In New Orleans, a Reassuring Voice

"I was so scared that we had lost it," announcer Jerry Romig says of the Louisiana Superdome, which has a new roof, new seats and new field. (By Chris Graythen -- Getty Images)
By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 25, 2006

NEW ORLEANS -- There is beauty in the tarnished dome. Jerry Romig sees it from the street outside, gazing up at its golden steel skin that curves toward the sky. He feels it inside, under the gigantic roof where hidden treasures like the four giant party rooms, each capable of holding more than 1,000 people, are tucked away from public view.

The Voice of the Superdome stands on the floor of the building he loves, staring up at the peak of the roof, 27 stories up.

"You can't appreciate the scope of this building," he said.

For all of the Superdome's 31 years he has checked in at the main gate, walked to the elevator and made the ride up three floors to the press box, where he has a special booth that sits even with the back of northwest end zone. Here he has been present for every Saints game in this building, climbing onto a stool, pulling on a headset, pushing a button and hearing his words boom off the ceiling and rattle through the seats.

It's a job he adores.

And yet 13 months ago he sat in a borrowed house in Baton Rouge watching helplessly as thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees huddled in their Superdome seats as huge swaths of metal thundered down from above and he wondered if he would ever see his beloved booth again, if there would ever be a Superdome again.

"I was so scared that we had lost it," he said.

Instead they rebuilt the stadium, with $144 million in repairs, most of the money coming from state and federal funds and a small contribution from the NFL. And in less than a year after the building stood as a symbol of all that had gone wrong in New Orleans, it has become an example of what can be rebuilt, with a new roof, new seats, new field and glistening scoreboards that glowed in the semi-darkness one recent morning.

Tonight the Superdome will be on display for America when the Saints play the Falcons on "Monday Night Football." And Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) has already hailed the reconstruction "nothing short of a miracle." Saints owner Tom Benson said "it's going to inspire the people of Louisiana even more."

For Romig, once a television newsman now in his mid-seventies, it is something more.

"It is such a symbol of what the Superdome brought us," he said. "It brought us the NFL. Without this building the NFL would have left. The average New Orleanian would not quibble with the effort to restore the place."

Romig seems excited to be back in the Superdome as he bounces through the halls, saying hellos to the workers who still mill about carrying ladders and cans of paint trying to finish last-second tasks before the great reopening. If he is nervous about going back inside a building that had been the site of so much suffering, he won't show it. Instead he walks up to his booth, sits in his seat and plays with the controls of his microphone.

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