- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) Lots of exposed steel, a sea of concrete, an inflated fiberglass roof and no championships.

No wonder few tears will be shed at the Detroit Lions' last game in the Silverdome tomorrow.

After playing 30 miles north of Detroit for 27 years, the Lions will return downtown next season to play at Ford Field, a new $315million indoor venue that will play host to the 2006 Super Bowl.

"The Silverdome is a dump, it has no charisma," said Lions fan Mike Naert. "I'm excited about the new stadium because it brings new hope we need it."

The Lions have one playoff victory, over Dallas in 1992 at home, since winning the 1957 championship.

"I'm 41. I've been going to Lions games since I was 6 and I've been rooting for them since I can remember. Imagine my pain," Naert shouted outside the Silverdome before the Lions' loss to Chicago last week.

The few times the Lions provided their fans with joy, pain was not far behind.

In the same season as the playoff win over the Cowboys, offensive guard Mike Utley was paralyzed below his chest when he injured his neck in a collision on the Silverdome turf.

In the 1997 regular-season finale against the New York Jets, Barry Sanders went over the 2,000-yard rushing mark and the Lions made the playoffs. The game also is remembered because of linebacker Reggie Brown's career-ending neck injury.

"I can understand why a lot of people aren't sentimental about the Silverdome," Lions fullback Cory Schlesinger said. "It's time for us to move on to a new facility. I think it's going to do a lot for us."

Many fans openly wept in 1999 when the Detroit Tigers played their final game in Tiger Stadium also once the home of the Lions. It will be a shock if anyone in the 80,325-seat Silverdome does the same tomorrow when Dallas visits.

When it was built at a cost of $55.7million in 1973-75, the Silverdome was an engineering marvel. The air-supported and cable-restrained stadium was the largest of its kind and was the first example of a fiberglass-fabric roof.

But few are impressed anymore by the white roof, the shades of gray that support it and the 100-acre parking lot surrounding it.

While it's easy to criticize the aesthetics of the Silverdome, it's impossible to ignore the significant events there, from Elvis' last stadium concert in 1975 to the 1982 Super Bowl to a visit from the Pope in 1987.

Greg Roberts, the Silverdome's director of marketing and events, said he's proud of the facility, despite its lack of charm.

"It's not the prettiest place and it's not state-of-the-art, but you're closer to the action here than in any other stadium in the country," said Roberts, a Silverdome employee since 1979. "Our sight lines make this a great stadium to watch any event. When you buy a ticket, you're not paying for beauty, you're paying for a good seat for a show."

The shows will go on at the Silverdome in the near future without the Lions, who paid $27.2million to get out of their lease four years early.

"I'm booking events through 2004," Roberts said.

Pontiac Mayor Willie Payne said the city will take its time in exploring options for the land. The only option ruled out has been casino gambling.

Detroit coach Marty Mornhinweg is looking forward to playing at Ford Field and practicing at the team's new $40million facility in Allen Park, about 10 miles from the new stadium.

As if the Lions didn't have enough problems this season, which started with 12 consecutive losses, they were barred from practicing in the Silverdome for several weeks because of a dispute over the lease.

"We'll have fewer distractions," Mornhinweg said.

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