wanted the Mississippi River free for navigation, so he sent James Monroe to
Paris to buy a little land. Monroe hoped to get it for a few million, but
Napoleon drove up the price. We finally paid $11,250,000 for Arkansas,
Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas and parts of Louisiana, Oklahoma,
Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota and Montana—827,987 square miles. The
Superdome cost roughly 15 times as much ($163 million) and sits on 52 acres.
Like the Louisiana Purchase, the Dome was financed by bonds and like the
Purchase its cost kept escalating (as more and more facilities and functions
were incorporated). But such financial agonies are commonplace in history and
must be viewed in context. Who could tell a Pharaoh that he couldn't afford a
bigger pyramid? It is the spirit behind the Dome that will endure, not
recollections of its price. Just ask Dave Dixon.
Dave Dixon is
remembered more for his foray into World Championship Tennis than for being the
original mind behind the Superdome. In both ventures his imagination
distinguished him. In tennis he popularized the wearing of colors and the
holding of competitions in public arenas. Now that the pros are drawing crowds
of 10,000 and are nationally televised, Dixon may be partially credited with
the sudden tennis boom in America. But his role in the Superdome is even more
Dixon was one of
a group of New Orleans fans trying to get a National Football League franchise
for the city in the early '60s. He was sponsoring NFL exhibition games, trying
to interest the league and thinking, of course, of a stadium to house the
franchise. Tulane had made it clear that the Sugar Bowl could not be used
permanently by the pros, so something had to be done. "I'd been doodling
around with stadium ideas, and even making drawings," says Dixon. "They
were grotesque and my cardboard models were silly. I couldn't get the cardboard
to form a circle or make a model dome.
Bidwill, owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, was here for an exhibition game, and
I showed him my stuff. Back then a covered stadium was proving to be a disaster
for football: they were trying to grow grass in the Astrodome with a glass
roof, even though football would tear up the natural turf in no time. But
Bidwill knew what 3M and Monsanto were up to. As soon as synthetic turf was a
reality, I knew we could have a covered dome. I went a little wild with
privately finance what Dixon then saw as a 60,000-seat stadium was impossible.
Even though the price in 1966 was a mere $35 million (a "poor man's
Super-dome"), public money was a must. Eventually Dixon offered his idea
for a domed stadium to the mayor of New Orleans, who grandly announced city
approval. But it eventually had to be the state of Louisiana that became the
magnanimous patron of the Dome. Dixon's private dream thus became public
property, but his ideas for the Dome never stopped. Though he gave up his job
as executive director in February of 1972 having become weary of the hassle,
his concepts are retained in the building today.
is Dixon's favorite creation and has many ramifications. The Superdome will
house a 75-ton gondola rising from field level to the top of the 273-foot
ceiling. The gondola will be faced with six TV screens, 22 feet by 26 feet,
made in Switzerland. Although giant-screen television is in use in the Capital
Centre Auditorium in Maryland, nothing on the scale of the Dome's TV system
ever has been attempted.
will you get instant replay at sports events," says Dixon, "but
simulcasts of live events, cable hookups, closed-circuit fights, film
premieres. And imagine 97,000 American Medical Association members watching a
heart operation!" Dixon feels that simulcasts of popular football games
like LSU- Ole Miss, played in Baton Rouge, could fill the Dome in New Orleans.
Television makes the size of the Superdome possible. "Imagine Elvis
Presley," says Dixon. "He's performing down there on the field. Now a
guy in the top row of seats is 16 stories above him. Presley will look like an
ant. But with the TV, the excellent acoustics and full theatrical lighting,
97,000 people can enjoy such an entertainment. The viewer will have the best of
both worlds: all the physical and emotional excitement of being there and the
best seat in the house."
If Presley is
going to look like an ant, so will Archie Manning of the Saints. When the
transistor craze hit America, fans would sit in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium
with radios pressed to their ears, listening to the play-by-play while watching
the game. Now they will be able to do the same with television. The roar of the
crowd, the smell of polyurethane and instant replay.
sociologists have been poor-mouthing television, noting that it separates
people. Americans don't gather socially anymore because they are in apartments
and detached houses watching TV. But, for the present at least, man still
controls technology, and now tens of thousands can gather in one room on a
Sunday afternoon. To watch television.
Commission also plans to screen West Coast pro football games after at-home
Saints games. "It'll be a traffic diversion," says Dixon. "Some
fans are going to stay to see the Rams or Raiders, and the traffic flow will be
staggered. Also, it's a few more hot dogs to sell and a few more advertisements
on the giant TV."