SEATTLE – In a 364-page history of American baseball stadiums published last year titled “Ballpark: Baseball in the American City,” author Paul Goldberger makes two references to the Kingdome.
In one, he refers to the stadium as “widely hated.” In another, he calls it “a structure so banal that it made the (Houston) Astrodome seem vibrant and fresh.”
By the time the Kingdome, or technically the King County Multipurpose Domed Stadium, was imploded 20 years ago – a sunny Sunday morning on March 26, 2000 – there weren’t many who would have put up much of a fight in its defense.
By then, there was no doubt it was time for the Kingdome to go to make way for the shiny new palaces to baseball (T-Mobile Park) and football (CenturyLink Field) that have taken its place.
But as Seattle and the rest of the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic and confronts the unexpected loss of gatherings to watch and celebrate the best in the world in sports and music, a remembrance of what the Kingdome once meant to this city on the anniversary of its passing seems more appropriate than ever.
Ushering in the big leagues
The opening of the Kingdome in 1976 – construction began in 1972 with the hope it would lure baseball, football and other sports – allowed Seattle to truly become a major league city. The Seahawks moved in that first year, with the Mariners arriving a year later.
When the Sonics moved there in 1978 in the midst of their greatest run of success, the ’Dome became a rare home to three major league sports teams for the next seven years.
The Kingdome remains the only building to host All-Star games in MLB, NFL and the NBA. That’s on top of hosting three Final Fours.
For much of its first decade, people mostly enjoyed the Kingdome. Its roof allowed for games to always be played, and its multisport functionality seemed something of a marvel.
But a feeling that baseball should be played outdoors coupled with the stadium revolution of the early ’90s seemed to age the Kingdome overnight.
And if many were ready to move on by the time they finally imploded the place, just as many, if not more, couldn’t help but feel as if a piece of their childhood vanished in about 16.8 seconds – even rock stars Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell showed up to watch its final moments.
An in-person appreciation
Maybe you simply had to have been there to appreciate it.
That’s the view of Dave Wyman, now a sports talk host on ESPN 710 Seattle who played for the Seahawks from 1987-92.
Newcomers to the area may not realize that the Seahawks’ “12” phenomenon dates to the early ’80s, when the Kingdome had a reputation for being as intimidating of a building as any in the NFL.
It was the din created by the crowd – which was greatly aided by the Kingdome’s concrete roof – that helped compel the Seahawks to retire the No. 12 on Dec. 15, 1984, said to be the first time any American pro sports franchise had retired a number in honor of its fans.
“I didn’t really like it at first,” Wyman said. “Having played at Stanford with the green grass, eucalyptus trees and sunshine, it was a big change playing in the Kingdome. It felt like a carpeted cement hallway lit up with fluorescent lights. It was like no stadium I had ever played in.
“But once I started playing defense in front of that crowd, I began to love the Kingdome. I sacked (Los Angeles Raiders quarterback) Steve Beuerlein in my first-ever Monday Night Football game down on the closed end of the dome, away from the locker room exits. I felt like I floated off the field afterward. That crowd noise would amp up your adrenaline to the point that you couldn’t even feel the hard hits. For me, it was like Superman’s phone booth. I would enter, turn into a superhero for three or four hours, then exit and disappear into the crowd.”
The Kingdome was at its best when the Seahawks were playing – they had only six losing home seasons in the 24 years they played in the ’Dome.
“It was a good football building,” recalls Mike Gastineau, another who arrived in Seattle later in the ’Dome’s life – 1991 – having heard mixed reviews.
As Gastineau arrived to begin a long run as a radio talk-show host and later an author and chronicler of Seattle sports history, the Seahawks began to fade in the post-Chuck Knox years while the Mariners began to show that a baseball game there didn’t have to be a completely dreary affair.
Saving the Mariners
“I remember what an interesting paradox the Kingdome was for baseball,” Gastineau said. “It was a horrible place to watch baseball … until the M’s got good. Then, in 1995, it became a character in their story, and it became a great place to watch baseball. It was like going to see The Who every night. Loud. Insane. Fun.”
The late-season run to within two wins of the World Series in ’95 saved the Mariners in Seattle while sealing the fate of the Kingdome, with a lot of political back-and-forth resulting in T-Mobile Park (the falling of the ceiling tiles the previous year helped, too).
But if not for the Kingdome, Gastineau thinks that season may never have happened quite the same way.
“I’m not sure that team does what it does without the benefit of that building,” he said. “Being inside the Kingdome during the M’s 1995 run was like being on the inside of a popcorn popper and other teams just wilted. And even after, in the ’96 season, and the ’97 season and playoffs, it was such a huge advantage to that team.”
By then, the Sonics were long gone, having moved back to the Coliseum in 1985. And by the early ’90s, the Seahawks and new owner Ken Behring also wanted out, which eventually led to the ill-conceived move to Los Angeles and ultimately to the security of ownership by Paul Allen, whose desire for a new stadium levied an additional death knell to the Kingdome.
Allen desired to maintain the most defining aspect of the ’Dome’s personality – its noise – and worked with acoustic experts to design CenturyLink Field to allow Seattle to maintain its reputation for having the loudest stadium in the NFL.
The Mariners played their last game in the Kingdome on June 27, 1999, a 5-2 win over Texas in which Ken Griffey Jr. hit a home run and Edgar Martinez was ejected.
By the time the Seahawks played their final game there – a 20-17 wild-card playoff loss to Miami on Jan. 9, 2000 – they were already preparing its demise.
“I didn’t have much of an attachment to the building,” Gastineau said. “I knew that the new buildings would be so much better that I wasn’t all that sad to see it coming down.
“But I remember having Dave Niehaus on my show in the winter before they blew it up. I remember how wistful he was. He talked about how much of his life he had spent there and how, although he was excited for the new ballpark (which the Mariners moved into in July 1999) he was sad to see the Kingdome go. I can still hear his voice. ‘I know people make fun of it, but when I drive by, I see a beautiful old lady in gray, a dowager. I’ll miss her.’ ”
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