The Tartan

Usher for over 80 years, Coyne has seen some history

Pirates+photo+of+Phil+Coyne
Pirates photo of Phil Coyne

Pirates photo of Phil Coyne

Pirates photo of Phil Coyne

By Robert Ragsdale, Staff Writer

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Pirates, Steelers, and Phil Coyne. These are the staples of Pittsburgh sports. With over 130 years of combined experience working for these teams, more than 80 for the Pirates and another 50 for the Steelers, Coyne has certainly made some memories. Name any marquee moment in Pittsburgh sports and there’s a good chance Phil was there, and he can tell you all about it. Whether it’s Bill Mazeroski’s walk off home run in game seven of the 1960 World Series, Franco Harris’ immaculate reception or even Babe Ruth’s last home run. He’s seen it all, well not literally but he has around 6000 games in his tenure for both the Pirates and Steelers.

Phil, or Philly to his friends, was born and raised in Oakland, a close-knit and ethnically diverse neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Coyne is a first generation immigrant and the oldest of his eight siblings. The family home was always filled to the brim, he even recalls having to often eat meals in shifts because they couldn’t possibly cram everyone into the dining room.

Coyne attended Central Catholic High School, a tall, brick, castle-like building, that coincidentally was just past Forbes Field. No doubt walking past the ballpark every day played a role in his career choice. Coyne started his career with the Pirates at 18, and shortly after he began ushering for them he was shipped off to serve in World War II. After serving three years in the army Coyne came back Pittsburgh, where he picked up right where he left off. Rejoining the Pirates as an usher, a job he still works today over 80 years later.

Though he has remained working for the Pirates, Coyne also began working for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1960s. As with the Pirates, Coyne has shown tremendous dedication to the Steelers, and still works for them to this day. However this season with the Steelers will be his last: “I just can’t handle that cold much more” he said.

On top of witnessing thousands of games and dozens of iconic moments in sports history, Coyne has also seen hundreds of iconic bands perform at the stadiums. When asked which concerts where the most memorable he listed The Rolling Stones and NSYNC.

His decision to begin ushering in 1936 was a simple one, Coyne, who grew up on the same block as the legendary Forbes Field said.  “It’s what everybody from my neighborhood did.”

Growing up right next to the ball park Coyne already had a lifetime of baseball memories before he ever began working for the Pirates. “When we were kids, you used to get in free on Saturdays, you could go sit up in right field.” No memory more important historically than when a 17 year-old Coyne watched the great Babe Ruth hit the final three home runs off his legendary career.

However Babe Ruth’s final home runs are not the memory Coyne holds dearest from his six-thousand plus games. His favorite moment is something historic the Pirates did. Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run, in game seven of the 1960 World Series. Coyne, who was working that game, remembers how all the ushers just got out of the way of fans who stormed the field in celebration of winning a world series.

“I just got out of the way, there wasn’t anything I could do to stop them,” Coyne said about the fans jumping the fence onto the field.

Coyne has worked in three different legendary stadiums during his career with the Pirates. Forbes Field, Three Rivers, and PNC Park. Nowadays at PNC the players have a private garage to get in and out of the ballpark, but Coyne can recall the days when the players would walk down to the streetcar after the games. Just one of the many things that have changed dramatically during Coyne’s tenure.

Another dramatic change Phil witnessed was the integration of African-American players into baseball. He can recall Forbes Field being filled to the brim with fans coming to watch Jackie Robinson play. Coyne can still recall the spectacle that occurred around the first time Jackie Robinson came to town, and he can fondly recall the Pirates giving Robinson some trouble in their first series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When deciding which football memory he cherishes the most, Coyne has a lot to choose from. During his time with the Steelers, they have been the most successful team in the NFL, winning six Super Bowls since he began. From Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Jack Lambert all the way to Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Troy Polamalu, Coyne has seen 50 years of dominance from the Steelers.

Obviously the play that stands out the most for Coyne is the “immaculate reception.” For those who do not know, the immaculate reception is one, if not the, most iconic plays in NFL history. During a playoff game in 1973 between the Steelers and Oakland Raiders, the Steelers won in miraculous fashion. Running back Franco Harris caught a ball out of the air after it was deflected by a hit on the wide receiver the pass was intended for, after catching the deflected ball Harris ran it in for a touchdown to take the lead with thirteen seconds left in the game. Due to camera angles, we can never definitively know whether Harris made the catch, or picked the ball up off the ground, but Coyne will swear that Harris caught that ball. And if he believes so, then so do I.

Due to his prolific career as an usher Coyne has become sort of a local celebrity in Pittsburgh, something his family is used to considering his late brother Billy was a Congressman for over 20 years where he represented the 14th district of Pennsylvania. Though when Billy started his political career many were surprised, it always seemed like Phil would be the more natural politician because that’s the type of person he is.  He is incredibly personable and genuinely one of the nicest people you could ever get the pleasure to meet.

With this year’s Pirates season wrapped up, and his final season with the Steelers beginning, many are wondering what Phil will be doing next April. Well according to him, he’ll be out there, working his section at PNC and watching his Pirates play for the 82nd year in a row. He will turn 100 during the next season, and according to him “as long as my minds right and my legs are working, I’ll be out there next spring.”

For many the takeaway from this story will be bewilderment at how someone could possibly work for over 80 years, and plan to keep working past their 100th birthday. While Phil does not have an answer for how to find a job you love enough to do for over eight decades, he does have an answer for how to live a long life.

“Two Oreo’s and a glass of milk before bed, every night.”

 

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Usher for over 80 years, Coyne has seen some history