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Dome Sweet Dome: St. Louis' Soaring Return

St. Louis welcomed back pro football on Sunday with a loud and rowdy crowd at The Dome.

ST. LOUIS -- Inside The Dome, fans filled the lower bowl waving their white towels in the air.

“For the first time in history, your St. Louis BattleHawks,” the public address announcer said.

The towel waves got faster and faster while screams and bird noises became deafening before the St. Louis BattleHawks officially brought professional football back to the Gateway to the West.

The BattleHawks didn’t disappoint in their return, getting out to a 23-3 first-half lead before winning 29-9 in front of a raucous lower-bowl crowd that was passionate throughout the afternoon.

The game with a sold-out crowd was a culmination of a day-long party where 29,554 fans in The Dome celebrated the return of America’s Game with the rest of the city.

Some BattleHawks players think the fanbase can grow after an impressive opening act.

“We’ve got to open those upper decks,” wideout L’Damian Washington said. “I think we can fill them up. It’s the first game and I think we still can fill up those open seats.”

Tailgaters arrived as early as 8 a.m. and were camped out in parking lots downtown. At 10:45, marching bands from local high schools serenaded the crowd and led fans towards Baer Plaza, where they gathered in BattleHawks colors and unleashed “Ka Kaws” into the air. After being a dormant area for so long, the area was filled with fans itching to watch a team represent their city and was graced with the appearance of a live hawk.

More tailgaters popped up until groups were sprinkled all around The Dome, with the smell of burgers and the sight of cornhole players and smoke gracing the downtown area.

A small crowd gathered before BattleHawks players walked across Baer Plaza towards The Dome flanked by fans in blue and white on each side as music from hometown rap star Nelly played over the cheers of rabid fans.

BattleHawks players wore St. Louis Blues jerseys to show support for another hometown team that captured the city with a Stanley Cup last summer. Usually a tradition for college teams, BattleHawks fans gave players a passionate and electric atmosphere that would start well before and last well after kickoff.

“That really exceeded my expectations,” center Brian Folkerts said. “I thought we’re gonna go through the tail again. High five, but you know, there was like streamers and everyone was going crazy ... It was it was unreal. You know, it got our energy flowing real early in the morning.”

One of the BattleHawks fans cheering the players as they walked into The Dome was Brandon Jones. He was clad in blue from head to toe with a blue BattleHawks jersey and a hawk mask covering his face while he was with his son, Peyton.

Jones, an owner of an early childhood center in St. Louis County, bought season tickets less than 30 minutes after they were announced and bought a hawk mask on Amazon before spray painting it blue to get into the team spirit.

Jones went to Rams games occasionally but never got to take his son, who wants to play football at Lindbergh High School next year when he is a freshman. Both are happy to have a hometown team again.

“It’s been really inspiring,” Jones said.

After the team was introduced, Folkerts, a member of the 2015 St. Louis Rams team and a St. Louis native, ignited the crowd by proclaiming, “St. Louis, football is back,” before dropping the mic.

“My adrenaline was just skyrocketing,” Folkerts said. “I was like, ‘I gotta’ calm down before we get out there on offense.’”

For three hours Sunday afternoon, there was no calming down the BattleHawks fans as they rejoiced the return of pro football to St. Louis.