The stadium was named by Philadelphia's City Council for the veterans of all wars in 1968, and originally scheduled to open in 1970. However, the opening was delayed a year due to a combination of bad weather and cost overruns. The stadium's design was nearly circular, and was known as an "octorad" design, which attempted to facilitate both football and baseball, unfortunately, as was the case with other cities in which this so-called "cookie-cutter" approach was employed (Washington, New York, Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis, San Diego, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh), the fundamentally different shapes of the playing fields made the stadium inadequate to the needs of either sport.
Veterans Stadium was a complicated structure, its seating layered in seven separate levels. The lowest, or "100 Level," extended only part way around the structure, between roughly the 25-yard lines for football games and near the two dugouts for baseball. The "200 Level" comprised field-level boxes, and the "300 Level" housed what were labeled "Terrace Boxes. " These three levels collectively made up the "Lower Stands." The "400 Level" was reserved for the press and dignitaries; the upper level began with "500 Level" (or "Loge Boxes"), the "600 Level" (Upper reserved, or individual seats), and finally, the infamous "700 Level" (General Admission for baseball), where some of the most passionate sports fans on the East Coast could be found. Originally, the seats were in shades of brown, terra cotta, orange and yellow, to look like an autumn day, but in 1995 and 1996, blue seats replaced the fall-hued ones.
At one time, the stadium could seat almost 71,000 people for football, but restructuring in the late 1980s brought capacity down to around 66,000.
The stadium was harshly criticized by baseball purists. Even by "cookie-cutter" standards, the upper deck was exceptionally high, and many of the seats in that area were so far from the field that it was difficult to see the game without binoculars. As was the case in most cookie-cutter stadiums, foul territory was quite roomy. While the Vet's size enabled the Phillies to shatter previous attendance records, during the years the Phillies weren't doing as well even crowds of 35,000 looked sparse. Approximately 70 percent of the seats were in foul territory, adding to the Vet's cavernous feel. There was no dirt in the infield except for sliding pits around the bases. In the autumn, the football markings were clearly visible in the spacious outfield area.
The Vet had been known for providing both the Eagles and the Phillies with great home-field advantage. In particular, the acoustics greatly enhanced the crowd noise on the field, making it nearly impossible for opposing teams to audible.
Baseball players also complained about the surface. It was much harder than other AstroTurf surfaces, and the shock of running on it often caused back pain.
Two of the most publicized injuries blamed on the playing surface occurred exactly six years apart:
The original AstroTurf was eventually replaced by a new surface, NexTurf, in 2001. The new surface was far softer, and reportedly much easier on the knees. However, the city crew that installed the new turf reportedly didn't install it properly, resulting in seams being visible in several places but there is no proof the field was not properly installed.
The first football game on the new turf was due to take place on August 13, 2001 when the Eagles played the Baltimore Ravens. However, Ravens coach Brian Billick refused to let the Ravens take the field for warm-ups when he discovered a trench around an area where third base was covered up by a NexTurf cutout. City crews tried to fix the problem to no avail, forcing the game to be canceled. Later, players from both teams reported that they sunk into the turf in locations near the infield cutouts. Team president Joe Banner was irate after the game, calling the Vet's conditions "absolutely unacceptable" and "an embarrassment to the city of Philadelphia." City officials, however, promised that the stadium would be suitable for play when the regular season started.
The problem was caused by heavy rain over the weekend prior to the game, which made the dirt in the sliding pits and pitcher's mound so soft that the cutouts covering them in the football configuration became mushy and uneven. Even when new dirt was shoveled on top, it quickly became just as saturated as the old dirt. The problem was solved by using asphalt hot mix, which allowed for a solid, level playing surface, but required a jackhammer for removal whenever the stadium was converted from football back to baseball (between August and October of each year).
In 1971, Willie Stargell hit the longest home run in stadium history. The spot where the ball landed was marked with a yellow star with a black "S" inside a white circle until Stargell's 2001 death, when the white circle was painted black. The star remained until the stadium's 2004 demolition.
One of the most notable events in the Vet's history was Game 6 of the 1980 World Series on Oct. 21. In that game, the Phillies clinched their first world championship with a victory over the Kansas City Royals in front of 65,838 fans. Tug McGraw's strikeout of the Royals' Willie Wilson was instrumental in their win.
The most notable football game ever played at The Vet took place less than three months after the Phillies' title, and was the Eagles' 20-7 victory over the hated Dallas Cowboys in the 1980 NFC Championship Game, actually played on January 11, 1981 in front of 71,250 fans. This contest was famous because the Eagles chose to wear their white jerseys for their home game in order to force the Cowboys into their "unlucky" blue jerseys.
