Ty Law stepped on plenty of football fields during his playing career.
From his spot on the black end zone turf of his alma mater Aliquippa’s new Heinz Field home Friday night, it was hard for the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee not to have a visceral reaction to the memories of what playing at Aliquippa’s nearly 100-year-old former Carl A. Aschman Stadium felt like.
“You can always visualize it,” said Law of the former stadium legendarily known as The Pit. “It’s just the aura and the atmosphere, but now we have a new canvas, and it’s time to paint a new story.”
Aliquippa began that very task by opening its newly constructed Heinz Field with a 37-19 victory against Armstrong.
For Law, it was never a question as to whether he would be in the house to see the opening of the new stadium of his beloved Quips.
“This all started for me right here,” said Law, a Super Bowl champion who played NCAA football at Michigan before a 15-year NFL career that saw him play 10 seasons as a cornerback with the New England Patriots. “Everything I know about life and about the game I love started right here for me on this field. It’s always going to hold a special place, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Aliquippa’s homecoming was a long time coming for Quips head coach Mike Warfield.
Before winning its record 19th WPIAL championship and finishing the 2022 campaign as PIAA Class 4A runner-up, Aliquippa played all of its home games at Freedom High School as the former Carl A. Aschman Stadium was razed and Heinz Field was constructed.
“Starting in 2018 the condition of our field wasn’t good at all,” Warfield said. “This was a goal of ours, maybe not to this magnitude, but the gracious support of Kraft Heinz made it possible.
“There is also credit I’ve got to give to the school board and [Superintended Phillip K. Woods]. They were the ones that had to sign off on it. I’m happy for the community and for the kids.”
Aliquippa’s 3,000-seat Heinz Field features new field turf and enhanced stadium lighting — which blazes red when the Quips enter the red zone — in addition to a video scoreboard, new goal posts and metal bleachers.
Those facilities are only going to improve. Heinz Kraft announced in July its $1.3 million donation to Aliquippa would also help build a new academic and athletic center attached to Heinz Field.
Aliquippa hosted a heavily attended pregame tailgate, during which a ribbon-cutting was held and the first 3,000 fans received a red Heinz Field shirt, to kick off Friday night’s festivities.
Warfield said all of the events surrounding the game meant the world to his players.
“You can see it on all their faces,” he said. “I think it means just as equally to the community. You can see the tailgate up there, everyone is here, everyone is enjoying themselves. There are people from all over.”
There were also plenty of people from Aliquippa.
Melvin Martin, a 1986 Aliquippa graduate and track athlete, came to the game Friday night to check out the new stadium.
“We are just going to support our team,” he said. “I love the field.”
Martin said the new stadium is a “big deal” for the community.
“This is the heart of the town,” he said. “Aliquippa is nothing but sports. It means really a lot. It keeps the kids off the street and gives them something to focus on. It gives them a future.”
Aliquippa resident Zandra Horton brought three of her grandchildren — Charles, 13, Thyus, 8, and Zailin, 7 — to Heinz Field for a special reason. They came to see one of her other grandchildren, Aliquippa running back Tiqwai Hayes, play for the first time at his new home stadium.
The standout junior running back scored Heinz Field’s first touchdown on a 29-yard run on the Quips’ first drive of the game. He would add a 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and a 7-yard score in the third.
“He’s been playing ball since he was able to put a ball in his hands,” said Horton of her grandson Tiqwai. “He’s always striving for greatness.”
Horton said it was a special night for her family.
“Everybody came together, had fun and played a game,” she said.
It was also a family affair for Aliquippa native Terrell Patillo, whose cousin is standout Quips receiver and cornerback Brandon Banks.
“He came off a good family tree,” Patillo said of Banks, a Yale recruit.
Patillo said several members of his family have played sports at Aliquippa. He added the connection his family has to its hometown is indicative of the experience many people have with Aliquippa.
“I’m real proud,” he said. “The work has been put in. You see [three] players that are in the Hall of Fame, that speaks for itself.”
Aliquippa’s Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees include Law; former legendary Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka; and Darrelle Revis, an ex-Pitt and New York Jets cornerback who was enshrined in Canton in July.
Warfield said Ditka, a former Pitt great who is now 83, was unable to return for Friday night’s game, while fellow Panthers legend, Revis, is currently out of the country.
“Our legends, they have done so much for our community,” Warfield said. “The fact that they’re just giving our kids a sense of direction, if you do what you’re supposed to do consistently, it’s possible [to do what they did].”
Law said he was pleased to come back and represent the Quips’ Pro Football Hall of Fame contingent.
“People gather all the time no matter what anybody is doing in Aliquippa, Friday night comes, all bets are off,” Law said. “Everyone is coming to the game. For those few hours, it’s a thing of pride. It’s a thing of family. It’s a gathering.
“Carl A. Aschman, we left a legacy,” he added. “It’s time to start a new one.”
Aliquippa quarterback Quentin Goode was happy to begin doing just that Friday night. He connected with DeMarkus Walker for a 70-yard touchdown pass during the Quips’ 19-point second quarter.
“It feels good, especially on this new field,” Goode said. “We’ve got turf now, and we’ve got the new Heinz sign, the red out, it feels good. It feels good to be back out here.”
Goode said he and his teammates are appreciative of all of the support they have received this season.
“I just want to make memories with my teammates,” he said. “It’s going to go by like this. I just want to be here for the fun.”