Pro football returns to Superdome on Monday

Sunday, September 24, 2006

NEW ORLEANS -- The Louisiana Superdome is back in business, more than a year after Hurricane Katrina's devastation.

On Monday night, the iconic symbol of New Orleans will put the newsreels of storm-inspired misery behind it and get back to what it was built for -- big-time events.

On the field, it's a matchup of unbeaten archrivals, the Saints and the Atlanta Falcons. Off the field, it's an opportunity to exorcise some of the demons in the soul of a city that suffered through one of the nation's worst natural disasters.

"We know that the Superdome was symbolic of a lot of misery," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said. "It's now a symbol of our recovery. It stands as a symbol of all of our experiences over the past year."

The national anthem Monday night will be sung by local favorites Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint, with Kermit Ruffins on trumpet. The Goo Goo Dolls, Green Day and U2 will perform before the game, and the Southern University marching band will provide the halftime show.

The pregame coin toss will be handled by former President George H.W. Bush, who was nominated for the presidency in the building at the 1988 Republican convention. A cadre of 150 Katrina first responders will stand with Bush. Blanco, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his successor, Roger Goodell, and Mayor Ray Nagin -- a Saints fan since the team first took the field in 1967 -- also are expected.

It's a shocking difference from Aug. 29, 2005, when Katrina's winds ripped the roof from the stadium. Some 30,000 hurricane refugees eventually were sheltered there. By the time the last of those survivors left the Superdome almost a week later, it was a wreck.

Seventy percent of the roof had failed, and 3.8 million gallons of water had to be pumped out of the Dome and its garages. With no air conditioning, mold and mildew grew quickly.

The stench inside the massive building was overwhelming -- a mixture of sewage from backed-up toilets and 4,000 tons of trash and debris.

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