EPISODE #85: Houston’s Iconic Astrodome – With Bob Trumpbour

When it debuted to the public on April 9, 1965 (with an exhibition Major League Baseball game featuring the newly-renamed Houston Astros and Mickey Mantle’s New York Yankees), the Astrodome – audaciously dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by its builders – immediately captured the attention of the sports, entertainment and architectural worlds.  

It was a Texas-sized vision of the future – a seemingly unimaginable feat of engineering, replete with breakthrough innovations such as premium luxury suites, theater-style seating, and the world’s first-ever animated stadium scoreboard.  At the time, it was the biggest-ever indoor space ever made by man – an immense cylinder nearly half-a-mile around and with a flying-saucer-like roofline – that evoked a modern space age that the city of Houston and a reach-the-Moon-obsessed nation envisioned for itself.

Amidst the ambition, not all was perfect: baseball outfielders were initially unable to see fly balls through the stadium’s clear Plexiglas roof panels, and attempts to grow natural grass for its playing surface failed repeatedly (ultimately leading to the development of artificial “AstroTurf”).    

Yet, unquestionably, the arrival of the Astrodome changed the way people viewed sporting events and – putting casual fans at the center of the experience, that would soon become the expected standard for all facets of live communal entertainment.

Penn State University professor Rob Trumpbour (The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston’s Iconic Astrodome) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the life, impact and ongoing legacy of the Astrodome’s signature role in transforming Houston as a city – and some of the memorable (and not so memorable) pro franchises that called it home during its 43-year run, including the AFL/NFL football Oilers, the NASL soccer Stars and Hurricane, and challenger-league football’s Texans (WFL) and Gamblers (USFL). 

Plus, the backstory of Major League Baseball’s 1962 expansion Houston Colt .45’s – the original catalyst behind the dome’s conception and construction.

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EPISODE #47: US Pro Soccer’s 1960s-Era Rebirth with Author Dennis Seese

The history of professional soccer in the United States is richer and far more complex than today’s generation of Major League Soccer fans might realize.  Multiple ethnically-infused pro leagues existed as far back as the early 1900s – but when the American Soccer Association collapsed in Depression-Era 1933, it wasn’t until the mid-1960s when the next serious attempt to bring full-fledged, top-flight Division One professional soccer to US shores was pursued in earnest.

In 1966, suddenly and incredibly, no fewer than three separate groups of well-heeled American sports businessmen coalesced around the same idea, each attempting to draft off of attention-generating events like entrepreneur Bill Cox’s International Soccer League tournaments and NBC’s surprisingly high-rated, near-live national TV broadcast of the World Cup Final from England.

According to research librarian (and unwitting soccer historian) Dennis Seese (The Rebirth of Professional Soccer in America: The Strange Days of the United Soccer Association), it was a tumultuous revival that ultimately yielded two hastily-assembled competing leagues the following year – the FIFA-sanctioned United Soccer Association (featuring whole-cloth international clubs pseudonymously representing 12 American cities), and the “outlaw” National Professional Soccer League (boasting a national CBS television contract and a one-month-earlier start for its ten teams) –  that rushed to beat each other to the American public with their pro versions of the “world’s game.”

What resulted was near-disaster: sparse crowds, dubious refereeing, anemic ratings, and a shotgun post-season merger to form a successor North American Soccer League in 1968 – which, despite its inherited broadcast TV coverage and official international governing body approval, sputtered mightily itself.  By the end of the merged NASL’s first season, only five teams remained – and the future of American professional soccer was very much in doubt. 

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