Modest Proposals

Tear Down The Dome—and Reliant, Too

Both places are jinxed. No earthly good has ever come from them. They've both got to go.

By John Nova Lomax January 15, 2014

They've both gotta go.


Now that Harris County voters have rejected the latest proposal to save the Astrodome and now that the curtain has mercifully descended on the most disappointing and soul-crushing Houston Texans season ever, it’s time to face two facts.

First, we need to tear down the Astrodome.

And we need to tear down Reliant Stadium too. 

Clearly, the environs of South Main and Kirby are jinxed, a vortex of doom, a hot-spot for heartbreak, failure and crushed dreams that can never be exorcised or transcended.

Think about it. The Astros called the Dome home from 1965 to 1999 and never once made the World Series.  No Astro has yet made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Throughout their stay in the Dome, the franchise seemed beset by bizarre tragedies.

César Cedeño was on track to be the next Willie Mays, until that deadly incident with that woman in the Dominican Republic. Don Wilson perished under weird carbon monoxide–related circumstances.

In 1980,  J.R. Richard, their most dominant pitcher of his era, became the first modern player to have a freaking stroke in the middle of the season, and in 1984, Dickie Thon, a future Hall of Fame shortstop, was beaned, his career effectively destroyed by a wayward Mike Torrez fastball. 

In 1994, the Astros had possibly their best team over. Jeff Bagwell set a record for homers in the Dome on the way to the first MVP season for any Astro and a Gold Glove.  The Astros were sitting pretty in the wild-card slot when MLB’s worst-ever strike put an end to the season.

Could that have been the Astros' year? We'll never know. 

There was a jinx, a curse, a hoodoo on the team.  Some believe that Bagwell was the source, that he brought to Houston the last remnants of the Boston Red Sox' dreaded Curse of the Bambino.

As the Yankees acquired Babe Ruth from the Red Sox for a song, so the Astros acquired Bagwell from Beantown for a ditty. Only this time Boston got payback: after nearly a century of heartbreak, they finally started winning World Series within 15 years of the Bagwell trade. Maybe the Astros did acquire the premier slugger in team history, but they also got Boston's bad mojo and propensity for choking in the clutch. (Bagwell barely hit his weight over the course of nine postseason series.)

But it wasn't just Baggy. The whole team always choked. As Slate’s Josh Levin once put it, the Bad News Bears won more big games in the Astrodome than the Astros ever did.

In games that mattered, Engelberg got more hits in the clutch than any Astro.

The Astros moved downtown in 2000, and a mere five years later, they made it to their first and only World Series.  While we are still waiting for our first World Series win, we have to say they did make progress once they left the Dome.

Let’s move on to the gridiron…

Jeppesen Stadium was the Oilers’ first home, and there the team was nothing short of a dynasty, winning the AFL championship in the league’s first two years and coming within a hair of a three-peat in 1963. The Oilers also made it to the AFL championship game in 1967, when they called Rice Stadium home.

Billy Cannon's pre-Dome Oilers were one of Houston's few true sporting dynasties. Then they moved to the Dome and it was all over.

And then, in the apocalyptic year of 1968, the Oilers opted to move to the Dome.

They made the playoffs in 1969 despite a .500 season record and were sent packing by the Oakland Raiders 56-7. Their last AFL playoff game pretty much set the tone for the rest of the Oilers’ stay in the Astrodome. 

In 1970 the Oilers joined the NFL, and there would be no more postseason trips until the dawning of Earl Campbell’s Luv Ya Blue “era” in 1978. Looking back, that was really just a blink in time; two dream-crushing stompings in the AFC championship game in ’78 and ’79, both courtesy of the despised and feared Pittsburgh Steelers.

And after that, the Oilers won exactly three playoff games in their final 16 years in the Dome, culminating in the absolutely psyche-pulverizing choke-job in Buffalo in ’92 and the upset loss to the elderly Joe Montana’s Chiefs in the Dome in ’93.

The Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997. In 1999, they went to the Super Bowl.

Combined, under the Dome's girders and glittering glass, the Oilers and Astros gave us almost 65 years of little more than futility, heartbreak, and despair. Only Wrigley Field and Fenway Park provided more doom-laden seasons for their cities, and Fenway's curse is now broken.

The Curse of Kirby and Main extended to teams that only occasionally played there.

Take the UH basketball team. In 1968 Elvin Hayes and Guy V. Lewis’s Cougars shocked the world by beating Lew Alcindor’s UCLA Bruins in the watershed “Game of the Century.” Sadly, that was a mere regular season game. In the rematch, in semifinals of the NCAA tournament, the Bruins crushed the Coogs by 32 points.

That was the second of what would eventually be five Cougar trips to the Final Four, five trips with zero wins, including that punch to the solar plexus we won’t even write about here except to say it was the only time a sporting event ever made us both weep and wail, literally.

We all looked pretty much like this in that moment which shall not be named.

Just playing a couple of games in the Dome cursed UH basketball for decades to come.

