Houston Astrodome: the Day the "Eighth Wonder of the World" Spoke to Me
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My family attended the most recent edition of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, a massive event held at the Reliant Park complex. Reliant Stadium is a shiny, high-tech wonder with a spectacular retractable roof.
Inside, we watched well-produced rodeo events and bounced to the "Boom Boom Pow" beat of the Black Eyed Peas. It was a fun outing, but something happened earlier in the day that weighed on my mind.
We were forking out too much for carnival rides and meandering the milieu. Then, I saw an old friend. It was the iconic Astrodome.
There was a fence around the old gray lady and she looked pretty worn compared to her newer neighbor. People were not paying much attention, but I was overcome by a sense of numinous awe.
She was the first domed sports stadium. In addition to great athletes, she hosted pop stars, presidents and political conventions. They proclaimed her the “Eighth Wonder of the World” when she opened in 1965.
As I lay awake that night, my fertile imagination ran like Usain Bolt. I was back outside the Astrodome. I jumped the fence and wandered inside. The lights flickered and bands began to play.
There was ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses, Paul McCartney, Madonna and Michael Jackson. As I looked closer, there was Elvis on stage. Yes, it’s true, this was the first place The King ever wore one of his famous jumpsuits.
“Come take the tour,” a smiling “Judge” Roy Hofheinz called out. The colorful former mayor of Houston was the driving force behind the Astrodome. Groundskeepers dressed as astronauts waved to us as we floated to his private world behind the right field fence.
We saw a chapel, shooting gallery, AstroTurf putting green, the Astrotots Puppet Theatre and an Astro-Bowl alley. We hoisted at the “Tipsy Tavern,” perused his private apartment and took in the presidential suite.
Soon, the Judge winked, clapped his hands, and the Eighth Wonder called out in a comforting voice, "Come along for interstellar magic." A serpentine wind swirled around me as I sailed into a magic time warp.
It’s April 9, 1965, Opening Night: For the first time, Major League Baseball is played indoors. Judy Garland and The Supremes perform for the packed house. President Lyndon Johnson attends. Mickey Mantle hits the first home run at the Astrodome as the Astros host the Yankees in an exhibition game.
November 14, 1966: Muhammad Ali knocks out Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams in the third round. Broadcaster Howard Cosell said, “The greatest Ali ever was as a fighter was against Williams.”
1968. Basketball: On January 20, Elvin Hayes leads the University of Houston past UCLA in the first-ever nationally televised NCAA game in prime-time.
Football. On September 9, the Houston Oilers become the first professional football team to play in a domed stadium.
December 5, 1970: Movie Premiere. Robert Altman's comedy Brewster McCloud is about an eccentric young man that lives at the stadium. Limos enter through a special door and celebrities take their seats. The movie is projected on a giant screen suspended over the seats in center field.
January 7 and 8, 1971: Evel Knievel gives daredevil performances on back-to-back nights.
September 20, 1973: Billie Jean King defeats Bobby Riggs in The Battle of the Sexes tennis match.
June 15, 1976: What, the game is rained out? Flooding in Houston prevents umpires and most fans from reaching the stadium. The Astros and Pirates agree to call the game. Tables are pulled onto the field and the teams eat dinner with event staff and a small group of hearty fans that braved the flood.
November 16, 1980: Earl Campbell bulls his way to another 200-yard rushing game. He’s the fulcrum of the “Luv Ya Blue” Oiler Nation. He later finishes the season with an NFL-best 1,934 yards.
April 27, 1983: Nolan Ryan passes Walter Johnson to become the all-time strikeout king.
Should the Astrodome be added to the National Register of Historic Places?
February 12, 1989: Karl Malone is named the MVP at the NBA All-Star Game.
August, 1992: It’s the Republican National Convention. President George Bush is re-nominated. Former President Ronald Reagan makes the last major address of his career.
February 26, 1995: An estimated 66,746 fans come to see Tejano superstar Selena.
December 15, 1996: The Oilers play their last game at the Astrodome.
October 9, 1999: The Astros play their final game in the stadium.
April 1, 2001: The WWF WrestleMania X-Seven event sets the all-time record Astrodome attendance of 67,925.
February 11, 2003: George Strait performs the last concert at the stadium. The last song of the night is “The Cowboy Rides Away.”
September 1, 2005: Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans are housed at the Astrodome.
Flicker. Flicker. The lights go dark.
CALLING STEVEN SPIELBERG
Today. Fans lobby to get the Astrodome on the National Register of Historic Places. Discussions take place about making it a movie production studio. Does anyone reading this have Steven Spielberg in their cell phone?
R. Scott Murphy is an award-winning writer, sports producer and marketing executive. You can enjoy more of Murphy’s baseball stories in his latest book, “Ducks on the Pond.” Follow Murphy @MentalKickball on Twitter for daily Home Run Alphabet entries.
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