Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
As the Ravens and 49ers prepare for the NFL's biggest game, it is the Superdome itself that takes center stage this week.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, The Louisiana Superdome, The Superdome, or just simply "The Dome."
This symbolic structure filling the New Orleans skyline has taken many names over the years. The home of Super Bowl XLVII has stood tall and proud on Poydras and Claiborne since 1975. The Superdome's symbolism to city and the world as a whole has changed drastically over the last 37 years.
On August 3, 1975 the Superdome opened as the world's largest fixed domed structure, a distinction that still stands to this day. It has been the home of the New Orleans Saints as well as the annual Sugar Bowl game since its completion. The Superdome has been host to five NCAA Final Fours, eight Saints playoff games, and seven Super Bowls counting this weekend. No other city or structure in America can boast such an accomplished resume in sports.
The seemingly indestructible superstructure was pushed well beyond its limits in August of 2005. The events and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have been well documented from various points of view over the years. No image had become more of a symbol of the tragedy and sorrow following Katrina's devastation than the Superdome. The once proud structure turned shelter of last resort became ravaged by nature's fury.
Reportedly 26,000 New Orleanians took refuge there, riding out the storm and suffering through its aftermath for several unsettling days. The home to thousands of cheering fans became refuge to thousands of citizens who could not evacuate the city ahead of the storm. It also became refuge for those who lost everything to the storm. Members of my family were among them, brought to the Dome by boat after their home was lost to floodwaters.
The firsthand accounts from the Superdome were equal parts horrifying and heartwrenching. Stories of a tense and desperate place full of confusion and frustration. The descriptions of the Dome were vivid and stark, but what stuck with me most was how they mentioned the smell inside the structure. Unlike anything that they'd ever experienced. It's said smell is the sense that carries the most memories and I'm quite sure those memories and the scent of that place will never leave them. It was that description that put it all in perspective.
At that point I believed without a doubt that the Superdome would have to be leveled. That no structure could become that compromised and ever be the same again. That the place had wilted to its very foundation. Mold, standing water, and death itself had infiltrated the Superdome and the once proud structure would become a sad footnote in American history.
I made one critical misjudgment in my assessment though; a mistake I will never make again as long as I live. I forgot that the Superdome was cared for and valued by the people of New Orleans, and the people would not let it die, the people would not let it rot, or stand for the despair it represented in the days following the storm. The building was built to last and its foundation was as strong as the resolve of New Orleans itself. I am thankful I was wrong and I am thankful to those who worked countless hours to return the Superdome to life.
There was much debate as to whether the reported $185 million should've been spent on repairing the Superdome at all. Some would argue why anyone would spend what little money was available on football when there were still homes underwater and levees to be repaired. These were extremely valuable points at the time but this ultimately wasn't a Saints issue, it was a simple economical issue.
New Orleans critically needed the Superdome to create revenue for the city. All of the sporting events brought folks from all over the world into the city, and the conventions that filled it also filled the hotels and restaurants throughout the city as well. The Superdome distributed cash throughout the city as it was the central point for countless activities, many of which put New Orleans on the world stage.
Economically, taking the Superdome from New Orleans would be akin to tearing down the Las Vegas Strip. In the short term, the money could've been used to impact the community right away. In the long term though, the investment in the Superdome would be the revenue generating force New Orleans needed to create true impact citywide. The Superdome is a building that transcends football, it has become a symbol for hope and renewal in a city that needed it more than words could describe.
The Superdome made its grand return from the brink on September 25, 2006. Monday Night Football, the Saints hosting Atlanta, U2, Green Day, Steve Gleason, the rest is history. The Superdome had returned, but not the same as before. Better, louder, more alive, and just as with it's near demise, the entire world got to witness this rebirth. Just as the Saints and the Dome itself were reborn, so was the city of New Orleans.
Besides the economic impact of the Superdome's revival there was the emotional impact as well. The people, working day and night not just at their jobs but on their homes and their communities needed a release. They needed the joy and sense of civic pride that sports and the Saints specifically could create. It was that place where the people could congregate and put aside their worries and fears for a few hours. Football therapy was just what the doctor ordered, and boy did the Saints deliver. Finally, the Saints began to deliver.
The Saints have clearly been in their "Golden Age" since the arrival of Sean Payton and Drew Brees. With four playoff wins inside the Superdome including an NFC Championship Game victory since its reopening, the Superdome is also experiencing its own "Golden Age." The Saints Super Bowl victory in 2009 has benefited the Dome as well. Since the initial renovations were completed post-Katrina, a three-phase $320 million dollar overhaul has been completed to make the Mercedes-Benz Superdome among the most advanced sports and convention complexes in the country.
Champions Square, a completely new lower bowl, new field turf, new lounges and concourses, colorful exterior lighting, brilliant aluminum siding, and a new white roof. All of this and more has the Superdome looking better than it ever has before. More than a mere facelift, the Dome continues to be strengthened and celebrated in every facet. Since it's reopening the Superdome has hosted a Final Four, two BCS Championship Games, an NFC Championship game, and now it's first Super Bowl in 11 years. A building that for one moment in time became refuge from disaster is now home to seven consecutive sellout seasons for the Saints.
How can anyone describe this turnaround? Well, in a word, stunning. From the brink of demolition to the arguably the most state-of-the-art venue in sports. The same building, the same foundation, built to last, just like the people of New Orleans. Once a symbol of hopelessness and despair, the Superdome now stands as the shining beacon of the city. It stands for perseverance and faith, community and hope. The Superdome is more than the home of the Saints, it is home to all of New Orleans.
As we celebrate the AFC and NFC Champions this week and celebrate Super Bowl XLVII, lets also remember to celebrate the city of New Orleans, the remarkable Superdome, and everything that has gone into making it so special. It's been said the heart of the city is in the Superdome. But I would argue it's the Dome itself.