Look who's ready to make her comeback, all polished and pretty.
The venerable football venue at Sacramento City College stood as a monument of civic pride for decades, but at 84, the place was beginning to show its age and was in dire need of a face-lift and body work.
True story: Sac City, as recently as last fall, employed a man to shovel pigeon droppings in the snack-bar concourse area as countless feathered friends camped out in the bowels of Hughes. The pigeons are gone, replaced by protective siding and fresh coats of white and burgundy paint, none of which masks the charm of the facility with its cinderblock walls.
There are new bleachers, a new press box, new team rooms and a new all-weather track in the works for the 21,000-seat venue. The biggest change is the field. Say goodbye late-fall mud pit and hello FieldTurf. The mower has been replaced by a sweeper to grade the plastic grass and pick up debris. All of this is part of a $13 million bond measure earmarked for school improvement. And Hughes was due.
"It took a lot of work to make the old lady look good, and she looks great," said Sac City athletic administrator Paul Carmazzi, a staff member since the late 1970s. Carmazzi recalled when former athletic director Dick Pierucci, now retired, suggested leveling Hughes before a facility retrofit in 1978. Pierucci recently peeled off some history of Hughes, adding that he looks forward to a tour.
"I remember a guy once rammed his car into Hughes in the 1970s for whatever reasons, and the place didn't even feel it," Pierucci said Sunday. "One guy took a jackhammer to the side of Hughes during the retrofit, and the hammer broke. Couple feet away, he jackhammered, and it went clean through. It was old even then."
No area football facility can match Hughes for tradition and history, and new improvements also mean new hopes. Sac City officials want to be a player in the stadium scene again. Christian Brothers and McClatchy will call Hughes home after more than 20 years away.
Sac City and rival American River will compete in the first football game at redone Hughes on Sept. 7. The next night, CBS and McClatchy face off. On Sept. 15, the annual Holy Bowl between CBS and Jesuit could exceed its average crowd of some 15,000 the past decade.
Sac City wants to bring back high school football playoff games, last played at Hughes in 2005. Muddy conditions prompted Sac-Joaquin Section officials to look elsewhere. Sac City also wants track and field meets high school, college, Junior Olympics.
"We're starting to dream because it's a new era," said Mitch Campbell, the school's dean of kinesiology, health and athletics, who showed off Hughes last Friday with the glee of a child parading his new bike through the neighborhood. "What a great place to have events."
For decades, Hughes hosted just about anything. There were midget car races on the dirt oval, track and field meets that included record-setting performances from Jackie Robinson and, a generation later, Carl Lewis. World championship boxing matches were held there.
If only the walls could talk.
The NFL staged exhibition games at Hughes in the 1950s and '60s. The Raiders' first franchise victory was at Hughes over the New York Titans in 1960 with rookie Jim Otto wearing number 50 and not his Hall of Fame 00. The 49ers were 5-1 all-time at Hughes. Pro Football Hall of Famer Curly Lambeau coached his last game in the NFL at Hughes, his Redskins falling to the 49ers in 1954. In the lobby of the Senator Hotel in Sacramento later that night, a drunken argument prompted Redskins owner George Preston Marshall to can his coach.
Hughes hosted the Camellia Bowl small-college postseason games in the 1960s and '70s, and it hosted the annual Turkey Day game between Sacramento and McClatchy from the 1940s into the '70s, often drawing overflow crowds. The Pig Bowl, the annual law-enforcement charity football game, included days-long tailgating parties and full crowds.
In 1974, baseball found a home at Hughes. It was 235 feet from the plate to the left-field wall at Hughes, which featured a 40-foot-tall screen. For three seasons, the Solons and Pacific Coast League teams used the place as a comedic home run launching pad, leading minor league baseball in blasts and attendance. In an exhibition game, Hank Aaron clubbed his easiest homer for visiting Milwaukee.
And the concerts: Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Linda Ronstadt, Sammy Hagar, Rod Stewart, the Jackson Five, Eagles, Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd. Largest crowd in Hughes history? The Doobie Brothers drew 42,000 in 1981.
"We won't see concerts anymore, but we hope to see a lot of everything else," Carmazzi said. "Hughes is back."