DETROIT -- The idea that a domed stadium should be built in the District of Columbia must be stopped before someone other than Jack Kent Cooke starts taking it seriously.
Just because Cooke owns a football team doesn't make him an expert on domed stadiums. In fact, his comment that a new stadium might be modeled after the Pontiac Silverdome shows that Cooke has a lot to learn about playing outdoor sports indoors.
As a fan living in Michigan, I've been to the Silverdome many times. As a reporter who formerly covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press, I've visited many of America's domed stadiums.
The inescapable conclusion of all this forced captivity is clear. Domes are dumb. They are ugly, unnatural and unnecessary.
Domed stadiums seal out the elements, which seems like an odd thing to do in an area such as Washington, where football afternoons often are clear and, at worst, crisp.
The climate is harsher in Detroit, but playing football outside always was accepted -- and largely enjoyed -- as part of the fabric and fun of following a rugged game.
Before 1975, the Lions dirtied their uniforms by playing in roofless Tiger Stadium downtown. I get nostalgic when I think of those games. I remember the menacing clouds of November gathering overhead. I remember the 45-yard field goals kicked with a tail wind.
By December, you prepared for games by pulling on long johns and an extra pair of socks. You smuggled in a bottle of apricot brandy to ward off the chill, and you watched the breath escape from the behemoths' nostrils like steam hissing from a train. When the Lions lost, which was often, you sometimes threw snowballs at the coach.
Things are different at the Silverdome.
The 10-acre roof does more than blot out the sun. It traps smoke and noise, which irritate the senses. Players complain that the artificial turf hurts their knees. Fans grumble about the shopping mall ambience. Homeowners gripe that the Silver is a drain on their pocketbooks.
The city-owned, taxpayer-supported stadium cost $55.7 million to build, but will have cost $107 million, including interest, when it is paid off in 2004. The stadium has been profitable in two of its 12 years. Its roof collapsed while it was empty one day in 1985, causing about $9 million in damage.
And, in addition to its other faults, the dome robs the game of its romance.
I imagine Grantland Rice covering the modern-day Lions. The legendary sportswriter who immortalized the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame in 1924 ("Against a blue-gray October sky. . .") would have been forced to begin his famous story, "Outlined against a Teflon-coated fiberglass roof . . ."
The mayor of Detroit wants to build a domed stadium for the Tigers, who have played on the site of quirky, much-loved Tiger Stadium since 1901.
Last month, a rainbow appeared during a Tiger game, just before the home team rallied. Fans watched the sun burn through the mist. When talk turned to what a dome would do to the baseball players, my wife asked, "Aren't they supposed to be the boys of summer, not the boys of temperature control?"
To money guys like Cooke, a dome makes sense because they can turn the stadium into an all-weather, all-events arena. They can schedule Wrestlemania, tractor pulls, Madonna and the pope, and they can continue selling tickets long after the last point after is kicked.
A dome might rob football of its native grit, but a dome protects something that is dear to the Cookes of this world: the bottom line.
Give Cooke some advice. He wants a dome? Tell him to build it himself. -- Bill McGraw is a reporter for the Detroit Free Press.