Additionally, Veterans Stadium was host to the latest finishing game in baseball history, a double-header between the Phillies and the Padres that started on July 2, 1993, which was famously interrupted multiple times by rain showers, and which the Padres won the first game of, and led in the second, but resulted a come-from-behind victory for the Phillies in the tenth inning off an RBI single by Phillies closing pitcher Mitch Williams. The 2nd game ended at 4:40 AM.
The Phillies also went on to clinch the National League Championship Series at The Vet twice; the first was in 1983 over local legend Tommy Lasorda and his Los Angeles Dodgers. The second came in the 1993 National League Championship Series over future divisional rivals the Atlanta Braves, which was the last LCS with a two-division format.
The Phillies hurled two no-hit games, the only nine-inning no-nos in stadium history and both coming against the San Francisco Giants: the first by Terry Mulholland on August 15, 1990, in a 6-0 Phillies win , the other on April 27, 2003, by Kevin Millwood in a 1-0 win , upstaging the Phillie Phanatic's Birthday promotion that afternoon. A five-inning no-hitter curtailed by rain in 1988 by Montréal Expos pitcher Pascual Pérez was not recognized after the 1990 season due to rules changes requiring that no-hitters had to be at least nine innings and a complete game. These are now listed as a separate section in the MLB record book.
Another game that is best remembered by Eagles fans was known as "The Body Bag Game," which took place on November 12, 1990, when the Washington Redskins visited The Vet for a Monday Night Football game. The Eagles' head coach at that time, Buddy Ryan, was quoted as saying that the Redskins' offense would "have to be carted off in body bags." The Eagles number-one defense scored three touchdowns in a 28–14 win and knocked nine Redskin players out of the game, including both of their quarterbacks. The Redskins were forced to finish the game using running back/returner Brian Mitchell (who would become an Eagles player over a decade later) at quarterback.
During the 1998 Army-Navy game, a serious accident occurred when a support rail collapsed and eight West Point cadets were injured. That led to the call for new stadiums for football and baseball for the main stadium tenants.
The final football game played at the Vet was the Eagles' 27–10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game on January 19, 2003, as the team moved into Lincoln Financial Field the following autumn.
Perhaps no game is more well-known for the fans' behavior than the 1989 follow-up game to what many called "The Bounty Bowl." On Thanksgiving Day (November 23) that year, the Eagles beat the Cowboys at Texas Stadium in which former Eagles placekicker Luis Zendejas left the game with a concussion following a hard tackle by linebacker Jesse Small after a kickoff. After the game, Cowboys rookie head coach Jimmy Johnson commented that Eagles coach Buddy Ryan instituted a bounty on Zendejas and Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman. Two weeks later, on December 10, they played the rematch dubbed "Bounty Bowl II" at The Vet, which was covered with snow in the stands. The volatile mix of beer, the "bounty" and the intense hatred for "America's Team" (who were 1–15 that season) led to fans throwing snowballs at Dallas players and coaches. Beer sales were banned after that incident for two games. A similar incident in 1995 at Giants Stadium during a nationally telecast San Diego Chargers–New York Giants game led the NFL to rule that seating areas must be cleared of snow within a certain time period before kickoff.
The Eagles fans' behavior during a Monday Night Football loss to the San Francisco 49ers in 1997 and a Dallas Cowboys game a year later was such that the City of Philadelphia assigned a Municipal Court Judge, Seamus McCaffrey, to The Vet on game days to deal with fans removed from the stands. Two years later, fans threw D-Cell batteries at St. Louis Cardinals outfielder J.D. Drew after he spurned the Phillies' offer to play with them, and wound up going back into the draft and picked by the Redbirds.
The ultimate end for the 33-year old stadium came with a record-setting (62 seconds) implosion on March 21, 2004. Driscoll/Hunt Construction Company's Project Manager Nick Peetros pressed the 'real' button to implode the stadium while Greg Luzinski pressed an imaginary plunger for the fans. A parking lot for the current sporting facilities was constructed in 2004 and 2005 at the site. On June 6, 2005, the anniversary of D-Day, a plaque and monument to commemorate the spot where the stadium stood and a memorial for all veterans was dedicated by the Phillies before their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. On September 28 of that same year, the second anniversary of the final game, a historical marker commemorating where the ballpark once stood was dedicated. Granite spaces marking the former locations of home plate, the pitching mound, and the three bases for baseball, as well as the goalpost placements for football, were added onto the parking lot in April 2006 in western parking lot U.