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John Scimeca

The decision to move Green Wave football from Tulane Stadium,which was situated just north of Willow Street, to the LouisianaSuperdome in 1975 remains one of the university’s mostcontroversial moves. When Tulane voted in a referendum in 1973, 88percent of the faculty and 80 percent of the student body votedagainst the transition to the dome.

Recent buzz surrounding the construction of a new on-campusstadium picked up steam after President Scott Cowen’s “Playbook”speech in the spring and has intensified after a Sept. 14 vote ofconfidence from Tulane’s Undergraduate Student Government.

It’s the hot topic among Tulane students today: if theconstruction of an on-campus football stadium is worth the moneyand effort. Green Wave football teams have hosted home games fivemiles away in the relatively empty, cavernous confines of theLouisiana Superdome since 1975. Many fans point to the departure asa foolhardy move that began a precipitous decline of Tulaneathletics – a problem that Tulane students in 1973 predicted.

The history of New Orleans comes alive when talking tosupporters who remember the old Tulane Stadium. It is not a tritemanner of preserving the unique customs of the Big Easy to confrontthe modern cultural homogenization of the United States, butinstead, a delicate reminder of a once-proud college athleticsprogram that fell to the wayside. The history of Tulane Stadiumbecomes a living and breathing time capsule containing countlessstories, feats and accomplishments.

“There’s no home-field advantage.”

After years of legal battles surrounding the construction andcountless meetings with Tulane’s Board of Administrators, the brandnew Superdome became home to Tulane football in 1975. The facilitycurrently seats 72,003 spectators at its full football capacity. Ithas hosted a spectacular list of events during an illustrioushistory, which in- cludes six NFL Super Bowls, four NCAA FinalFours, college football’s Sugar Bowl. Today, the Superdome is bestknown as the home of the city’s beloved NFL franchise, theSaints.

Self-proclaimed as “A Monument to Man’s Imagination” and “thecrown jewel of the New Orleans skyline,” the Superdome has providedTulane a home venue for 37 seasons. Though it is undoubtedly aniconic, world-class entertainment venue, many Tulane students andfans have expressed the sentiment that the Superdome is no longerfit for the Green Wave. In fact, many supporters believed that thefootball program should have never left Tulane Stadium in the firstplace.

Tulane Stadium hosted its first home contest Oct. 23, 1926, a2-0 loss to Auburn. The massive structure began hosting the annualSugar Bowl – in honor of the site’s original purpose, a plantationwhere Etienne de Bore first granulated sugar – in 1934, hosting amatchup between

two of the top college football teams in the nation.Additionally, the Willow Street stadium hosted three NFL SuperBowls in 1970, 1972 and 1975. Old Tulane Stadium had an 81,000-seatcapacity and was demolished in 1980 after hosting a few seasons oflocal high school games.

Tulane alumnus and New Orleans businessman Dave Dixon was astrong advocate for the constitutional amendment to build theSuperdome, passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 1966. Muchcontroversy and political wrangling surrounded the planning andconstruction of the Superdome through the late 1960s and 1970s.Louisiana Senator Nat Kiefer of New Orleans led an investigationinto the construction of the Superdome, charging that the leadersof enjoying kickbacks, while overspending and cutting corners. Theinvestigation, started by the Louisiana State Senate, delayed theSuperdome’s building process and brought much bitterness andill-will against the project overall.

Tulane’s Board of Administrators, in an effort to circumventpossible economic hardships facing the athletic department and theuniversity, approved the move to the Superdome despite studentobjections.

“Rich history is ancient history now.”

There’s a reason former Tulane quarterback Terry Looney wants toshare his perspective on the move. Looney, who played from 1972 to1976, seeks to capture the

dissatisfaction and frustration that many supporters have feltduring the past decades.

Looney’s words transport the listener to a different era – atime of on-field success for Tulane and a time of overwhelmingcommunity support for a team that routinely competed with some ofthe best in the country. Within the confines of Tulane Stadium,Looney helped the Green Wave beat LSU 14-0 in 1973 – its firstvictory against the Tigers since 1948 after 24 consecutive losses,which earned the school the national No. 1 ranking heading into the1949 season. Head coach Bennie Ellender won the United PressInternational Coach of the Year in 1973 after guiding the GreenWave to a 9-3 record and a Bluebonnet Bowl appearance. The 1973 winalso began the stretch in which Tulane defeated LSU four out of tentimes. Until 1966, in fact, Tulane was a member of the SoutheasternConference with the Tigers.

Most importantly, Tulane had an unrivaled game-day atmosphere inTulane Stadium. The team marched down McAlister Street to thestadium, past Bruff Commons, the band and throngs of cheering fans,before entering Tulane Stadium before home games. As a Green Waveplayer, Looney fondly remembers many traditions and post-victorycelebrations.

“You used to be able to tell how well Tulane did that day bycounting how many empty bottles were piled up outside the stadiumafter the game,” said Looney, chuckling. “It was one big party onthe streets.”

“An on-campus stadium would be nothing but aplus.”

