SUPER BOWLS: 1978, 1981, 1986, 1990, 1997, 2002, 2013 ARTIFICIAL TURF: ever since 1975
SUGAR BOWLS: ever since 1975 (except 2006) COLLEGE FOOTBALL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES: 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 (BCS); 2020 (CFPNC)
NCAA basketball Final Four: 1982, 1987, 1993, 2003, and 2012 BEEN THERE: I made a brief visit in February 2021.
Perhaps jealous of their Gulf Coast urban rivals in Houston, the city fathers of New Orleans set out to outdo the Astrodome with a super-sized dome of their own. Construction began in the 1970s, but unexpected problems led to delays and cost overruns. It was not completed until seven months after Super Bowl IX, which had to be relocated to nearby Tulane Stadium. The Superdome has (or had) a unique solution to the age-old football-vs.-baseball configuration dilemma: they simply retract the entire lower deck along both of the sidelines. That explains why the lower deck in the Superdome is so small compared to most other "cookie-cutter" / "doughnut" design stadiums. Like the Kingdome in Seattle, it combines a circular perimeter with a more-or-less rectangular interior field shape, though it is actually an "octorad," like in Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego or Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. There are also strong parallels with Rogers Centre in Toronto, in terms of the grandstand shape, though not the field itself. The Superdome is unique in how the symmetry of each deck is slightly different, more oblong in the upper deck.
Baseball was obviously an afterthought in the design, which is why the baseball configuration is problematic, with very poor sight lines: You can't even see home plate from the upper deck on the first base side! The extent of the warning tracks in the baseball setup clearly indicates that several rows of temporary seats were envisioned between the dugouts and the foul poles. It is uncertain whether such seats were ever installed at a baseball game, however. Still, it is interesting to contemplate whether an alternate reconfiguration scheme might have made this a better venue for baseball, hence the hypothetical diagrams above. In it, the first eight rows of seats on the northeast side would be made retractable, to provide for a suitable outfield size. Instead of the entire lower deck being retracted, only the first half (16 rows) of the lower deck would be retracted, and only the northeastern halves of the lower deck. The southeastern halves of the lower deck would be made permanent, with a much wider main concourse. The backstop distance would be only 50 feet, and the center field and foul line dimensions would be shorter as well, while the power alleys would be much deeper. Thus, the baseball-to-football conversion would be much quicker and economical. This might have paved the way for some kind of annual baseball exhibition series coinciding with Mardi Gras, but that possibility became moot when the 2011 renovations were done.
Major League Baseball exhibition games have been played in the Superdome many times: in 1976 (Astros vs. Twins), every year from 1980 through 1984, and in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1994, and 1999 (Cubs vs. Twins). There was really never much chance that New Orleans would get a Major League franchise, however, due to its relatively small population. (In the 2010 Census, New Orleans ranked #46 among metropolitan areas in the country, with a population of 1,167,764, a drop of about 150,000 compared to a decade earlier.) In 1977, after a lapse of 17 years, Minor League baseball was reborn in the Crescent City, as the American Association Tulsa Oilers (AAA) relocated to New Orleans and became the "Pelicans." (That was the name of the old New Orleans minor league team that folded after the 1950s.) Playing in the biggest-ever minor league stadium was something of an absurdity, however, and the franchise relocated again one year later, becoming the Springfield "Redbirds." To make room for the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993, the AAA Denver Zephyrs relocated to New Orleans, where a new ballpark had been built. Finally, the Superdome was the site of the "Busch Challenge" college baseball tournament in the late 1980s; see the YouTube video of the 1987 series.
Over the years, the Superdome has been used for basketball, major boxing matches, and assorted other big events. From early 1975 until the spring of 1979, the Superdome was the home of the National basketball Association expansion franchise New Orleans Jazz. With an adjusted capacity of 47,284, it was a lousy venue for basketball games, just as the Kingdome in Seattle or Skydome in Toronto were. The Jazz moved to Utah in the fall of 1979. Muhammed Ali defeated Leon Spinks at the Superdome in September 1978. In 1981, the Rolling Stones entertained 87,500 fans, setting a record for an indoor rock concert. Pope John Paul II said mass there in 1987, and in 1988 the Republican National Convention was held at the Superdome, nominating George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle.
For the first two decades, there were relatively few changes in the Superdome. In 1996 a new upper-level concourse (depicted in the 2011 diagram above) and a corresponding set of entry portals was added to the upper deck. In September 2005 the Superdome was used as an emergency shelter for about 20,000 survivors of Hurricane Katrina, many of whom were later transported to the Astrodome in Houston. Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people, and over 200,000 people who evacuated never returned home. There was some doubt about whether the devastated city of New Orleans would be able to support a pro football team, but enough money was found to pay for a thorough renovation that was completed in time for the 2011 football season. The lower deck was totally rebuilt, and no longer retracts, which means that no more baseball games will be played there. Instead of there being a sliding bridge from the rear of the lower deck to the main concourse, that concourse was greatly widened. The front-row seats at midfield are now about 15 feet closer to the sidelines than before, with ground-level entry portals at about the 35-yard lines, and sharp angles near the four corners of the gridiron. As a result of these and other changes, seating capacity rose by about 3,500.
The Superdome has been the site of the Sugar Bowl ever since it opened in 1975, except for January 2006, when it was held at the Georgia Dome because of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. It has also hosted the New Orleans Bowl ever since 2001, except for December 2005. Finally, it has been the site of the Super Bowl six times, the BCS National Championship Game twice, and the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament on five occasions. Both of the latter sporting events were played there in early 2012, and the 2013 Super Bowl (XLVII) was held there as well. The latter event was marred by a half-hour partial blackout early in the second half.
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