The Dome at 40: New Orleans centerpiece evolves from then to now

  • icon
  • icon
  • icon
  • icon

1975, 2015 Sugar Bowl games

NEW ORLEANS – A news release in the Summer of ’75 trumpeted the virtues of the massive, gleaming structure dominating the New Orleans skyline.

Of the new Louisiana – now Mercedes-Benz – Superdome, the release said: “It is the depository of Louisiana’s belief in itself and a budding, exhilarating, moving certainty that tomorrow can be now. There is nothing else anywhere like it. . . “

The New York Times said that the Dome “will make all other stadiums as obsolete as Rome’s Colosseum.”

Bob Marshall of The States-Item wrote of the New Orleans Saints players, upon viewing the Dome for the first time, “were like gold fish in a new bowl.” Only this bowl stands 273 feet high and occupies 13 acres.

Can it be 40 years since those words were penned? Can the Superdome, as of Aug. 3, be middle-aged?

It has and it is.

But, from all outward appearances, the Dome still seems hale, hearty and fit for 40.

Its 20,000 tons of steel and 150,000 cubic yards of concrete certainly contribute to its well-being.

Ten years ago, the ravages of Katrina tested the Dome, which demonstrated its resiliency, its ability to take a punch, its heart. Thanks to 9,000 tons of air conditioning, its circulation remains steady as does its pressure, except after a Saints’ or Pelicans’ victory.

But nothing remains unchanged – not even a structure so sturdy and strong and the Dome is no exception. The following is a 40-year comparison of the Superdome circa ’75 and the Superdome circa 2015 – a look Then and Now at this vital ‘Wonder of the World’ as it slips into its fifth decade:

Then: The Dome’s seating capacity from 1975-’78 was 74,452 fans.

Now: Seating capacity is 76,468.

Then: The playing surface was artificial turf called ‘Mardi Grass.’

Now: The current surface is Speed 5-M which covers 111,831 square feet.

Then: There were 64 private box suites which is the same number of parishes in Louisiana.

No: There are now 153 suites on three levels.

Then: Dome construction began on Aug. 11, 1971 and it officially opened on Aug. 3, 1975.

Now: That opening took place four years before Drew Brees was born on Jan. 15, 1979 and 18 years before Anthony Davis was born on March 11, 1993.

Then: The Superdome cost $163,313,315 — approximately.

Now: Levis Stadium in San Francisco, completed in 2014, cost $1.3 billion. New stadiums are set for Minnesota in 2016 at a cost of $975 million and Atlanta in 2017 at a cost of $1.2 billion. The Houston Astrodome, which preceded the Superdome by 10 years, closed in 2008. It was built at a cost of $35 million and opened on April 8, 1965. The Seattle Kingdome, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis and the RCA Dome in Indianapolis have all been demolished.

Then: In 1975, the Saints’ first appearance in the Dome took place on Aug. 9 when coach John North’s squad lost to the Houston Oilers of coach Bum Phillips 13-7 in an exhibition game. The first regular-season game in ’75, pitting the Saints against the Cincinnati Bengals, resulted in a 21-0 loss before a crowd of 52,531 fans. Under North, the Saints managed just a 2-12 season.

Now: The Saints have played 370 games in the Superdome since ’75. Heading into its 48th year, New Orleans sports a franchise record of 324-409-5 in the regular season and 7-9 in the postseason for an overall combined mark of 331-418-5.

Then: Surprisingly, the first college football game played In the Dome in ’75 matched Grambling State against Alcorn State on Sept. 6. The Tigers of Hall of Fame Coach Eddie Robinson triumphed 27-3 behind four touchdown passes by future NFL quarterback Doug Williams, then a sophomore.

Now: The Bayou Classic between Grambling and Southern of Baton Rouge has been contested in the Superdome since 1975 when Grambling prevailed 33-17. But the first Bayou Classic matchup took place at Tulane Stadium in ‘74 with Grambling winning 21-0. The series, which will continue this November, stands 21-20 in Grambling’s favor.

Then: On Sept. 20 of ’75, Tulane played in the Dome for the first time, defeating Ole Miss 14-3 before 50,000 fans. Later that season, Tulane faced LSU in the Dome for the first time, with the Tigers prevailing 42-6 before 70,850 fans. Tulane downed LSU twice indoors – 24-13 in 1979 and 48-7 in 1981. The LSU-Tulane series ended in 2009 with the Tigers rolling 42-0.

Now: Tulane will begin its second season in Yulman Stadium on campus this fall. Tulane’s final regular-season game in the Dome took place in 2013 when the Green Wave downed UTEP 45-3. Tulane’s final appearance in the Dome took place in the 2013 New Orleans Bowl when the Wave fell to Louisiana-Lafayette 24-21.

