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.

Our appreciation to OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, 503 Sports, Audible, and MyBookie for sponsoring this week’s episode!

The Eight Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston’s Iconic Astrodome - buy here

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EPISODE #78: The United States Football League – With Jeff Pearlman

Multiple New York Times bestselling sports book author Jeff Pearlman (Gunslinger; Boys Will Be Boys; The Bad Guys Won!; Sweetness) joins the pod this week to promote his latest literary treasure – a deeply personal devotional about the wild and ultimately misbegotten United States Football League.

Crafted from over four hundred interviews and borne of a childhood fascination/obsession, Football For a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL is a narrative tour de force that chronicles the bizarre and often comical story of the erstwhile early 1980s spring league that pugnaciously challenged the pro football establishment with a witches’ brew of ownership bravado, expensive player talent, national TV coverage, wayward franchises, bounced paychecks – and, audaciously, a Hail Mary of a class action federal lawsuit that won the battle, but ultimately lost the war against the supremacy of the NFL.  

Thanks to MyBookie, OldSchoolShirts.com, Audible, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for sponsoring this week’s episode!

Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL - buy book here

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EPISODE #46: The United States Football League with Author Paul Reeths

For the first time since Episode #11, we return to the brief, but unforgettable streak of pro football lightning known as the United States Football League, with the author of its definitive history, Paul Reeths (The United States Football League, 1982-1986). 

The brainchild of New Orleans plywood manufacturer/car dealer/World Championship Tennis co-founder/Superdome director/art-and-antiques dealer David Dixon, the USFL splashily announced its intention to bring big-league, springtime professional football to 12 major markets, at New York’s famed “21” Club on May 11, 1982.  In short order, the league added its first commissioner (sports cable TV executive Chet Simmons), a landmark marquee player signing (Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker), and, most valuably, national television contracts with broadcaster ABC Sports and upstart cable network ESPN.

In this illuminating episode, Reeths recounts some of the most memorable (and unbelievable) events from the USFL’s subsequent three-season run – and ultimately Pyrrhic antitrust legal victory over the National Football League – including the:

  • Origins of the “Dixon Plan” and its foundational belief in the insatiable fan appetite for pro football beyond the confines of the NFL’s fall schedule;
  • Surprisingly common bond among the league’s deep-pocketed owner-founders, the alarmingly rapid rate with which many bailed after the inaugural season, and the large line of expansion owners ready to replace them;
  • Unwittingly fortuitous 1982 NFL player strike that gave oxygen to the USFL’s challenger narrative;
  • Swift and destabilizing impact of Donald Trump’s arrival to USFL ownership in the summer of 1983 – and the movement towards direct fall competition with the NFL; AND
  • “Successful” restraint-of-trade federal court verdicts that provided way too little, and far too late to save the league from collapse.

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The United States Football League: 1982-1986 - buy book here

EPISODE #11: The USFL’s Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars with Publicist Bob Moore

Long-time Kansas City Chiefs public relations director Bob Moore joins Tim Hanlon to recount his pre-NFL baptism-by-fire tenure as communications lead for the United States Football League’s most successful franchise, the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars.  Moore recalls the instant credibility boost of snagging General Manager Carl Peterson from the cross-town NFL Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles; credits Peterson’s vision in building the USFL’s most consistently dominant team from his mastery of the league’s novel territorial draft system; laments the league’s irrational zeal to expand by six teams in the first off-season as an unwitting hastener of its ultimate demise; and explains how the 1985 USFL champion “Baltimore” Stars never actually played a down inside “Charm City.”  This episode is sponsored by our audiobook friends at Audible.com!