Oh yeah, there was the Battle of the Sexes, in which Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs. It was a feel-good story of Women’s Lib and a smartass’s comeuppance, but now strong evidence is coming forth that Riggs threw the match in an elaborate, sleazy, mob-related gambling scam. No good ever came from the Dome. 

And then there was Karel Soucek, the stuntman who died in a horrific accident in front of 35,000 fans in the Astrodome.

No doubt about it. It’s a cursed place…And the Dome’s deathly embrace extended beyond sports and stunts.

The first singer to grace a stage there was Judy Garland in 1965. She was dead, at 47, four years later. 

Selena performed there in February of 1995. It was her last concert. She was murdered weeks later.

The deaths were not always literal. The Dome also killed a prominent political career. In 1992, the GOP nominated George H.W. Bush in the Dome. Months later Bill Clinton overcame an adultery scandal or three and a huge deficit in the approval polls to become the first Democrat elected to the Oval Office in 16 years.

As much as I love the Dome, the place is jinxed. It must be on a Karankawa burial ground.  Tear it down.

That burial ground is apparently also under Reliant, because that stadium is also jinxed.   That place opened in 2002. Enter the Texans. Would it be accurate to say it’s been pretty much all downhill since 19-10 over the Cowboys in Reliant’s first NFL game?

Yes. Yes it would.

So far, the Texans have matched the Oilers in nothing. They have failed to excite the city for more than a week or two at a time. Bum and the Earlers were a boisterous, two-fisted and joyful way of life. Kubes and Schaub and Capers and Carr were about as exciting as a week in a cubbyhole in a Copperfield office park. The Texans are incapable even of setting us up for grand disappointments like the Oilers did in the Luv Ya Blue months. 

Yes, Andre Johnson is an all-time great. JJ Watt is getting there, but those two treasures are as surrounded by junk and castoffs as two Ming vases in a Port Arthur Goodwill store. The Texans are years away from a Super Bowl. (And speaking of Super Bowls, all anybody remembers from Reliant's is Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," a miscalculation from which her career has never recovered. Justin Timberlake's doing alright it must be admitted, so maybe the curse is not universal, or maybe he took steps to exorcise it. Or maybe it's just America's double standard.) 

One of the most memorable moments in Texans' history thus far -- certainly the most horrific -- has been former coach Gary Kubiak's sideline mini-stroke on the Reliant sidelines last year. It was uncannily reminiscent of former Astros manager Larry Dierker's near-fatal seizure in the Astrodome in 1999. Have the head coaches of two major sports teams collapsed on the sidelines in any other city? Nope. Only in Houston. Only on Kirby and South Main. 

They need a new home. Tear down Reliant.

Like the Dome, Reliant's crud extends to basketball.

In 2011, the NCAA Final Four was held on the premises. That ended with that tilt for the ages wherein UConn beat Butler 53-41. You remember that storybook final, right? 

At halftime, CBS analyst Greg Anthony had this to say about the brickfest, in which Butler shot a record-low 18.8 percent from the field...

"This is the worst half of basketball I've ever seen in a national championship game."

And the curse extended to other sports. A crash at last year's Houston Grand Prix -- in the shadow of both the Dome and Reliant -- ended the career of Scottish racing great Dario Franchitti and nearly ended the lives of 13 fans. 

Those buildings have to go.

Houston is flush with newcomers right now. New construction is going up all over the place. There are still vast tracts of vacant land just northeast of downtown in what used to be Fifth Ward. Let’s put the new stadium there, or snap up a few adjoining surface parking lots downtown and slap down the new stadium there.  But get the hell out of Astrodomain before this litany of broken dreams continues for much longer. The Texans should get out NOW. Play next season at Rice, HBU, Katy's high school complex, Bayland Park's Fun Stadium... but get out of Reliant NOW.

Some will say this is wasteful. Reliant is barely a decade old and cost $352 million to build.

Well, Atlanta is ridding itself of a $209 million baseball field only a few years older than Reliant, so tearing down our stadium is just keeping up with the Sun Belt Joneses.  

In fact, demolishing a retractable-roof stadium this early in its lifespan would be something of the ultimate Houston real estate move, outclassing the new, never-lived-in townhouse I saw get torn down off Yale a couple of months ago to make way for a Trammell Crow apartment complex. Let's show the world that we can demolish our municipal toys before the paint even dries, just because we can.

And admit. You're jealous of JerryWorld, if not the Cowboys, the perennially disappointing team that calls it home.

Let's fritter away our kids' future on a pleasure palace grander, more opulent, and with a much bigger and louder scoreboard than Jerry Jones ever conceived of. DFW coughed up $1.3 billion for that thing? Let's spend $2.6 on ours. Hell, make that $5.2 billion! Every seat can be a massage chair furnished by Gallery Furniture and vendors will hawk artisanal cocktails and craft beers.  

As for the Dome, it’s old and in the way. Aside from the second set of the 1987 Pink Floyd concert, nothing good ever happened either there or at Reliant. 

They are symbols of failure, nothing more.

Raze them both. Salt the earth on which they once stood. Leave that earth as vacant as that field where Astroworld once stood.

End the Curse of Kirby and Main. Our civic pride depends on it.

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