Then: Carver and St. Augustine christened the Dome in the 1975 regular season with the first high school football game indoors. St. Aug downed the Rams 33-0. St. Aug and Carver met again later that season in a bidistrict round doubleheader which also featured Rummel vs. East Jefferson. In the regionals, St. Aug faced West Jefferson and Rummel faced Bonnabel, with both doubleheaders attracting huge turnouts. State champ St. Aug finished 15-0.

Now: The 2015 Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Classic will crown nine state champions on the weekends of Dec. 4-5 and 11-12. The first Superdome Classic took place in 1981 when four state champions were determined in one day.

Then: The New Orleans Jazz played its first game in the Dome against the Detroit Pistons on Oct. 14, 1975.The home team, which triumphed 114-106, moved its franchise to Salt Lake City in 1979.

Now: The Hornets shifted their franchise from Charlotte to New Orleans for the 2007-’08 season. The team’s name was changed to Pelicans in 2013. In 13 seasons in the Crescent City, the Pelicans/Hornets sport a combined mark of 498-552.

Then: Alabama downed Penn State 13-6 on the final day of 1975 in the first Sugar Bowl indoors.

Now: In another precedent for the Dome, Ohio State thumped Alabama 42-35 in the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Day of this year. You may want to wager someone that you can predict the exact teams and final score of this year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl. Protect yourself at all times.

In memoriam

Many of those who figured so prominently in the early history of the Dome as athletes, coaches, businessmen and government officials have sadly passed on during the ensuing four decades. Here are some of those figures:

John North, who coached the Saints from 1973-75, died on July 6 of 2010 at age 89. He was fired in October of ’75 following a 38-14 loss to Los Angles which dropped the Saints to 1-5.

Bennie Ellender, Tulane’s coach of five years from 1971-’75, died on Dec. 22, 2011 at age 86. Ellender coached the Green Wave to arguably its most impactful victory in history when the Wave ended a 25-year losing streak against LSU with a 14-0 victory in Tulane Stadium in 1973.

Charles McClendon, LSU’s coach for 18 years from 1962-’79, passed away on Dec, 6, 2001 at age 78. McClendon, with a career mark of 137-59-7, remains the winningest coach in LSU history.

Eddie Robinson, the coach at Grambling State for an unfathomable 57 years, died at age 88 on April 3, 2007. Robinson finished his career as the winningest coach in Division I football history with a mark of 408-165-15.

Butch Van Breda Kolff , the colorful Dutchman whom endeared himself to Crescent City basketball fans with his courtside personality, coached the Jazz from 1974 to ‘77. Acknowledged as having one of the game’s exceptional basketball minds, VBK died on Aug. 22, 2007 at age 84.

‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich – Thanks to his incomparable ball-handling skills and his prolific scoring, Maravich played before massive crowds for the Jazz, beginning with the 1974-’75 season. Still the all-time leading scorer in college basketball history, the former LSU Tiger averaged 25.9 points per game in five seasons with the Jazz. Maravich died on Jan. 5, 1998 at age 40.

Dave Dixon – Acknowledged as the “Father of the Superdome”, Dixon was hailed as a visionary, having lobbied for the Dome back in 1962. Thanks largely to his tireless efforts, the Saints were awarded a pro football franchise on Nov. 1, 1966 – All-Saints Day. The local businessman died at age 83 on Aug. 8, 2010.

John McKeithen — The two-term governor from 1964-’72 was a driving force and loyal supporter of the Superdome. McKeithen died at the age of 81 on June 4, 1999.

This article is the fourth in a series of five to commemorate the opening of the Superdome on its 40th anniversary.

Part 1: The Origins
Part 2: The Tenants
Part 3: The Events
Part 4: Then & Now
Part 5: 10 Years After Katrina

  • < PREV

    SportsNOLA Preseason Prep Top 10s: Rummel, Neville, U-High, Calvary, Haynesville top ranked

  • NEXT >

    MadBum’s pinch-hitting prowess reminiscent of Boo from a different era

Bill Bumgarner

Bill Bumgarner

Featured Columnist

Born in Freeport, Texas, Bill moved to New Orleans in 1955. From that point on, Bumgarner has called this city home. Bill graduated from New Orleans Academy in 1967 before heading to Lafayette for college. He is a 1971 graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) with a degree in liberal arts in political science. Bumgarner cut his teeth in journalism as a writer with the school’s newspaper for three years,. Bill was then hired at The States-Item on Dec. 22, 1972 and remained on staff when that publication merged with the Times-Picayune. As primary assignments, Bumgarner covered…

Read more >