by Brett Halpern, Esq.
The next stop on the tour takes us to Albuquerque on the campus of the University of New Mexico. Without question, this arena has one of the best names for a sporting venue: the Pit. Located at the corner of Chavez and University Boulevard, directly across from the University’s football stadium, the Pit is a unique structure that from the outside would most likely be mistaken for any random warehouse. However, though at first glance the Pit is a minimalist structure, what lies inside is a compact yet massive 17,000 seat arena that is known for producing one of the most hostile environments for visiting teams in the entire NCAA.
First opening in 1966, the Pit, originally named University Arena, was lauded for its innovative design by Albuquerque native Joe Boehning. The Pit’s most distinctive feature, as per its name, is the arena’s floor which lies 37 feet below grade. With such a design there are no support pillars which allowed Boehning to design the stands with an incredibly steep grade, allowing for an intimate and compact feel. Additionally, due to the Albuquerque’s high elevation, the noise level is even greater. In the tunnel towards the visiting locker room there is a sign that states, “Welcome to the legendary Pit, a mile high and louder than . . .” During the 1988-1989 season the Pit managed to register a sound reading of 118 decibels, 2 decibels higher than famed Cameron Indoor Stadium, the home of the Duke Blue Devils.
The Pit has undergone two different phases of renovation with the most recent being in 2009. The 2009 renovations have provided a modern face-lift to the outside of the arena as well as the addition of luxury boxes in the Pit’s interior.
Though the Lobos have enjoyed great success, the Pit may be most remembered by casual fans as the site of the famous 1983 NCAA Final Four, which featured the classic title game between the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the University of Houston “Phi Slama Jamma” Cougars. Tied at 52, Derreck Wittenburg threw up an last-second desperation shot which teammate Lorenzo Charles caught mid-air and slammed home for the stunning victory. NC State’s Coach, the late Jim Valvano could then be seen running frantically around the court looking for someone to hug before ultimately connecting with his athletic trainer. Below is a video containing the highlights of that historic game.