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The Louisiana Purchase
J.D. Reed
July 22, 1974
What hath sport wrought? What has the state bought? Rising the heart of New Orleans, the Superdome may be a megastructure in the shape of the future or a monument to an era that soon might be past
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July 22, 1974

The Louisiana Purchase

What hath sport wrought? What has the state bought? Rising the heart of New Orleans, the Superdome may be a megastructure in the shape of the future or a monument to an era that soon might be past

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Baseball and the Superdome have had a strange relationship, one which runs more to heavy petting than wedding bells, and this has been true from the beginning, for Dixon could never quite see baseball in the Dome. "Baseball doesn't give you a good return on your investment dollar," he says. "Why tie up the most modern facility in the world on something like that? Sure, a few games. Pay the teams as you would any nonsporting attraction instead of having them rent the Dome for a whole season." The present Super-dome Commission, however, is committed to securing a full baseball franchise, and negotiations with the American League are said to be humming along. The commission believes a full 81-game home season is possible. In its baseball configuration the Dome seats 64,537 and will measure 320 feet down the foul lines, 410 feet in straightaway center. No fly ball will ever hit the roof.

For college basketball Dixon wants two courts in the Dome, one in an end zone and one at the 50-yard line, and eight teams playing simultaneous doubleheaders. "Say, four geographically tight schools—LSU, Tulane, UNO and Xavier. Invite Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Jackson State and Southern Miss and play Friday and Saturday nights, switching opponents.

"I'd end evenings like that with the biggest college entertainment in the country: Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin or whatever. Some will say this would make a farce of college sports, but teams are for the kids, not for old alums like me." For citywide playoffs, Dixon once proposed eight courts around the sidelines of the Dome, on each court a different-colored ball and officials with differently pitched whistles.

More important is the Dome's scheme for pro basketball, since the National Basketball Association's new franchise, the Jazz, will be playing there in October of 1975. The setup is unique: a section of the stands travels on tracks across the wide Dome floor to make an arena configuration, putting 19,473 fans at courtside. The same arrangement can be used for hockey, rodeos, ice shows, circuses and smaller events.

It is odd to sit in Dixon's elegant home, with its French antiques and rich-looking Chinese screens and hear him discuss his futuristic ideas about sports. Though he is no longer involved, his imagination is as fertile as ever about the Dome: a summer entertainment festival, a Disneyland, a Marine World next door, an all-sports Hall of Fame with wax figures, a Mardi Gras museum, cabarets, Pepsi-generation kids by the hundreds, the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Icecapades, Harlem Globetrotters, mini-Mardi Gras parades every day, a space ride on wires across the Dome ceiling. And, if you must, even baseball games on slow afternoons.

I want one just like this, only bigger.
—JOHN J. MCKEITHEN
Governor of Louisiana, on the 50-yard line,
Houston Astrodome, Jan. 3, 1967

Texas armadillos invaded Caldwell Parish in northern Louisiana some years ago, like the idea of the Astrodome. Local farmers carry 22s in their pickups and shoot armadillos on sight. They may have wanted to do the same to ex-Governor McKeithen for his fervid backing of the Superdome and its placement in downtown New Orleans.

If the inspiration for the Superdome came from Dave Dixon, the political and financial weight came from John McKeithen during his tenure (1964-72) as a popular governor. "A project that size quickly becomes a political liability," says McKeithen. "I considered abandoning it a number of times, but as the opposition got more vocal, I got more stubborn."

What critics of the Dome, be they rural Baptist farmers from McKeithen's home parish or sophisticated Roman Catholic liberals from the urban South, could not overcome was their governor's enthusiasm for football. He attended every game possible while in the State House, was a dedicated recruiter for LSU and spared no energy or expense to bring the quick and the strong to Baton Rouge. Nor has his interest diminished.

Arriving at McKeithen's home situated amidst 2,000 acres of cotton and soybeans, one finds the governor's son-in-law, Andy Hamilton, a wide receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs, being wooed over the telephone by the Birmingham franchise of the World Football League. The governor, dressed in a jump suit and looking very much like a movie actor playing governor, is on an extension in his den asking questions about options, salary and benefits. (Hamilton eventually turned down the WFL offer.)

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