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'This place has class.' 26 years ago, St. Louis celebrated the opening of the Trans World Dome

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On Nov. 12, 1995, the new home of the St. Louis Rams, the Trans World Dome, made its debut for its first NFL game as the Rams defeated the Carolina Panthers 28-17. The $280 million stadium gets mostly rave reviews. Here was our review of opening day.

The Trans World Dome opened Sunday with booms and roars and a Rams victory. With flashing video boards and blasting audio, the place was perpetual commotion - even when the crowd took a rest.

On Opening Day, the sellout crowd of 65,598 people mainly had fun. The Rams made sure of that, defeating the Carolina Panthers 28-17. "What a fantastic building and a great football game," said Richard McAllister of Florissant. "A fine way to begin."

Over and over, that was the theme. There were some first-day glitches - water leaked from a restroom into a hallway, a few of the escalators quit and some of the fans sitting directly underneath air vents complained of the chill. An occasional wall of bare gypsum board proved that construction isn't quite done. But the building won rave reviews all afternoon.

The crowd began forming quickly after the doors opened at 10 a.m. Fans milled along the balconies of the four corner atriums to admire the almost-finished craftsmanship and watch the crowds.

"It's beautiful," said Kathy Godfrey of south St. Louis County. "It doesn't look like a stadium. I love the openness and the lighting and the bricks on the outside. This place has class."

Adam and Andrew Petroff, 9-year-old twins from Collinsville, chattered happily about the bright lighting of the field and the fluorescent-yellow goal posts. They also liked the music and the noise.

The day formally began with a pregame tribute on the 50-yard-line by Rams owner Georgia Frontiere to the members of FANS Inc., the group that lured the Rams here from Los Angeles. They are former Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton; Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr.; County Executive George "Buzz" Westfall; Robert Baer, president of the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority; and John Ferrara, president of the Convention and Visitors Commission.

Frontiere gave each a souvenir football. Then she took the microphone, scanned the crowd and relished her moment on stage, just like in her days as an entertainer.

"Is everybody happy? Wheeeee!" she shouted. The crowd roared with delight, getting much bigger cheers than the FANS members.

"I want to say how touched and pleased I am with all the time and energy that they put into moving our team to St. Louis," Frontiere said.

And to the crowd, she paused and said: "You make me very happy. What can I say? We have a beautiful stadium and the city is wonderful and we are going to win a football game.

"So let's hear it!"

And hear it she did. Then the Rams got the job done. Loud And Lively Crowd

Eagleton, who did much of the negotiating with the Rams, spent part of the game in Frontiere's spacious private suite behind the south goal posts. Of Sunday's Dome opener he said, "This is one of the momentous days of my life. Exclamation point."

And Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., who was governor when St. Louis, St. Louis County and the state cut the deal in 1990 to build the stadium, scanned the crowd and said, "Look at all that. St. Louis on a Sunday afternoon. When did you last see that?"

Although the crowd quieted during the sluggish first quarter, it was up and loud as the Rams drove toward the north end zone in the second. Running back Jerome Bettis scored the Dome's first six points with a waltz across the goal line from the one-yard line with 10:47 left in the second quarter.

The explosion of the minifireworks detonated from the ceiling catwalk rattled the two pigeons that had managed to get inside the building. The fans shook their souvenir towels.

And the Rams never looked back.

Even when the crowd rested, which it did often, the electronics kept the building alive. The electronic billboards, which are slightly smaller than the one at Busch Stadium, poured out a frenzied mix of spinning lights and cheerleading prompts: Get Loud, Defense, Wow, Awesome. The banks of speakers slung from the floodlight catwalks boomed forth with music and chants.

Paul Passanise of south St. Louis happily declared it much louder than the new Kiel Center across downtown. Sam Giaimo of Ballwin thought it was too loud, but said, "I'll get used to it."

There were a few complaints. Some of the people who sat in the first row along the sidelines said they had trouble seeing through the football players standing in front of their benches. The fans in that area, or at least somebody they knew, had paid $4,500 for a personal seat license.


Kathy Bruggeman of Arnold, Mo., shows off her tickets to the St. Louis Rams-Carolina Panthers football game in St. Louis Sunday, Nov. 12, 1995.  (AP Photo/Mary Butkus)

Carrol Hagstrom of Chesterfield, who sat on the Rams side at the north 25-yard line, said she couldn't see much action on the far side of the 50. "And standing doesn't help."

But Ben Albano of Crystal City said the view from his first-row seat at the 50 was just fine. "This is a very, very good place," he said.

Ed Feutz of Clayton, who sat behind the south goal posts, said the stiff winds blowing from the vents above them "made us cold and uncomfortable. I hope they fix this." His PSL cost $1,000 per seat.

View From The Top

Most of the fans up in the "nose-bleed" seats liked what they saw from the top of the stadium, in the $250 PSL sections. The Dome has no support columns to block views, and the upper-deck grandstands are steep enough to let people see over the ones in front of them.

"But they need a rest stop about halfway up here," Norm Thompson said after climbing the 66 steps to his seat in Row WW, one from the very top of the bowl.

Thompson, of Dupo, Ill., said the only problem with being so high is few of the vendors make the trip up. "I've only seen one - and she ran out of beer right down there," he said.

Robin Vollmer and her husband, John, of Godfrey, Ill., did Thompson one better. Their seats are on Row XX, against the back wall.

"We're thrilled," said Robin Vollmer. "The view is gorgeous - and nobody spills beer down your back."

Concession prices are about average for pro sports. A 20-ounce beer is $4; bottled water is $2; wine is $3.50; hot dogs are $2; a large tub of popcorn is $2.75; nachos are $2.75 and large pretzels are $2.

Chris Blankenship of Ballwin praised the dogs. But his friend, Janice Kutz of Cape Girardeau, pronounced the bun "too hard."

Beer sales, by the way, end at the beginning of the fourth quarter of a football game.

A Few Wrinkles

The Dome opened three weeks late, and not everything was in place.

Some of the sinks in the men's restrooms were waterless, some doors leading into each level were without handles and TV monitors above the concession stands were blank.

"Broken seats - there's a lot of broken seats," said Mike Giebe, an usher supervisor. "But by far the biggest complaint is from smokers. I just chased about 40 out of the stairwell."

Because it is a public building, smoking is not allowed inside the Dome - anywhere. A smoker must get a hand stamp and go outside to light up. Ushers hand out cards that explain the state law on smoking.

Big signs that say "No Smoking Allowed" are everywhere. Terry Steinkoetter, an engineer from St. Louis Hills, stood beside one, smoking.

Steinkoetter grimaced when the sign was pointed out to him, and crushed his cigarette. "Jeesh, I didn't even see it," he said. "It's a habit from the old stadium."

Karl Koester, who uses a wheelchair, liked the building but wishes there would be handicapped parking near the Dome. Koester, of Red Bud, Ill., said he waited in a line of cars for 30 minutes, hoping to get a lot close to the Dome but had to park near Busch Stadium and take the sidewalks to the game.

But most of the time, praise for the new building was easy to find.

Here is one proof of success: There were few lines outside the Dome's restrooms. That includes the women's restrooms, a source of many complaints over the years at Busch Stadium. The Dome has equal numbers for men and women.

Steve Yusim, 30, a football junkie from Malibu, Calif., praised the stadium and the St. Louis support for the Rams, a team he personally has little affection for anymore. He said he flew here out of curiosity.

"This is a beautiful place," Yusim said. "And it's good to see all this enthusiasm."

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