I've never been to New Orleans, but I have spent some time over the years questioning why a city not much bigger than Cleveland needs a sports edifice like the Superdome.
It's a fortress that must cost hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars to maintain every year. And for what? So the sad-sack Saints can play there eight to 10 times a year? So the city can host the Sugar Bowl every Jaunary, and the Super Bowl every four-to-five years?
And New Orleans, a mostly warm-weather city, couldn't do this with an outdoor facility that would cost a fraction to maintain?
Then Hurricane Katrina made landfall today, and I saw the light.
Somewhere around 10,000 people took refuge in the massive structure Sunday as Katrina, one of the largest and most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico, beared down on Louisiana.
The Superdome isn't a matter of opulence, it's a matter of necessity.
Certainly, the Superdome's planners wanted an impressive structure when they set about concieving the 250-foot-tall dome that has a diameter of about 680 feet. But the Superdome was completed in 1976, less than a decade after Hurricane Camille laid waste to the Mississippi gulf coast in 1969. The building's planners almost certainly had to envision its possible use as a large, above-ground bunker where citizens could ride out a natural disaster like Camille.
When Katrina hit this morning, the Superdome was put to the test. News reports showed several holes torn in the roof, and much of the fabric covering on the roof tattered by the storms relentless winds and rain. But the Superdome appears to have survived without any structural failures. Thousands of New Orleans residents who didn't make it out of the city in time might have had their lives saved by having a domed giant to hide in.
The people of New Orleans gained notoriety by wearing paper bags on their heads while attending Saints games during any one of their many losing seasons. But if the Saints cause New Orleans periodic embarassment in the NFL standings, no one in Louisiana should be ashamed of the place their team calls home.