Catalyst for Louisiana Superdome dies at 87

Businessman Dave Dixon, who fought to bring an NFL team to New
Orleans and was the catalyst behind construction of the Louisiana
Superdome, died on Sunday. He was 87.

Dixon had been ill since January, said his son, Frank Dixon, who
confirmed his death.

”He was always coming up with new thoughts and ideas. Until his
dying day, he was thinking,” Frank Dixon said.

Dixon persuaded New Orleans officials to pursue a football
franchise rather than baseball in the 1960s. In his autobiography,
”The Saints, The Superdome and the Scandal,” Dixon wrote there
were strong reasons for the NFL to consider New Orleans, including
its mild winter weather, a great football tradition and 80,000-seat
Tulane Stadium. Dixon was a Tulane University graduate.

Dixon, whose supporters for a team included Gov. John McKeithen
and city restaurant owners, staged an NFL double header at Tulane
Stadium, which drew a crowd that nearly filled the place.

New Orleans was awarded the Saints on All-Saints Day 1966. Frank
Dixon said his father recently told him how the timing of the
announcement came about.

He said NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle called his father about
the deal and his dad suggested they wait a week to announce it on
that day.

”Both Pete Roselle and my father were great marketers,” Frank
Dixon said. ”I wonder where New Orleans would be today if it
didn’t have the Saints and the Superdome. I don’t think that ever
would have happened if my father wouldn’t have been here.”

Dixon started thinking about the stadium shortly after the city
got the team.

”I think as soon as Tulane agreed to let us use their stadium
for an NFL team I started planning the Superdome,” he told The
Associated Press in 2002. ”I knew having 80,000 people in those
neighborhoods 10 times a year was not going to work for long.”

The Superdome opened on Aug. 3, 1975. But it wasn’t until last
season that the Saints, a perennial loser, brought home a Super
Bowl victory to the city that is still recovering from 2005’s
Hurricane Katrina.

Dixon was elated at the team’s 31-28 overtime victory over the
Minnesota Vikings that sent the Saints to the Super Bowl. He was
forced to watch the game on TV because of his health.

”Oh, man,” he told AP the Monday after the win. ”I feel like
I’m in heaven. Just wonderful. I had a little heart problem. But I
feel much better. I’m very exhilarated over the Saints’ great
victory.”

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement that
Dixon ”was a distinguished civic leader with a unique vision and
he was widely admired around our region as a leader who was
dedicated to the development of the Louisiana Superdome.”

Katrina ripped off part of the Superdome’s roof. It also failed
miserably as a shelter of last resort when the devastating storm
flooded the city. Thousands of people who had nowhere else to go
flocked to the stadium. Within days, the building was tattered,
filthy inside from mold, debris and raw sewage.

Over the next year, the Superdome was rebuilt, and slowly, New
Orleans has tried to get back to what it once was. The Saints
success has played a role in helping the city by giving it
something to celebrate.

Dixon worked with Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt to found
World Championship Tennis, Frank Dixon said.

In 1965, Dave Dixon conceived the idea for the United States
Football League, which operated from 1982 to 1985 before folding,
his son said.

”He believed in the brotherhood of man. He loved people and
people loved him back,” Frank Dixon said.

A funeral will be held Wednesday at Holy Name of Jesus in New
Orleans with visitation beginning at 10 a.m., followed by Mass.
Burial will be at Metairie Lake Lawn Cemetery in New Orleans.

Dave Dixon is survived by his wife; his three sons, David Frank
Dixon, John Shea Dixon and Martin Stuart Dixon and four
grandchildren.