Tuesday, September 22, 2009

An inside look at Cowboys Stadium


This weekend's journey into the new home of the Dallas Cowboys was one that I will certainly not forget anytime soon. For any person who has ever set foot into a sports venue - new, old, historic or otherwise - unless you have been to Cowboys Stadium, you have not experienced anything of this magnitude.

It's got several nicknames: Jerry World, Jonestown Coliseum, the Death Star, Jones Mahal and several others, but one thing is for certain, this place is as grand, lavish, over-the-top, first-class as any stadium or any building ever for that matter.

Here's a brief walk through of my personal experience of the new stadium, including everything except the game, which was the only major disappointment of the evening.

Arriving at Cowboys Stadium, we pulled into our assigned parking lot, a great deal easier than the old Texas Stadium parking cluster where all "Blue" parking was in the immediate area. Here assigned lots corresponded with your section for your tickets. Of course there were cash parking lots for the nimble amount of $60. Then again, if you've paid $350 per ticket, is the extra $60 where you're going to fall short? Definitely a steep price to park, but as I emerged from the car, I couldn't help but grin at the site of what I had only seen in sketches and graphics. The stadium dwarfs it neighboring Rangers Ballpark to the same degree that the Cowboys dwarf the Rangers in interest.



The giant glass walls and spaceship-like dome were a reality in front of me. You can see the reflection of your car in the parking lot on the glass sides of the building. I found my customized paver brick ($150 well worth it) in the Jim Jeffcoat section of the Legacy Walk. Nearby this fans paver expressed the sad truth that accompanies the price tag of this new stadium. Not too far down, my father found his brick.

Walking to one end of the stadium, our tickets were scanned, and we were within the stadium grounds. The end zone ends of the stadium are fenced off where ticketed fans can enjoy pre-game music and watch other games on massive TV screens that Jerry Jones and the Cowboys plan to rent to other venues in the offseason.

When entering through the giant glass doors - the world's largest - in the end zone, the Cowboys did a great job of anticipating capacity crowds with very wide concourses. Wide as they were, however, with more than 105,000 fans packed into the stadium, it was still a crowded walkway on the ground level. Many party-pass holding fans made their way to one of the six party decks that combined to hold over 30,000 standing room only fans, or one and a half American Airlines Centers worth of people. The Dallas Mavericks and Stars can eat their hearts out. Each party deck had its own unique experience. The Ford Deck had cars displayed on it. The Miller Lite Deck has the Rhythm and Blue Dancers which frankly pale in comparison to the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. These poor man's versions of America's Sweethearts weren't as pretty, couldn't get on the same beat, and looked like some sort of captive dancers in Jabba the Hut's den.

Looking up from the end zone, I got my first view of the Jerry-tron, also known as Godzilla-vision, also known as the largest HDTV screen ever. It's as tall as a seven-story building as is the equivalent of suspending a Boeing 747 over the field. It's massive and it's amazingly clear. The screen is larger than life.

Think about all the times that sports teams have the lame "watching parties" at their stadium or arena when the team is on the road in the playoffs or for a big game. I have never once in my life attended such a watching party because I know the type of picture I'd get watching on those screens at Texas Stadium or American Airlines Center or the old Reunion Arena (which will be missed). But if the Cowboys called for a watching party at Jerry World, I'd be all over it. The owner's goal was to ensure that fans who stayed at home to watch the game did not have a better view of things than fans who invested their time and money to be in attendance. Mission accomplished. Not only did a replay follow each play, but following the main replay, the massive video board then became a four-shot showing of the replay with four different angles of the play at once. It was almost information overload but still gave fans plenty of opportunity to dissect the previous down.

I took several pictures of the video board, and it's as if I was right there on the field with my camera. It's too clear and too big to ignore. That video board guarantees a great view of the field for any fan regardless of where their seat (or standing-room-only square foot of space) may be. Even if you aren't facing the field and the mega-vision video board, it's extremely difficult to avoid eye-contact with an HDTV in the stadium. Close your eyes and spin around five times. When you open your eyes, even though you won't be focused in any specific direction, you'll still have plenty of HD screens to comfort your dizzy brain.

The seats in new Cowboys Stadium are not the hard plastic folding pieces of rental junk from your neighbors summer pool party. These are cushy comforts for every fans' fanny with armrests and legroom as well. Each row of seats is affixed to a sliding base that can have additional seats squeezed in for larger events if the armrests are removed. Hello Super Bowl XLV!

After the game I snuck into a luxury suite to test out what looked like the captain's chairs in mom's old minivan. Not quite. Instead, they are more like dad's recliner, welcoming your entire body with the warmth of a winter blanket. I've always criticized and doubted the fanhood of people in suites like this who I feel don't cheer as loud or as hard as people in seating sections. After demoing the new digs at the Death Star, I almost want to rescind those harsh words. If I had plunked down in a seat like that to watch a game at Cowboys Stadium, it would take some sort of fire/child-being-born/imminent-nuclear-disaster to get me out of there. Heck, even though there are private bathrooms in each of the suits, if I was sitting there, that's a Screw it, I'll hold it situation if I've ever seen one.

