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Astrodome Gets New Lease on Life

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The New York Post
February 6, 2017 Monday
Metro; Pg. 46
688 words
SUPER BOWL LI Patriots vs. Falcons No small wonder After years of neglect, Astrodome gets second lease on life
Mike Vaccaro

HOUSTON - There is something noble about this little speck of a stadium that sits just to the east of NRG Stadium, the behemoth that hosted Super Bowl LI on Sunday and keeps the little speck of a stadium deep within its own prominent shadows on most sunny days.

True story: Last March, covering the NCAA basketball Final Four, I was walking with a fellow scribe who is about my age when we caught a glimpse of that speck of a stadium.

"That's awfully big for a practice bubble," the writer said.

"Sure," I said. "But it's awfully small to be the Astrodome."

And the look of wonder and befuddlement that filled this fellow's face was priceless, The Astrodome? Wasn't that torn down years ago? Wasn't that, like, in the middle of downtown Houston? Wasn't that

"Nope," I said. "That's the Astrodome."

They keep trying to make the Astrodome disappear, actually. They built Minute Maid Park for the Astros (which really IS downtown) and NRG Stadium for the Texans (and for Super Bowls, and for Final Fours). In 2013, voters rejected a bond issue that would've devoted over $200 million toward making the old dome a convention center. The Dome seemed doomed.

And yet here it is, here it stays. Sunday night, it was to be lit, a note of tribute for this erstwhile Eighth Wonder. What's amazing is there was almost nothing that the Astrodome DIDN'T host during its glory years of the '60s, '70s and '80s.

Elvis played a week of shows here. UCLA and Houston all but invented the television sport of college basketball here in 1968. The Mercury astronauts were feted here. Mickey Mantle hit a home run in an exhibition game on the first day the doors opened for real. Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs here in the "Battle of the Sexes" in 1973. Earl Campbell ran over entire linebacking corps here throughout the late '70s. Muhammad Ali won all four of his fights here.

But as we said: ALMOST nothing.

Because there never was a Super Bowl here, even though there was one played in Houston right in the thick of the Dome's glory days, January 13, 1974, just under four months after Billie Jean beat Bobby in straight sets. Turns out there were about 20,000 more available seats at Rice Stadium than there were at the Astrodome.

So when the Dolphins and Vikings met for a most eventful Super Bowl - the last game ever played with goal posts at the goal line, the only Super Bowl ever played with stripes on the ball, the whole thing famously chronicled in the press box by a barely coherent Hunter S. Thompson, the Astrodome had to settle for being the site of the Commissioner's Party - a glitzy staple of these Big Games, no doubt, but not exactly the same thing as being the Big Game.

Forty-three years later, the Astrodome at least gets some reflected glory, literally gets to shine all night. In September, Harris County commissioners approved the first part of a plan to spend $105 million to re-purpose it as a convention facility and parking garage for 1,400 cars. Design and engineering studies will commence next week.

It's something of an uneasy truce between old Houston and new Houston. The Texans have long been impatient with the continuing presence of the Dome - which hasn't been used for anything functional since 2008 - and part of that is because of the vast number of cars that have gone unparked there across the years, and the revenue those unparked cars didn't bring in.

But there's something else, too, of course.

When Roger Moore became 007, he didn't exactly clamor for Sean Connery to be given a cameo in "Live and Let Die," did he? How awkward would it be if old Yankee Stadium were still sitting across the street from the new one, and more Yankees fans would prefer to spend time inside its empty shell on an August day than watching the home team play the Angels in a businessman's special?

Never easy comparing yourself to a ghost, let alone one that was once considered the Eighth Wonder of the World. One that will finally take a star turn at the Super Bowl after all these years, even if it's just a fleeting one. It's about time, old girl.

michael.vaccaro@nypost.com

overshadowed: The Astrodome, adjacent to NRG Stadium, was called the "Eighth Wonder of the World" when it opened in 1965. Abandoned by the Houston Astros and the Houston Oilers in the 1990s, the Astrodome has been shuttered since 2008 but will be renovated and repurposed as a convention center. AP
February 6, 2017

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