NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Businessman Dave Dixon, who fought to bring an NFL team to New Orleans and was the catalyst behind construction of the Louisiana Superdome, died on Sunday. He was 87.
Dixon had been ill since January, said his son, Frank Dixon, who confirmed his death.
``He was always coming up with new thoughts and ideas. Until his dying day, he was thinking,'' Frank Dixon said.
Dixon persuaded New Orleans officials to pursue a football franchise rather than baseball in the 1960s. In his autobiography, ``The Saints, The Superdome and the Scandal,'' Dixon wrote there were strong reasons for the NFL to consider New Orleans, including its mild winter weather, a great football tradition and 80,000-seat Tulane Stadium. Dixon was a Tulane University graduate.
Dixon, whose supporters for a team included Gov. John McKeithen and city restaurant owners, staged an NFL double header at Tulane Stadium, which drew a crowd that nearly filled the place.
New Orleans was awarded the Saints on All-Saints Day 1966. Frank Dixon said his father recently told him how the timing of the announcement came about.
He said NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle called his father about the deal and his dad suggested they wait a week to announce it on that day.
Both Pete Roselle and my father were great marketers,'' Frank Dixon said.I wonder where New Orleans would be today if it didn't have the Saints and the Superdome. I don't think that ever would have happened if my father wouldn't have been here.''
Dixon started thinking about the stadium shortly after the city got the team.
I think as soon as Tulane agreed to let us use their stadium for an NFL team I started planning the Superdome,'' he told The Associated Press in 2002.I knew having 80,000 people in those neighborhoods 10 times a year was not going to work for long.''
The Superdome opened on Aug. 3, 1975. But it wasn't until last season that the Saints, a perennial loser, brought home a Super Bowl victory to the city that is still recovering from 2005's Hurricane Katrina.
Dixon was elated at the team's 31-28 overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings that sent the Saints to the Super Bowl. He was forced to watch the game on TV because of his health.
Oh, man,'' he told AP the Monday after the win.I feel like I'm in heaven. Just wonderful. I had a little heart problem. But I feel much better. I'm very exhilarated over the Saints' great victory.''
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement that Dixon ``was a distinguished civic leader with a unique vision and he was widely admired around our region as a leader who was dedicated to the development of the Louisiana Superdome.''
Katrina ripped off part of the Superdome's roof. It also failed miserably as a shelter of last resort when the devastating storm flooded the city. Thousands of people who had nowhere else to go flocked to the stadium. Within days, the building was tattered, filthy inside from mold, debris and raw sewage.
Over the next year, the Superdome was rebuilt, and slowly, New Orleans has tried to get back to what it once was. The Saints success has played a role in helping the city by giving it something to celebrate.
Dixon worked with Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt to found World Championship Tennis, Frank Dixon said.
In 1965, Dave Dixon conceived the idea for the United States Football League, which operated from 1982 to 1985 before folding, his son said.
``He believed in the brotherhood of man. He loved people and people loved him back,'' Frank Dixon said.
A funeral will be held Wednesday at Holy Name of Jesus in New Orleans with visitation beginning at 10 a.m., followed by Mass. Burial will be at Metairie Lake Lawn Cemetery in New Orleans.
Dave Dixon is survived by his wife; his three sons, David Frank Dixon, John Shea Dixon and Martin Stuart Dixon and four grandchildren.