An Oct. 5, 1973 Hullabaloo article described a hearing betweenthe Tulane Board of Administrators and the Dome Stadium Commissionthat discussed the proposed move. The Tulane Board said littleafter the two-and-a-half hour meeting, except that there would beconsiderable financial benefit from playing in the Dome. Followingthe meeting, former Tulane President Herbert Longenecker said thatif the Green Wave were to continue to play in Tulane Stadium afterthe 1974 season “a minimum of $1.5 million worth of repairs toTulane Stadium would be necessary to continue playing there.” Thearticle said that many believed the Dome Commission had alreadysealed the deal with the Tulane Board to complete the move.

“All components of the University have expressed feelings tostay at Tulane,” Longenecker said to The Hullabaloo, adding that an”overwhelming majority of Board members” expressed the desire toremain at Tulane Stadium.

Moving the Tulane athletic program out of debt was believed tobe a primary motivation for moving to the Superdome, according to aHullabaloo staff editorial a week later on Oct. 12, 1973. Today,the Tulane football program keeps its original 1975 contract withthe Superdome as a tenant.

After years of legal battles surrounding the construction andcountless meetings with Tulane’s Board of Administrators, the brandnew Superdome became home to Tulane football in 1975.

“The college atmosphere died overnight.”

Tulane began its first season in the Superdome in fall 1975,christening its new home-away-from-home with a 14-3 victory againstOle Miss. Before a November 1975 home date against North Carolina,a group of Tulane students planned a boycott of the game andentered Tulane Stadium instead. They listened to the game onportable radios and brought whatever alcoholic beverages theypleased, a practice that was banned by the Superdome.

Organizers called the student-led demonstration a “symbolicprotest against the poor treatment and disregard shown by DomeStadium officials to the Tulane community.” 1977 graduateConstantine Georges was one of the main student organizers, alongwith his friend Morris Kahn, who came up with the idea during anintroductory public speaking class.

A reported 3,000 students, faculty and alumni were present atthe rally, which voiced several grievances: expensive concessions,scant practice time allowed for the football team, the need to geton buses to attend the game and the lack of a college atmosphere.The tradition of students forming a human tunnel for the team torun through also stopped at the Superdome. One of Georges’ maingrievances was the midseason Superdome ban on plastic jugs forbeverage mixing, “a time-honored tradition” for Tulane students atfootball games – and one that the Superdome had originally promisedto uphold. The protest included a performance by the Tulane bandand a moment of silence “for the spirit that has died.”

“That was ultimately the final straw, when we realized theyweren’t sincere about Tulane at all,” Georges said, referring tothe Dome Stadium Commission. “They’re just trying to fill up thestadium so that the state will look good.”

“Alcohol enforcement in Tulane Stadium was very lax,” said PhilCastille, a 1972 graduate and 1977 Ph.D. graduate of Tulane.”Everyone was awash in alcohol. Anybody who was there can rememberthe painful nostalgia of losing the stadium.”

While nearly 3,000 students rode the buses to attend the 1975season opener at the Superdome, only 65 rode to that night’s NorthCarolina game – a figure much more representative of home games inthe 21st century. Expectations for the rally’s challenge to theDome Commission, though, were pessimistic.

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t think [the Dome Commission is]going to back down one bit,” ASB President Grady Hurley said to TheHullabaloo in 1975. “I don’t think they give a damn about thestudents or about Tulane. Any time you have non-professionalsrunning a multi-million dollar organization, you can only expect anon-professional experience.”

The words of Georges, the co-owner of Dat Dog, words echo down abustling Freret Street as a reminder of the move to theSuperdome.

“While it’s a great stadium for professional sports, Tulane hasno business being in that stadium,” he said. “I said that back in1975, and I would say it today. Tulane needs to be in their ownstadium and on-campus. I’m glad to see that there’s a movement tomake that happen.”

Today, many Tulane supporters clamor for a return to campus.Tulane USG president Evan Nicoll led the presentation Sept. 14declaring the student body’s support for an on-campus stadium.

“Students here at Tulane, a lot of them love the school,” Nicollsaid to The Times-Picayune last week. “They love being able to giveback to the city, especially with service. But something that acouple of us felt, it’s almost like a suppressed pride inathletics. That’s something that if you build an on-campus stadium,it’s almost like unleashing the sleeping beast.”

“This isn’t a small story.”

The story of the football team’s departure from Tulane Stadiumin 1975 is, however, only part of the bigger picture. Leaving theon-campus playing site evokes questions of the athletic program’simportance to the university.

The construction of an on-campus stadium involves more thansimply providing bells and whistles for an underachieving Tulanefootball team. Looney insists that the problems run deeper thanmerely building an on-campus playing venue. He says that funds andattention must be spent on recruiting the right kind of athlete forTulane, and the university must commit to building a strong,supporting coaching staff.

Other longtime fans described the 1975 move as one that wassurrounded by enthusiasm with no consideration of futureimplications. After the euphoria of moving into a brand-new,sparkling gem of a stadium, many Tulane fans began to realize whatwas lost. For these supporters, the rich pageantry and festiveatmosphere that surrounded a Tulane home game vanished when theGreen Wave began playing in the Superdome in 1975. The footballprogram’s plunge into obscurity, despite enjoying an undefeated12-0 season in 1998, has made cherished memories seem like remotelegends.

“Even without a respectable program, would you go see it?”Looney asked. “You want to be proud of your degree. If you can’t beproud of something, you don’t want to be associated with it. It hasto be a program that not only has pride, but is supported by pride.Every Tulane alum, fan and student wants to have something to bragabout.”