Super 40th

Today is the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Superdome, the giant facility in New Orleans’ Central Buisness District. 

 The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as it has been known officially since October 23, 2011, is best known as the home of the NFL’s Saints and host to seven Super Bowls, although the monolith will host only one in a span of 16 seasons (2002-2017), XLVII following the 2012 season, when the Ravens defeated the 49ers. By contrast, New Orleans hosted five Super Bowls in 12 seasons between 1969 and 1980, three (IV, VI, IX) at Tulane Stadium and two more (XII, XV) at the Dome. 

The Sugar Bowl moved to the Superdome in December 1975, and the facility has hosted numerous games which have determined national championships, both in the Sugar Bowl and the stand-alone BCS national championship game. Last season, it hosted the second semifinal of the first annual College Football Playoff, with Ohio State toppling Alabama 42-35. 

Tulane made the huge mistake of moving its home games from Tulane Stadium to the Superdome. Yes, Tulane Stadium was crumbling and many of the original steel portions of the stadium were unsafe, but the Green Wave surrendered any and all home field advantage by leaving campus. Yes, there were times where the Greenies could fill the stadium–mostly when LSU or another big name school came to town–but far more often than not, empty seats were the rule, not the exception. 

Tulane might have been best served to play a couple of years in the Dome while the old Tulane Stadium was renovated. It would have been perfect with 40,000 seats. 

The Greenies finally got the message by 2011, and in 2014, they opened Yulman Stadium. 

As fine as the Superdome is for football, it may be the WORST basketball facility on earth. The Jazz of the NBA attracted scores of fans with $1 tickets, but those were so far away you might as well have been on another planet. Unless you had powerful binoculars, you could hardly see the action from those seats, and what’s worse, people tended imbibe far too much. 

The NCAA didn’t care how bad most of the seats were for basketball. They saw dollar signs, and thus held the Final Four there for the first time in 1982. It was there where Michael Jordan became a household name, canning the game-winning jumper vs. Georgetown to lift No Carolina to a 63-62 victory and Dean Smith’s first national champiponship. The Tar Heels won another in 1993 in the same building, taking advantage of a gigantic blunder by Michigan’s Chris Webber, who called a timeout the Wolverines didn’t have, costing his team two points and icing the victory for Carolina. 

The Final Four was also held in the Dome in 1987, 2003 and 2012. With the NCAA now allowing basketball specific facilities to host the Final Four again, the Superdome may be out of luck for a while. 

New Orleans hoped the Superdome woudl attract a Major League Baseball team. 

Fat chance.

First, New Orleans is far too poor to support an MLB team. How many people would honestly buy season tickets for 81 games? You have to have corporate dollars to support an MLB team, and New Orleans just does not have it. Period.

Second, the Superdome was constructed for football not baseball. The seats down the foul line were ridiculoulsy far away from the field, and the dimensions were cozy–318 feet down the lines (which I believe was generous; it was closer to 300) and 358 in the power alleys. I could have envisioned a lot of 15-13 games, which would have meant long, long nights. 

The Superdome has held so much more than sports. A 1981 Rolling Stones concert drew almost 88,000. Pope John Paul II held a youth rally in 1987. Indoor fairs and numerous expositions have come thorugh year after year after year. 

Originally, the Superdome was going to be built in the suburbs, either in Jefferson Parish or New Orleans East, which was largely undeveloped. The trend was in the 1960s, when the Superrdome was proposed by Dave Dixon and Louisiana Gov. John McKeithen, to build the stadiums on vacant land surrounded by lots and lots of parking. 

When the bonds for the Superdome were approved by Louisiana voters in November 1966, ti was envisioned the stadium would cost $46 million and would seat between 50 to 55,000, along the lines of what the Astrodome in Houston seated. 

However, McKeith wanted the New Orleans dome to be bigger and better than the one in Houston. He wanted more seating, luxury boxes, large screen televisions, whatever have you. 

It took five years after passage of the bonds for ground to be broken. By then, a site along Poydras Street and Claiborne Avenue at the northern end of the Central Business District had been chosen, and the cost of that land, plus all of the bells and whistles McKeithen wanted, skyrocketed the cost to  $163 million.

Turns out McKeithen was right to ask for all the extra stuff.

The luxury suites, tucked between the second and third levels of the Dome, were far, far ahead of its time. Today, you’d better not build a professional sports stadium without them. The Astrodome had luxury suites, too, but they were at the very top of the stadium. Heaven forbid if you were afraid of heights.

The Suuperdome has perservered while all of its contemporaries have failed. The Astrodome sits vacant. So does the Pontiac Silverdome. The Seattle Kingdome, the Metrodome in Minneapolis, and the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis are all gone. The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, which opened in 1992, will be knocked down following the 2016 football season. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, opeend in 1995 for the Rams, may be without a tenant come January. 

I wish I had been old enough to visit Tulane Stadium, but the Superdome is absolutely necessary in New Orleans, given the city’s oppressive climate and the frequent thunderstorms.

I may never set foot inside the Superdome. That would be too bad. I would like to see the renovations which have taken place in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. 

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on August 3, 2015, in History, National Football League and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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