Houston saw an unprecedented construction of sports stadiums in the first decade of the 21st Century. Other cities can now boast three “new” stadiums for baseball, basketball and football, but no city opened them up like Houston did from 2000-2003. It was because of these three new buildings Houston was able to host some of the country’s most important sporting events. Again, no other city in the country hosted a Super Bowl, World Series, MLB All-Star Game, and NBA All-Star Game in the last decade. These events created an unprecedented opportunity for Houston, a city that has historically garnered little attention, to showcase itself in a multitude of ways.
Minute Maid Park
Opened: March 30, 2000
Replaced: Astrodome (capacity 54,816)
My first experience with the new generation of ballparks was the Ballpark in Arlington. While the Astrodome always possessed a certain amount of charm, it was nothing like the home of the Texas Rangers. I was thrilled when plans were finally set for the Astros to get a new ballpark. When Enron Field opened in 2000, I couldn’t wait to get in. However, I must admit a tad bit of disappointment. I guess I was a victim of my own high expectations. Nevertheless, as I started visiting the park more, it has set up a very special place in my heart. From the Crawford Boxes to the odd little mound called Tal’s Hill in center field, and (who could forget) our ubiquitous little choo-choo and it’s load of pumpkins, er, I mean, oranges.
After the collapse of Enron, Minute Maid stepped bought the naming rights, and changed the name to Minute Maid Park. A better name, don’t you agree? Although the name change gave root to its nickname as The Juice Box. In 2004, Minute Maid hosted the MLB All-Star Game.
Houston hosted the 2005 World Series the following season when the Houston Astros faced the Chicago White Sox. The Astros were swept in one of the closest championship series (7 run differential) in Major League Baseball history. I was incredibly upset when the ‘Stros were swept. Not because we lost, no, I have never been prouder to be an Astros fan than that particular summer. I was upset because I knew the sweep would mean that great team, who took this city on a wild ride, would be roundly forgotten in the annals of baseball history. Unfortunately, 2005 remains the last truly magical season for the Astros as they haven’t been back to the post season since. In any case, Minute Maid Park remains one of my favorite places to cheer a Houston team to victory.
Opened: August 24, 2002
Replaced: Astrodome (capacity 62,439)
In my opinion neither of the other two new stadiums have had as great an impact as Reliant Stadium. Reliant is arguably the best of the three stadiums in its respective league. It’s mere existence is a testament to how Houston conquered the city of Los Angeles for the 32nd, and final, NFL franchise. I must digress because this is one of my favorite Houston stories. The National Football League had originally awarded its last franchise to the city of Los Angeles. At the time, it made sense, LA over Houston. Major market vs. mid market. Hollywood vs. well, the Ship Channel. However, the ownership team from Southern California ran into insurmountable financial and political hurdles to get the team off the ground. In stepped Bob McNair, who not only had the means to afford the NFL’s immense ownership costs, but had the political backing to get a new stadium built. It is for this very reason that I would place Mr. McNair in any Top 5 list of influential Houstonians in this decade.
Before we get to the stadium, I must also point out the greater victory represented in the victory of Reliant’s construction. Reliant is bigger and better than the home of Bud Adams’ Tennessee Titans. It is the most delicious of ironies Houston was not only able to right the wrongs at the hands of Bud Adams, but we built something he always wanted, and could never have in Houston.
So, let’s talk Reliant. It hosted the NFL’s greatest spectacle, Super Bowl XXXVIII, where the New England Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers. It was also the Super Bowl that will always be synonymous with the term wardrobe malfunction. Arguably, Houston’s hosted the last decent Super Bowl halftime show. I mean, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson? Yeah, like you’re going to be watching the Black Eyed Peas!
Trivia Time: Did you know the now famous nipple shield she was wearing was purchased at Erotic Caberet?
Some would argue the Super Bowl was the only time Houstonians have gotten an opportunity to see good football. *cough* It should be noted Houston will host the 2011 Final Four and is attractively positioned to play host to some part of FIFA World Cup should the United States win its bid to host the worlds greatest sporting spectacle in 2018 or 2022. Of course, those events are in different decades, and thus irrelevant to this post. However, it is a testament to the high quality of Reliant Stadium that Houston has won or is even a part of such conversations today.
Reliant is also the site of what I believe to be one of the most exciting developments in Houston today, the Texas Bowl. Again I must give credit to Bob McNair. Houston had lost its bowl license after years of poor attendance at the GalleryFurniture.com and EV1.com Bowls. McNair, doing what he does best, negotiated to have Houston’s bowl license reinstated, and the Texas Bowl was born. I have been volunteering for the Bowl since 2004, and I can say there are not many other organizations doing more to create a positive impression of Houston, TX than our local bowl.
I think we can all agree the name and logo are much better than the aforementioned incarnations. The Texas Bowl is quickly becoming a premium collegiate bowl game because of its location in Reliant Stadium. I could go on about how much the stadium has meant to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, but you get the idea. Reliant Stadium is good for Houston.
Opened: October 6, 2003
Replaced: Summit/Compaq Center (capacity 16,285)
Of the three new stadiums, Toyota Center is the one I have visited the least, but it might be my favorite. Its predecessor, The Summit, will always have a very special place in my heart. It was home to the Houston Rockets two championships in 1994 and 1995, and I own a piece of its original floor. Despite the nostalgia, I never quite enjoyed attending games there, whether they be Rockets or Aeros, particularly after they changed the name to Compaq Center.
When I visited the newly opened Toyota Center, I knew immediately what Houston had been missing. THIS was a basketball arena. As I said, I haven’t been to many Rockets games in the new arena, but everyone one of them has been fantastic. There is an electricity in Toyota Center that I never felt in the Summit.
I’ve always been intrigued by the quirky fact Toyota Center has the largest lower bowl seating of any arena in the country, giving Toyota Center a unique home court advantage. The Rockets have wisely banked on that tidbit, making their fans the centerpiece of their marketing campaigns. Toyota Center is built to give the fans a chance to alter games. If you don’t believe me, then I will point you to games 4 & 6 of the 2009 NBA playoff second round series against the eventual NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers. I would put those two games in the Top 10, maybe even Top 5 greatest games in Rockets history. There was absolutely no reason the Rockets would have been competitive, let alone dominant, after Yao Ming went down with an injury after Game 3. The home court at Toyota Center made all the difference.
Like Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center was also responsible for giving Houston the opportunity to host an All-Star Game in 2006. For those scoring at home, this means between 2004-2006, Houston hosted an MLB All-Star Game, the Super Bowl, a World Series and the NBA All-Star Game. No city in the country can boast the same cluster of events in the same amount of years.
Finally, to top it all off, Houston hosted the Latin Grammys in 2008. The Latin Grammys are a perfect example of how special these three buildings have been to the city of Houston. Together, they opened Houston to the world.
Houston may never have the opportunity to host this many high-caliber events in so short a time ever again. But as we look to the future, we move forward with our heads held high because in this first decade of the 21st century, we opened our doors to the world with a smile.
And the world smiled back.