End of an era: Superdome press box is moving

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Unless you’ve been in a cave, you know there’s a big football game Sunday evening. What you probably don’t know is that Sunday will mark the end of an era for an old friend of mine.

Though she’s younger than me (which I guess makes me really old), she has literally seen it all in the Superdome, with a great vantage point. She’s provided seats — and a desk — to the best of the best. At times, she provided me a second home.

But between now and August, she’s moving up to a higher perch.

“She” is the Superdome press box.

After Sunday’s NFC Championship Game — the last football game to be played in the Superdome this season — construction will begin on a new press box in the terrace level. The current press box will be cleared out to make way for 16 corporate suites. The changes are part of $85 million in upgrades to take place over the next two years.

But please, don’t cry for her. She has more than her share of memories over 35 years, the last of which will come on Sunday.

According to Superdome spokesman Bill Curl, she has seen more than 750 football games, accommodating media from across the globe all the while. And these weren’t just any old games. We’re talking six Super Bowls, 11 college football national championships, 34 Sugar Bowls and Bayou Classics, nine New Orleans Bowls, more than 100 Louisiana high school title games, and even a Pro Bowl.

And she hasn’t just witnessed football. There were two seasons of Arena Football in the early 1990s, a minor league baseball season in 1977 with the New Orleans Pelicans, numerous Major League Baseball exhibition series, and even a soccer exhibition game. She even accommodated overflow media and photographers for the Final Four.

Personally, I couldn’t begin to count the number of events I’ve worked inside the Dome press box. It isn’t 750-plus, but it’s up there. And I know some of my NewOrleans.com colleagues’ event counts go way higher than mine.

She’s seen an evolution of technology — from typewriter to laptop, telecopier to fax and e-mail, mimeograph to copier, dial-up to high-speed wireless.

Web sites? Perhaps where spiders had been. And the only Twitter we knew about back in the day was of the occasional pigeon that flew in one of the exterior doors of the Dome.

Was she perfect? No. A photographer’s deck was improperly designed and eventually left out of the construction, so video cameras were left without a dedicated location. If you sat in the top row of the auxiliary press box for a baseball game, you had no sight lines of a fly ball.

Who’s walked through her? Broadcasters like Howard Cosell, John Madden, Keith Jackson and Bob Costas. Writers from newspapers across the country and around the world. Local legends who we’ve read, seen and heard for decades: Peter Finney, Bob Roesler, Jim Henderson and the late Hap Glaudi and Buddy Diliberto.

Roesler has a plaque in his honor at the press box entrance. Diliberto had a brass plate installed at his longtime seat location. Hopefully, those honors make the move upstairs in the fall.

Troy Aikman and Bobby Hebert played their first NFL games in the Superdome. They’ll be in the press box Sunday.

Media are supposed to be impartial, but they’re not robots, so she’s probably witnessed her share of emotions as well — the Saints clinching their first-ever playoff spot in 1987, Eddie Robinson’s last game as Grambling coach in 1997, Tulane wrapping up an undefeated regular season in 1998, both of LSU’s national championship wins last decade and a glorious re-opening after Hurricane Katrina in 2006.

And then there’s Sunday.

The majority of “big” events she’s witnessed have not involved any local or regional skin in the game, with the exception of LSU in the Sugar Bowl or BCS National Championship.

Nothing against the Tigers, but that will pale in comparison to the stories that area writers will compose from their seats inside the press box if the Saints defeat the Minnesota Vikings to advance to the first Super Bowl in the franchise’s 43-year history.

Regardless of the result, sometime late Sunday night or early Monday morning, the last writer will file the last story for the night.

And just as that story will carry the journalistic symbol noting the end of a copy transmission — “30” — so too will a home for local and national media alike for the last 35 years reach its end.

I’ll see you one last time on Sunday, old friend. Here’s hoping you get a sendoff like nothing you’ve ever seen.

***

Before we leave you this week, we have to pass along kudos to former UNO assistant athletic director Gary Gallup, who’s now the athletic director at Division II Kentucky Wesleyan.

You might have heard the tragic story of Southern Indiana basketball player Jeron Lewis, who died after a fall in a game at Kentucky Wesleyan last week. Here’s a story on what Kentucky Wesleyan’s athletic department did as a tribute to Lewis.

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

Sales/Content/Production

Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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