Blog Archives

Super sites: superbly competitive

Monday marked the 40th anniversary of Super Bowl XII, the first Super Bowl to be played indoors. The Cowboys defeated the Broncos 27-10 in the Louisiana Superdome (now Mercedes-Benz Superdome). I don’t remember watching simply because I was only 15 months old, while my mother was almost eight months pregnant with my brother, who arrived February 24.

Super Bowl IX, the previous Super Bowl held in New Orleans, was supposed to be played in the Superdome. The NFL awarded New Orleans Super Bowl IX in early 1973 with the intention of playing the game indoors. However, when it became obvious in the middle of 1974 the Superdome would not be completed in time for the game (January 12, 1975), the NFL allowed New Orleans and the Saints to move the game to Tulane Stadium.

The Superdome did not open until August 3, 1975, and the first regular season game there was September 28, a 21-0 Bengals victory over the Saints. It was scheduled to be open in 1972 when the voters of Louisiana approved the bonds to build the stadium in November 1966, but construction did not begin until August 1971. Typical Louisiana.

The above narrative shows just how different selecting Super Bowl sites is today than it was in the 1970s.

The first six Super Bowls were awarded with less than one year of lead time. In fact, the site for Super Bowl I, the Los Angeles Coliseum, was not selected until the last week of November 1966, a mere seven weeks before the game was played. To be fair, the NFL and AFL did not finalize plans for the World Championship Game, as it was called then, until early November.

The next five Super Bowls saw the sites awarded at the league meetings of March. Miami won Super Bowls II, III and V, while New Orleans got IV and VI at Tulane Stadium. New Orleans bid on the first three Super Bowls, and was seriously considered as the site for the first, even though the Saints did not begin play until 1967, the season of Super Bowl II.

Joe Robbie, who bought the Dolphins from Danny Kaye in 1969, lobbied Pete Rozelle hard to permanently place the Super Bowl in Miami. John Mecom, the original owner of the Saints, lobbied very hard against it, as did Dave Dixon, who was the driving force behind the NFL coming to New Orleans, then-Louisiana Governor John McKeithen, then-New Orleans mayor Victor Schiro, and many NFL owners, especially Clint Murchison in Dallas and George Halas in Chicago.

New Orleans’ pleas carried the day in March 1969 and again in March 1971. The first Super Bowl site to be awarded more than a year in advance was Super Bowl VII, which was awarded to Los Angeles at the same time as Super Bowl VI.

Many wanted Super Bowl IX to be yanked out of New Orleans. They believed New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu lied when he said the Superdome would be open in time for the game, and that New Orleans should be punished.

In today’s NFL, that would have happened for sure. The game probably would have gone to Miami, which was already scheduled to host Super Bowl X, or possibly to the Los Angeles area, either at the Coliseum, or the Rose Bowl, which would host Super Bowl XI and four more after that.

However, Rozelle allowed the game to remain in the Big Easy. Even in the mid-1970s, it would have been a logistical nightmare to move the game on such short notice.

Today, cities have at least three years of lead time, often more, to get ready for the game.

For instance, Minneapolis, which is hosting Super Bowl LII February 4, has known about it for almost four years. Knowing the game would be yanked if U.S. Bank Stadium was not open in 2016, the construction crews in the Twin Cities worked double time to make sure it was on schedule.

Under NFL rules currently in place, a stadium cannot host the Super Bowl in its first season of operation. This is why Minnesota had to wait until this year, and Atlanta has to wait until next year, although Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted the College Football Playoff championship game less than six months after opening.

In May 2016, the NFL awarded the sites for Super Bowls LIII, LIV and LV. Super Bowl LV was originally scheduled for the new stadium in Los Angeles (Ingelwood) in February 2021, but an exceptionally rainy winter in early 2017 pushed back the timetable for construction of the stadium. Therefore, Tampa will host LV and Los Angeles will host LVI.

Sadly, New Orleans cannot host another Super Bowl until LVII in February 2023. And even that one is a very long shot, as Las Vegas’ Stadium will be open by then, and it will be the first opportunity to hold it there.

From 1969, the season of Super Bowl IV, through 1989, the season of Super Bowl XXIV, New Orleans never went more than five seasons without hosting. The drought will be nine seasons through 2021, and likely grow to ten.

There are some who want a four-year rotation for the Super Bowl between Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles and a wild card. That will never happen. The owners in Dallas, Houston and Arizona would certainly raise holy hell, as would those in Tampa, Atlanta, Minnesota, Detroit and Indianapolis.

