of the opening and closing ceremonies. Carl Lewis equaled Jesse Owens’ 1936 Olympic Games performance by winning four gold medals, in the 100-meter, 200-meter, 4x100-meter relay and the long jump. The women’s marathon was held at the Olympic Games for the first time and was won by Joan Benoit. Highlights of the spectacular opening ceremonies included a “Rocketman” flying into the Coliseum on a jetpack; a performance of John Williams’ now-famous Olympic Fanfare and Theme; 84 grand pianos performing Rhapsody in Blue; and Etta James singing the National Anthem. Olympic gold medalist and former UCLA Bruin Rafer Johnson lit the Olympic Cauldron.
On Aug. 6, 2006, the Coliseum hosted an international soccer doubleheader featuring Chivas USA vs. the New England Revolution and Chivas de Guadalajara of Mexico vs. FC Barcelona of Spain, the reigning Spanish and European champions, respectively. Both matches resulted in 1-1 draws. According to MLS Soccer, the standing room only crowd of 92,650 fans was the largest in MLS history and the largest to witness a professional club soccer event in the United States.
In the 2009 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 4-1, bringing the franchise its 15th NBA championship. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was named the Finals MVP. It was the 10th NBA championship as coach for Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, who surpassed Red Auerbach for the most championships all-time by an NBA coach. Following a two-mile victory parade down Figueroa, the Lakers celebrated their championship inside the Coliseum. A crowd of more than 90,000 attended the festivities. The Coliseum’s famed peristyle was adorned with the Lakers’ signature purple and gold. The Lakers home court was transported from STAPLES Center to the Coliseum field to be used as the stage.