Super Bowl 50: Historic Tulane Stadium set stage for flashy new builds in 1970s

Story highlights

  • Tulane University played hosts to Super Bowls IV, VI and IX in 1970s
  • Average Super Bowl ticket price back then was $20
  • Equivalent to about $88 when adjusted for inflation
  • $3,218 is "get-in" price for Super Bowl 50

(CNN)As far back as most people can remember, getting your hands on a Super Bowl ticket meant you were either rich or well-connected -- or both.

But that wasn't always the case.
It's hard to believe, but for those who grew up in the Uptown section of New Orleans in the 1970s, watching any of the three Super Bowls played at the long-gone Tulane Stadium could practically be done on a whim.
"They [tickets] were pretty easy to come by if you lived in New Orleans," says Dr. Ken Adatto, who grew up within walking distance of the stadium, which held nearly 81,000 people, and attended all three of its Super Bowls, beginning in 1970.
"In those days, the Super Bowl wasn't the event that it is now."
Before the construction of the Louisiana Superdome in 1975 -- an air-conditioned indoor facility designed to host New Orleans Saints -- the red brick, on-campus stadium of Tulane University played host to Super Bowls IV, VI and IX, games that contributed to the now-storied histories of the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I probably paid about $35, something like that," Adatto recalls on his outlay for the 1975 game, when the Franco Harris-led Steelers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 16-6 in front of 80,997. "There were no corporate tenants, none of that stuff."
Amazingly, Adatto paid a premium for his luxury-area tickets, which he says were not sold out. Indeed, the average Super Bowl ticket price back then was $20, according to data company Graphiq, or about $88 when adjusted for inflation. Cheap as it seems, it was a steep hike compared to the $15 average price for the 1970 and 1972 Super Bowls.
That's a far cry from the "get-in" price for Super Bowl 50 of $3,218, according to ticket aggregator SeatGeek. It's safe to say Bay Area residents won't be walking into the shiny confines of Levi's Stadium without planning well in advance of Sunday's showdown between Denver and Carolina.
"It was a neighborhood type of thing," says Adatto, now 72, who estimates that half those Super Bowl attendees were New Orleans natives who reveled in mixing with the national crowd. "It was just neat to see all the people, and the celebrities that came to town."
Locally known as "Touchdown," Adatto saw the city blossom around the stadium as it increased capacity in stages (it opened in 1926 as a 35,000-seater before undergoing four upgrades in five decades, adding nearly 46,000 seats in the process).
Part of his Boy Scout duties consisted of being a stadium usher, and as a teenager in the 1950s Adatto sold Cokes there. It was an easy way to watch Tulane games and, more importantly, the Sugar Bowl, an annual college football classic which the stadium hosted from 1935 to 1974 (Tulane had its first and only Sugar Bowl win at the inaugural game).
Adatto's link to the stadium continued into adulthood, when the orthopedic surgeon signed up for season tickets to the city's new NFL franchise, the Saints. The team -- which endured many losing seasons on its way to its 2009 championship -- played home games there from 1967 to 1974.
Adatto was in attendance for one of the Saints' few bright spots at Tulane Stadium: Tom Dempsey's record-breaking 63-yard field goal in 1970. The kicker -- who took the shot with a flat-fronted shoe specially designed to overcome a birth defect -- set a landmark that stood for 43 years.
"Listening to it from the porch on the radio, you could hear the crowd from blocks away," recalls Tulane's current game day manager John Lange, another Uptown native who grew up about six blocks from the stadium. "I remember it like it was yesterday."
As a student at nearby De La Salle High School, Lange would park cars in his parents' driveway, charging one dollar each to game day attendees.
"So I would have five or six dollars, and I would jump on my bike and go right over to the stadium to watch the Saints play," he recalls. "It was incredible."
Lange remembers attending multiple Sugar Bowls, as well Super Bowl VI in 1971, when coach Tom Landry led the Dallas Cowboys to their first title over Don Shula's Miami Dolphins.
Meanwhile, out of the limelight, the stadium served as a playground for Lange and his high school friends.
"As kids we would jump the fence and ride our bikes around the ramps, and go play on the field until we were run off by Tulane security," he recalls. "Security then isn't what is today."
Eventually, the city's humidity and precipitation caused decay to the stadium's exposed steel grandstands which served as extensions to the original structure. The city's pressure on the university to upgrade its grand old facility coincided with the go-ahead for a state-of-the-art covered stadium to host the Saints.
With the added financial pressure of losing the Sugar Bowl to the new facility Tulane decided to wind down events at its stadium, even moving its own football team to the Superdome.

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Tulane played its final home game on campus in November 1974, losing to Ole Miss 26-10. Only one year earlier, the Green Wave had beaten in-state rivals LSU 14-0 before a record Tulane Stadium crowd of 86,598 -- perhaps the program's high point before athletic funding was scaled down in favor of academics.
For the next five years, the facility's seating extensions were off-limits, leaving it to play host to rock concerts and high school football games in a stripped-down version of its remarkable past.
A particularly raucous ZZ Top concert in 1976 left Uptown residents scarred, leading to a limitation on large outdoor performances in the area. "They turned the neighborhood upside down," recalls Lange, who happened to be in attendance for Tulane Stadium's final event before demolition: De La Salle's game against Archbishop Rummel High School on November 1, 1979, a sad moment for many.
"When they tore it down, it really was like cutting out a part of my heart," says Angus Lind, a 1966 Tulane graduate, in the university-produced short film "Home Field Advantage: Remembering Tulane Stadium."
Thankfully, some pieces of the old relic were salvaged -- namely its jam-packed scoreboard, which had so many dials and slots displaying game data that it was nearly impossible to read. Tulane's heavy equipment manager Bobby Thompson rescued the discarded fixture, now held in university storage.
"You caught me with a shotgun, I can see it all now in the back of my mind," says Thompson, who retired from Tulane last month after 50 years of service.
"Maybe that's what haunted the Saints over the years," Lange deadpans.
The Green Wave's move to the Superdome worked against the program as attendance plummeted. Students were less enticed to attend games three miles from campus to follow a team that lost its winning ways.
Doug Hoffman, who graduated from Tulane's A.B. Freeman School of Business in 1995, recalls going to one game which he describes as "weird but fun."
"Tickets were free, but there could only have been 4,000 to 5,000 fans in the dome," he says, recounting the absurdity of seeing so many empty sections during an active game (the Superdome holds over 73,000). "We kept changing seats just to get different perspectives because the game was a blow out. There was no reason to go see another game."
After flirting with the idea of closing its football program in the 1990s, Tulane got serious about bringing gridiron back to campus about five years ago. Through the help of donors -- who include Manchester United owners Avram and Joel Glazer -- the school was able to raise $75 million to open the 30,000 capacity Yulman Stadium in 2014.
Though the Green Wave has won just four of its first 12 home games at Yulman, the stadium provides a festive tailgate atmosphere befitting of New Orleans -- something surely lacking since the heyday of its predecessor.
"I think college football deserves to be in an outdoor, on-campus stadium," Lange acknowledges.
Nevertheless, Uptowners still hold a soft spot for the bygone stadium that turned New Orleans into a glittering Super Bowl destination.
"Tulane stadium gave us an entry into the big leagues that we wouldn't have had otherwise," says Adatto. "It was a unique place to visit."