by James P. Hughes
Yes, “Dome Sweet Dome” indeed, an oft-used reference. It’s next to impossible to arrive in Syracuse from any direction, or cruise about town, without catching a glimpse of the dominating structure of the JMA Dome. Perched on the hilly Syracuse University campus since 1980, the landmark venue continually hosts huge crowds for football, basketball and lacrosse as well as the excitement of myriad concerts and special events.
The Dome was preceded by Archbold Stadium, an oval concrete structure famed in its own right. Home to Syracuse University football from 1907, Archbold showcased a parade of gridiron luminaries including Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little and Larry Csonka. For decades “Old Archie” provided indelible memories for avid Syracuse Orange fans, but by the late 70s age had set in. Code issues and other demands forced a decision that Archbold must be replaced. But how and where?
Two definite verdicts were reached – it must be a domed structure and it would remain on university grounds, resting on the campus footprint of its predecessor. Carrier Corporation would contribute to its construction.
A new era
September 20, 1980 saw the Carrier Dome open with a gridiron win for Syracuse over Miami University in front of 50,564 boisterous fans. On nippy autumn days, the cold concrete seats of Archbold were swiftly traded for controlled temperatures and multiple amenities. Before long, the crowd’s roar reverberating beneath the air-supported roof earned the new stadium an appropriate nickname, “The Loud House.”
Not only could football now be played in a relaxing climate, but other doors soon opened. Basketball shifted its home schedule from the limited seating of Manley Field House to the Dome and record-setting crowds. Lacrosse now played on the speedy Dome turf leaving behind the chill and dampness of early spring.
The Dome could host up to 50,000 fans for football. The basketball configuration routinely saw attendance in the 20,000s. Particular basketball rivalries have drawn more than 30,000 as did the record-breaking Syracuse versus Duke matchup of February 1, 2014. A crowd of 35,466 set an NCAA on-campus attendance record that evening as the home team Orange edged the Blue Devils with a dramatic 91-89 overtime win.
Upon completion, the building became the only domed stadium in the Northeast. Uniquely, Syracuse University is the only college in the United States with such an on-campus facility.
While Syracuse University football and basketball lead the way in the hearts of Dome denizens, the scope of varied events and entertainment under its roof has known no bounds over the decades.
The first non-sport event was hosted in October 1980. Lights were dimmed, a single spotlight shone on the curtain and legendary crooner Frank Sinatra burst on stage singing “I’ve Got the World on a String!”
That was only the beginning. A steady flow of performances has often drawn 20,000 to 30,000 avid fans, on occasion even more. Rock concerts dominated over the years – The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Billy Joel, The Grateful Dead and Sir Paul McCartney, to name a few. Among country music visitors, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, The Oakridge Boys and Garth Brooks were major attractions.
Beyond sports and music, events as varied as marching band championships, a Billy Graham Crusade, an American League hockey game, and Monster Jam motorsports have filled the Dome with devotees. What might come next? That could only stretch the imagination.
While the Dome received periodic upgrades over its four-decade existence, as of 2022 it experienced massive renovations aimed at “reimagining the stadium experience.” A permanent roof was added, and major changes were initiated from seating to lighting to digital infrastructure. An agreement between the university and local corporation JMA Wireless led to adoption and display of a fresh moniker, the JMA Dome.
With the innovations, the arena has only enhanced its position as a regional landmark as well as one the most prominent structures in college athletics. The Dome’s legacy is intact – lively and ever moving forward.