The roof opened to much acclaim as with each 30 minute interval, the voice over the loud speak, sadly not the same voice from Texas Stadium (a noticeable drop off from George Dunham), announced "The roof will open in 90 minutes." "...in one hour!" "...in 30 minutes!" "...in 10 minutes!" "...in five minutes!" until finally the time had arrived. The roof and the giant glass doors at each end split as daylight burst through, and the Cowboys Stadium was officially opened. Once the roof had retracted - a 12 minute procedure - looking up through the hole felt like I was back in Irving, Texas, at the house that Clint Murchison built. Exact same dimensions, exact same feel. God can still watch his favorite team play on Sundays ... unless of course bad weather forces the roof closed in which case He'll have to watch the Jerry-tron with everyone else in attendance.

Not only do the Cowboys enter the field through a Hall of Fame level suite-holders club at the field level that allows players to pass through the fans en route to the field, but Jerry Jones even arranged for the visiting New York Giants to have the same experience, rounding up Giants fans to gather for NYG's entrance across the way.

As far as the concessions on opening night, there were a few surprises along with a few disappointments. I went in expecting the prices to be, well, on par with the venue. I didn't find any of the $90 pizzas or $30 burgers (Kobe beef burgers for $13.50 at my local concession stand). With so many registers and stands, I decided to test the limits of snack stands by doing something I never did at Texas Stadium: going for food at half time (after the Ring of Honor ceremony of course). Not only did I walk right up to the register, but the entire process was very efficient. Small monitors on the cash registers displayed my order and the insane price. At Texas Stadium, my heart belonged to a heaping helping of Super Bowl Nachos. I can remember them costing only $5.00 when I was a kid. Last season they were around $9.00 but came with a ladle or two full of melted cheesy cheese with pico de gallo, jalapenos and chili. Once I heard the vendor tell the guy in front of me that hot dogs would be a 5-10 minute wait, I decided that now was the time to go head-to-head with the old Texas Stadium nachos. My first concessions experience at new Cowboys Stadium.

Sadly, much like the game itself, the Cowboys really dropped the ball here. Much like memories of Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, I guess there are some "good old days" that are just going to be better than any current incarnation. No offense to Tony Romo or Marion Barber and the new nachos, but I prefer the old entre. The platter consisted of blue corn chips, melted philly cheesesteak cheese (what the heck?! Philly?! We're in Dallas. That's a division rival. Get your head out of your ass, Jerry!), corn, black beans, and the stench of $8.50 wasted. Now I did get a very nice souvenir commemorative cup with a
picture of the new stadium on it, but that's about it.

After the game ended and Lawrence Tynes blew up the Death Star with a last-second field goal, we stayed to watch the post-game press conference on the massive Jerry-tron, a perk that we were sold on in the ticket-buying process. Too bad that our mush-mouthed coach doesn't annunciate well enough for you to understand him over the stadium's speakers. Maybe there was a better auditory experience in one of the clubs or suites, but I hope they can fine tune watching the press conference over the video board for future games.

Traffic exiting the stadium turned out to be what it is at every sporting venue in every city everywhere: traffic. The promises of better plotted out traffic patterns to get everyone in and our quicker didn't appear to come to fruition (and we waited to watch the press conference on the screen which didn't let much of the traffic die down). Eventually our car trudged out of the lot, up the street and onto the freeway. Not quite as simple as Texas Stadium which was surrounded entirely by freeways so your only way out was onto a high-speed thoroughfare. This was a little more daunting, but perhaps it will flow easier after the first few games. Seeing more than 105,000 people leave from the same place all at the same time isn't an easy exit strategy anyway (insert joke about Iraq War here).

The new stadium truly was a sight to behold. Other than some half-hearted nachos, traffic jams and a mumblingly-inaudible Wade Phillips press conference (which come to think of it might not be entirely the fault of the speaker system), the evening was the grandest sporting event I've ever witnessed, including Super Bowls, BCS games, Final Fours, Stanley Cups and NBA Finals. No other single event had the pomp and the celebration of this night. This one regular season game was more highly attended than any Super Bowl ever was.

For a North Texas region that truly sees football as its own religion, credit Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for building a great house of worship.


Cowboys Stadium roof opens for the first time
video

Pictures from Cowboys Stadium on Opening Night











































2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent account of a day to remember. I love the details and imagery you expressed in this article. From a Silver & Blue bleeding fan that didn't have the money to show up for this one, you really put me in your pocket and gave me a feeling of being at the "Palace in Dallas"(apologies to Arlington)!!!

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