The Daily Orange is a nonprofit newsroom that receives no funding from Syracuse University. Consider donating today to support our mission.
A crowd of over 50,000 people packed into the Carrier Dome in 1980 to attend its inaugural game and watch Syracuse football take on Miami University of Ohio. Rick Burton was there as a reporter for The Post-Standard.
Now, Burton’s a tenured professor of sport management in Falk College. He’s also published a book with Scott Pitoniak titled “Forever Orange: The Story of Syracuse University,” which highlights the most distinct parts of SU’s identity. The Carrier Dome is at the forefront.
The Daily Orange spoke with Burton about the various roles he’s played inside one of the largest on-campus stadiums in the United States. Here’s a transcript of the interview, edited and condensed for clarity:
The Daily Orange: You graduated from Syracuse as an undergrad in 1980. Construction on the Dome wasn’t completed until September, so I imagine you weren’t in the first graduating class to get to walk in the Dome. What was the feeling on campus and in the community during construction?
Rick Burton: I did graduate in 1980, and at the time I was a reporter for the Syracuse Post-Standard. My beat was Syracuse University football, and I had actually covered the opening of the Carrier Dome as the beat writer for the construction of it. It gave me a great chance every day to watch the building come up. If you were to go back into the Post-Standard’s files, across that July, August and September, you’d find my stories about the building being built.
For us as a graduating class — and really, I was supposed to be the Class of 1979, but because of some foolishness on my part, I became the Class of 1980 — we had seen the last game in Archbold Stadium in 1978, and then the 1979 season was played completely on the road. Basketball was not yet slated. In fact, Coach (Jim) Boeheim was actually favoring staying in Manley Field House as opposed to playing basketball in (the) Carrier Dome. So it was an interesting time. 1978, we’re in an old and outdated stadium. 1979, we don’t have a stadium. And 1980, we really have a state-of-the-art stadium. Pretty exciting little era that went on there.
The D.O.: Do you have a favorite Carrier Dome memory?
R.B.: Well, certainly opening night was one of the best of all-time. That’s because the stadium that night was completely full. I think everyone that could get into the building that night was there. I had a chance to work on a recent book about Syracuse University’s 150th anniversary, it’s called “Forever Orange.” I co-authored it with Scott Pitoniak, a great sports writer from central New York who has written really for just about everybody. We made sure to put in a photo from opening night. It was just a really special time.
I was also there for, I think it was, a double-overtime win against Virginia Tech when we were a heavy underdog, and our (first) daughter, my wife and I — our first daughter went to Syracuse and graduated in 2006. We were there for that game. And then, of course, the Clemson game a couple of years ago. I think Clemson was No. 2 in the country at the time, and we came out behind, I think, a great offensive scheme from Coach (Dino) Babers, and really well executed by Eric Dungey, and we ended up with the win.
Next week we’ll see this wonderful building that continues to be a place for spectacular basketball games, graduations, commencements, rock concerts, hip-hop concerts. You name it, it’s all been in there.
Rick Burton, Falk Professor
The D.O.: Now you’re a professor in Falk. In 2014, Chancellor Kent Syverud put you on a committee to explore alternative options for the Carrier Dome. You and professor John Yinger and some others came to the conclusion that there’s no other facility that could accommodate all 24,000 of SU’s basketball season ticket holders. Tell me more about your time working with that group and what some of its findings were.
R.B.: Well it was a great honor to do that for the chancellor. I was the chair for that committee, and it was a chance to show just how important that stadium is to Syracuse University. We’re one of the few Power Five schools in the country to have our stadium right on campus, and in our case, it’s really in the heart of our campus. And what was cool going back historically was that the Dome was built right on the footprint of the old Archbold Stadium. So we know, going back to the early 1900s, there’s always been a stadium at Syracuse University right where our current stadium is. We’re about to see major renovations. Next week we’ll see this wonderful building that continues to be a place for spectacular basketball games, graduations, commencements, rock concerts, hip-hop concerts, you name it. It’s all been in there.
I think what our committee found was, when we did our research, that Syracuse University and its stadium is an economic driver for the community and the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County, and I think it’s really even one of the pride points even for the state of New York. I think, in a lot of ways, it has kept Syracuse on the map, sometimes in a way that has been equal to New York City or Buffalo. That’s a really strong statement to make, but when you think of some of the events that have taken place over the years, and I’m talking now a hundred years, there have been some pretty incredible things. “Forever Orange” captured that. We’ve had commencement speakers, who were truly huge historical figures, who spoke in that building, whether it was open air or had a roof on it. And I think, in that way, we differentiated from places like Rochester and Uticia and Binghamton and Albany because a lot of important things have happened in Syracuse on that footprint.
The D.O.: On that committee, you look into what might be some of the downfalls of the Carrier Dome and what could render it hazardous for sports. What were some of those downfalls and how are they manifesting now, about six years later?
R.B.: Well I don’t think we have a problem now — we have a fixed roof. But I think what we knew historically was that the type of roof featured at the stadium was one that always had the potential to collapse from a snowstorm or a freezing sleet that could ultimately put a lot of weight. I don’t think we were ever close to that kind of a situation. Roofs of that nature, inflated dome stadiums, usually had a life span of about 20 years. And what we knew in 2014 was that, by about 2020, that stadium would be at a point when that roof had to be replaced one way or another.
Anyone that lives anywhere, you come to a point when (if) you don’t fix your roof, your roof becomes a problem. The stadium just happens to be a very big house for Syracuse, and we needed to address it, and I think the chancellor was really looking forward, and he was proactive, and he was really great in how he understood the challenges and brought us to a point where we were able to address it.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
The post Q&A: Falk professor Rick Burton on Carrier Dome’s 40-year anniversary appeared first on The Daily Orange.