In 1965, when it was built at the staggering cost of $31.6 million, the Houston Astrodome was called the Eighth Wonder of the World. Maybe it was—a place where 50,000 people could watch football and baseball played indoors, of all things. But last Saturday night New Orleans opened the gates to its Superdome, and among the early arrivals in the capacity crowd of 72,434 was Coach Bum Phillips, whose Houston Oilers were to play the host Saints on the Astro Turf surface the locals are calling Mardi Grass. "I don't know what they paid for this thing," Phillips said, looking around, "but it just might be worth it."
What they paid was $163 million—and it isn't finished. Just before gametime an electric saw was buzzing, cutting temporary panels for some of the 32 escalators that were to carry fans to the loge and terrace levels—when they were working. The level is so high that one nun, forced to make the climb without mechanical assistance, said when she caught her breath, "Up here I certainly feel closer to God." Said another fan, "It's like watching a game from the Goodyear blimp."
It was also a bit like discovering that Helen of Troy had cavities. For example, it took so long to transport food to the upper reaches some of the hot dogs were cold (they also ran out before the fourth quarter), the lighting system needed adjusting, the pictures on the six huge TV screens were murky, the Oilers' Billy Johnson returned the opening kick-off 76 yards and the Saints went marching out, 13-7 losers.
But the crowd's enthusiasm was undampened. One couldn't quite make the same claim for New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu, who sat in a loge under the luxurious suites that rent for $19,000 a year—not counting the price of tickets. A toilet above him overflowed, sending a stream through a crack onto the mayor.
"What's this?" cried Landrieu, in alarm.
Obviously, Mr. Mayor, it's the wave of the future.
JOHN D. HANLON