HOUSTON -- One fan showed up wearing a Columbia blue Oilers cowboy hat. Another wore an Astros rainbow striped sweater with pride. All of them shared a deep love for the Astrodome, the longtime home of the Astros, the National Football League's Houston Oilers and countless unforgettable events.
More than 100 nostalgia-filled souls filled the Majestic Metro in downtown Houston on Monday night for the premiere of "The Eighth Wonder of the World," a documentary about the history of the Astrodome that's set to debut nationally at 8 p.m. CT on Tuesday on MLB Network. Among those in the audience were Dene Hofheinz Anton, the daughter of Astrodome visionary Judge Roy Hofheinz, and former Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini, who helped spark the "Luv Ya Blue" era of the Dome's heyday.
"It's all so very exciting," said Hofheinz Anton, who sat next to President Lyndon B. Johnson when the Astrodome opened amid much fanfare with an exhibition against the Yankees on April 9, 1965.
The hour-long documentary is a shared vision of MLB Network and Texas Crew Productions. Chip Rives, senior producer at Texas Crew, said he and production partner David Karabinas came up with the idea of creating a program to celebrate the legacy of the Astrodome seven years ago, and the city rallied to support with donations of money and even some footage.
"I think the message here is just honoring the past," Rives said. "A lot of times we forget about what happened and we live in the present. There was greatness here in Houston, and we needed to look back and remember how great the Astrodome was."
The documentary details how the Astrodome came to fruition out of the mind of Judge Hofheinz and went on to become one of the most iconic sports venues of the century. The world's first indoor, air-conditioned stadium played host to the Astros and Oilers for decades, as well as unforgettable events like the "Game of the Century" college basketball game between Houston and UCLA in 1968, the "The Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973 and so many other classic moments.
Pastorini's memories, which are recalled in the movie, run deep. He spoke before the screening with passion about the Astrodome.
"I remember when I was drafted in 1971 and we saw the games being played in the Astrodome and how wonderful it was and what a majestic place it was," Pastorini said. "Then the first time I saw it, they brought me into the top level -- opposite the end zone, where they had the American flag and cowboys shooting the gun -- and it said [on the scoreboard], 'Welcome, Dan Pastorini, No. 1 Draft choice.' It was breathtaking. Unbelievable. It's always been my favorite place in Houston.
"It has such a reverence, because when people talk about Texas, there are two buildings they ask about the most -- the Alamo and the Astrodome. I'm just really thrilled to be part of her history."
The Astrodome helps make up the fabric of the lives of many who attended the premiere. They grew up there and still hold the landmark dear to their heart. Native Houstonian Dan Maxey drove from Alexandria, La., for the premiere after donating some footage used in the film. Maxey donated some home movies that were shot by his great uncle, Coleman Miller.
"A few years ago, he had a bunch of old home movies put on DVD and gave them to all of us, because it had some of my great-grandparents and people I never met on there," Maxey said. "I was watching it and I saw the game on there against the Yankees, and I thought, 'This is important.' I just had that in the back of mind, and they posted one day on Facebook that they were looking for some footage if anybody had any. I thought, 'Well I've got some.' So I sent it to them, and they liked it."
Rare footage of the Astrodome's construction and its early days brought back great memories for those in attendance. There was even some applause for highlights of Earl Campbell's 82-yard streak down the sideline against the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football in 1978, and the final seconds of Houston's upset of UCLA to snap the Bruins' 47-game winning streak. Tears were shed by some Astros fans when the final outs of the 1980 and '86 National League Championship Series were shown. And perhaps some more when the final days of the Dome were remembered.
"There are so many great memories," Hofheinz Anton said. "Opening night was pretty much the topper, of course, because it had taken a while for the seed to grow. And there we were. The flower had bloomed, and it's now blooming again."
Pastorini's favorite memory of the Astrodome had nothing to do with any of the games he played for the "Luv Ya Blue" Oilers. It was for the raucous pep rallies in a jam-packed Astrodome following the Oilers' losses to the Steelers in the 1978 and '79 AFC Championship Games. The team was bused into the Astrodome upon return to Houston from Pittsburgh both years and greeted by more than 45,000 screaming fans in 1978 and an estimated 70,000 fans in '79.
"That's why I stick around the city today, because of the people and the support they gave us back then," Pastorini said. "The kind of people that were here are a special breed of people. I look back on that now and think about it, and I get goosebumps. People I see on the street that remember those days, they get this far-away, Shangri-La look in their eyes. And it's really a special feeling."