04 September, 2005

Not so Super anymore

On of the abiding, if not iconic, images of Hurricane Katrina is the wind torn and ravaged Louisiana Superdome. It may not be the end of the arena, but it will now forever be linked to the awful drama and despair of the last week.

An immediate effect, though it seems trivial in the circumstances, is that the Superdome’s only full-time tenant, the New Orleans Saints, look destined to limp through the season on the road. Already their home opener has been moved to Giants Stadium. Plans to move games to San Antonio, perhaps temporarily, have been shelved as the Alamodome now houses refugees from Katrina’s wrath.

It would be no surprise, in fact, if the Saints have played their last game in the 'Dome. For several years, the club has petitioned the state for a new home. That looks unlikely, as the state and city will face a huge reconstruction bill for other more basic infrastructure. A new football facility is unlikely to be top of the agenda.

No news, as yet, on a repair bill for the Superdome. As you'll see above, parts of the enormous metal clad roof have been blown off. Inside, from all accounts, there is serious degradation.

That is not to mention the ghosts that will now haunt the place. The horrors of those sheltering inside cast a long shadow.

The Superdome has always struck me as an unlovely place. At the time of construction is seemed futuristic. But so too did most of the multisport concrete facilities of those times – Riverfront, Three Rivers, the Kingdome. Plonked in quaint, historic New Orleans it made no reference to local style. It stands as one of thousands of brutal urban monuments of the 60s and 70s littering America’s cities.

Super it may have been in the 70s – in size, at least. Teams that have played there have hardly been super. Whilst not the hapless expansion team of 1967, the Saints have hardly been a force in the NFL. New Orleans has never had a MLB team. It’s not a big pro sports market. Like most of the Southland, football is king: in the college and prep format.

Katrina might be the catalyst that gets the Saints out of New Orleans. LA is still without an NFL franchise though the Coliseum is not quite the money-spinning facility the Saints crave. San Antonio would be another taker.

Moving the Saints would be a sad legacy of Katrina.

It was Ray Hofheinz, intrigued by the geodesic domes of Buckminster Fuller, who brought the world domed stadiums. Hofheinz was instrumental in getting an MLB franchise for Houston, then got the Astrodome built. Few would argue with the logic of indoor baseball in Houston. I’ve had the misfortune of swatting Houston mosquitoes and sweltering in the 90 deg heat (in October, even).

The Astrodome was a lethal hazard when it opened as the translucent roof panels dazzled outfielders. The panels were painted; the grass died; and, AstroTurf had to be invented. That had a profound effect on the game of baseball. For better or worse, speed became a premium tool. Artifical turf is all but gone in basbeall parks; power may now rule, but speed is still much more a part of the game than it was before the Astrodome.

Whereas, the Astrodome has some grace and elegance, the Superdome is a concrete pimple: one huge concrete pimple, mind you.

The days of building domes of this kind are over and few mourn their passing. For every Astrodome, there were too many Kingdomes or, worse still, Humpy-domes. The still-to-be-paid-for Skydome started the trend to retractable roofs. Hey, we even have one in the UK.

In some ways, last week’s sadness at the Superdome draws a line under the domed stadium.


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04 September, 2005 22:21  
Blogger Paul said...

I'd be willing to bet that we see a Los Angeles Saints team, before the Superdome is rebuilt. L.A. has a massive TV market that would be hard for the NFL to ignore.

05 September, 2005 07:47  

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