The owners in Tennessee and Carolina probably feel the worst. They believe their climates are far enough south to provide good weather in early February, but there is just too much risk. Look how badly Atlanta was paralyzed during an ice storm the week before Super Bowl XXXIV in January 2000. It could very well happen again next year. The NFL is really rolling the dice.

One city which won’t host again is Jacksonville. There simply were not enough hotels in 2005, and many guests either had to stay in far-away locales (Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Ocala) or on cruise ships. The Jaguars have not bid since and probably won’t, unless Shahid Kahn changes his mind.

London? There would have to be another extra week between the conference championships and Super Bowl. And how would fans in the United States get to London? I can’t see that.

I”m of the mind the Super Bowl should be offered to all NFL cities, even those in colder climates with outdoor stadiums. Why not Chicago? New England, though, would never be on my list, because Foxborough is in the middle of nowhere and the traffic getting there from Boston and Providence would be so bad I can’t imagine it. Green Bay? Not enough hotels.

Kansas City? Stadium is kind of outdoor. Great for tailgating, not for events in the days prior to the game. And there isn’t a second facility comparable to what the Chiefs have. The only options I could see is letting one team use Kauffman Stadium and the Royals’ facilities or Sporting Kansas City’s stadium in Kansas. At least New Orleans has Tulane. Baton Rouge wouldn’t be bad, since it would be away from the temptations of the French Quarter, and LSU’s facilities are far superior to Tulane’s.

I’m resigned to the fact I won’t see a Super Bowl in Kansas City, Chicago, Green Bay or many other places in my lifetime, unless something changes drastically. It’s only sports.

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. 

Done with the Dome

Little did I know it at the time, but ten years ago today marked the last time I have set foot in the Superdome, the giant saucer on Poydras Street in New Orleans’ Central Business District which has been home to the Saints of the National Football League since 1975.

On November 14, 2004, my dad and I went to the Saints’ game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs at what was then known as the Louisiana Superdome. It was the Chiefs’ first visit to New Orleans since 1994, when Joe Montana was Kansas City’s starting quarterback. The matchup was not particularly appetizing. Both the Chiefs and Saints were also-rans in 2004, a battle of two 3-5 teams whose playoff hopes were slim to none.

My dad was a Chiefs and Saints fan dating way back to the 1960s. He attended the Saints’ first regular season game at Tulane Stadium in 1967. John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff vs. the Rams 94 yards for a touchdown, but my dad missed it. He was at a concession stand buying beer.

He attended a Chiefs game in 1968 at Municipal Stadium, driving over 24 hours round trip in the space of less than 36 hours. in that game, Hank Stram put Kansas City in the full house T-formation and ran the ball on nearly every play. The Chiefs beat the Raiders 24-10, Oakland’s only regular season loss that season.

My father’s company, Air Products and Chemicals, had two season ticket accounts. One of these accounts had four seats in one of the most prestigious sections of the building: section 312, row 8. Or in layman’s terms, club level, 50-yard line on the east (visitors’) side. At the time, those seats cost $135 per game. Today, they are $400 per game. That’s not only the price of admission, but the right to mingle in the giant club rooms behind the concourses. The clubs featured upscale food and giant televisions where patrons could watch all of the other games and take a break from the noisy seating areas.

Just as important, the season ticket account included reserved parking in the northwest parking garage under the Superdome. No walking long distances from a parking lot to the stadium.

I was able to use the tickets on more than one occasion to treat friends from LSU to the exclusive seats, including a 2000 game vs. the Broncos when I met Bill Franques, Todd Politz and Shelby Holmes. They were impressed.

My dad usually got the tickets for one game per year. I preferred to go to games when the Saints played an AFC team, since those teams came to New Orleans only once every eight years. The exception to that rule was when the Saints played the Cardinals, my favorite team. That didn’t work so well in 1997, when the Saints won 27-10.

The Chiefs should have beaten the Saints on November 14, 2004. Priest Holmes, the Chiefs’ All-Pro running back, did not play, but reserve Derrick Blaylock enjoyed the best game of his NFL career, rushing for 186 yards. Trent Green threw for 311, and the Chiefs ended the game with 497.

However, Green threw two interceptions, and Kansas City also lost two fumbles, contributing to its downfall. The Saints won the game on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Brooks to Joe Horn, a former Chief, with 5:35 to play. When Green was intercepted by Orlando Ruff with 1:16 to go, I told dad let’s get out of here. We beat the traffic. Final: Saints 27, Chiefs 20.

I thought I would be back in the Superdome the second weekend of December for the Louisiana High School Athletic Association state football championships. Not only did I not attend those games, I almost wasn’t alive to see December 10 and 11. That story is coming later this week.