There will never be a game at Albi Stadium when the stands are bare.
Just look to the south end zone, front row, Seat 67. “Joe Fan” will be there.
It could rain. It could snow. But decked in his vest, tie and overcoat, “Joe” will always stretch to catch a glimpse of that touchdown pass or game-breaking fumble with peanuts in one hand, thermos at his side.
The bronze sculpture, molded in the likeness of Spokane sports baron Joseph A. Albi, was unveiled - fittingly - during halftime of the season’s first prep football game Thursday.
It drew approving glances from Albi’s relatives, including a second cousin.
“That’s exactly the way Joe was,” John Albi said. “It’s the embodiment of a man who enjoyed life, raised money, did everything for the kids.”
The $15,000 piece of art completes the final stage of the city’s stadium renovation project.
Perched in the stands behind the sculpture, city officials were all smiles Thursday.
The reaction was quite different last spring when “Joe” was proposed.
Some people, including Mayor Jack Geraghty and Councilwoman Roberta Greene, objected to the statue’s gender, saying it excluded female sports fans.
A compromise was reached.
Local artist Vincent DeFelice agreed to change the 600-pound statue from a generic fan to a likeness of Joe Albi.
It’s a well-deserved tribute. The Spokane lawyer, civic booster and notorious practical joker spearheaded the stadium’s construction and was renowned for financial support of local athletics. He was 70 when he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1962.
“It’s been a fun process, even through the controversy,” DeFelice, 29, said Thursday.
For many students, Albi was nothing more than the name of a stadium until Thursday.
“We didn’t know much before this,” said 16-year-old Anne Brucker, who attends Lewis and Clark High School.
“He really looks real,” she said, eyeing the statue. “It makes you want to find out more about him.”
While fans cheered as Shadle Park and University high schools duked it out on the field, a steady stream of folks dropped by to hang out with “Joe.”
They admired his fedora and the binoculars hanging from his neck. They chuckled at the bronzed peanut shells by his feet.
And almost everyone said they know someone “just like Joe.”
That’s what DeFelice was hoping for.
“This is a tribute to all of you - the fans,” DeFelice said during the unveiling ceremony. “Come say ‘Hi’ to ‘Joe.”’
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo