Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

The Astrodome

The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.

Here sits the first domed stadium, currently gutted and underused, but preserved for now. Unique in every conceivable way, from luxury boxes decorated like living rooms to a $2 million scoreboard, the Astrodome opened in 1965 with an exhibition game between the Yankees and the Astros (formerly the Colt .45s, re-christened that year) watched by President Johnson and his wife, Ladybird, from the owner’s skybox. The “Eighth Wonder of the World” became home to the Oilers in 1968 and served both teams into the late ’90s, when the football team left for Tennessee and the baseball team into a new park.

When the NFL came knocking again with a new team in Houston the early 2000s, a retractable roof stadium went up right next to the old Astrodome. While the Astrodome has mostly sat idle for more than a decade and its future is unclear—it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 in an effort to preserve it—its legacy permeates the NFL. The Astrodome gave us Astroturf, guarded the field from the elements and introduced a new way to play football: fast, fast, fast. How would Warren Moon’s run-and-shoot Oilers have fared on natural grass chewed up by a season of football in the heat of Houston? Would the Greatest Show on Turf, the Kurt Warner-led Rams, have reached those unprecedented heights if not for the Edward Jones Dome, one of the Astrodome’s many progeny? Would Randy Moss have been great on the frozen tundra of old Met Stadium in Minnesota, or did the fast track of the Metrodome help him in December when it was 72° inside instead of 2° outside? It can’t be a coincidence that eight out of the top 12 all time leaders for receiving yards played the majority of their careers for teams in domed stadiums.

Yet the enduring ‘soft’ label for indoor teams prompted then-Lions coach Jim Schwartz in 2009 to shovel dirt on the old dome model. “We don’t plan on being ‘The Greatest Show on Turf'; we’re going to build it like an outdoor team,” Schwartz said. “We need to be built to have to go up to Lambeau Field in late December and win a game.” Indeed, here’s the most enduring legacy of the Astrodome: Ever since it inspired a handful of NFL cities to follow its footsteps, dome teams are 4–23 in the playoffs when playing outdoors in temperatures 35° or colder.

— Robert Klemko

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