By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"There's just no room here," says the man who lost to Ron Kirk in the 1995 mayoral race. His voice booms throughout the empty football cathedral, bouncing off 68,000-plus more tiny chairs just like this one. "No room at all." He smiles a bit, or maybe it's a wince.
OK. He's made his point.
The Cotton Bowl seats are too small. Anyone who's ever sat in one since August 1968, when the old wooden benches were yanked out and the turquoise and white aluminum seats were installed, can tell you that. They're painfully small, 14 inches deep and 18 inches wide with about five inches of knee space in front. In these days of extravagant luxury boxes and posh club-level seats, the Cotton Bowl's seats are more like torture devices.
Of course, the tiny seats are the least of the Bowl's problems. That's why Darrell Jordan has forced himself into one on this February afternoon--to lay out, in detail, his plans for doming the 68-year-old facility.
You read right: Jordan wants to turn the city's ancient, open-air stadium into a state-of-the-art domed facility, just like the ones they have in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Detroit. He wants to turn the Cotton Bowl into the 81,000-seat Cotton Dome, the largest stadium of its kind in the United States, the third largest in the world.
It would be the first time ever that an open-air stadium got a dome.
Armed with a Coopers & Lybrand viability study in one hand and beautiful renderings in the other, Jordan talks of installing at least 100 luxury boxes on the west end opposite the existing press box, of installing 4,000 club seats, of building the opulent Premier Club from which big-money investors can view the field as they drink and dine in comfort.
Jordan points toward a day when the Cotton Bowl will host an annual schedule of at least five football games featuring college teams from around the country, not to mention the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament, livestock shows and rodeos, extravagant concerts. He talks of restoring the Cotton Bowl to Tier I status in the eyes of the NCAA, meaning the stadium can once again host college football title games. He's even convinced that the Cotton Dome would be a great site for the Olympics, and he's even had very preliminary talks with Jerry Jones' people about bringing the Dallas Cowboys home, if only for an exhibition game. (Jones would never move the Cowboys back to Fair Park permanently--there's no free land on which he can build his long-proposed Jerryworld.)
And Jordan wants to do all this using private money--private money, he says, corporate money, investor money. No bonds. No tourist taxes. Not one penny out of the taxpayers' pockets. (Take that, Ron Kirk.)
All he needs is 150 million bucks.
So far, the Cotton Dome Foundation Working Group--a nonprofit organization chaired by Jordan--has raised $28 million, and it needs another $47 million in cash before the city will even consider allowing them to begin construction, which Jordan had planned to do the very day after this year's Cotton Bowl Classic featuring Texas A&M and UCLA.
Still, there's nothing you can say that will convince Jordan this is all a daydream.
"We said early on, if we came up against something that we just couldn't get around or over, we'd quit, and the phrase we use is, we'll keep going till we hear glass break," says Jordan, his white hair waving in the cool breeze that blows through the empty stadium. "Nobody wanted to look foolish or waste a bunch of time they didn't have. This absolutely can happen and will happen. This makes so much sense for the city and the region that it's going to happen."
Once among the major college-football destinations in America, the Cotton Bowl has become something of a pariah--a discarded landmark in the middle of the ghost town that is Fair Park 11 months out of the year. It's a shell of a shell, its paint peeling and its luster fading after 68 years of occasional care. The Cotton Bowl sits empty most days and nights, slowly and silently crumbling as its crowds get smaller and smaller.
As things stand now, it will never again host a college football national title game. The New Year's Day Mobil Cotton Bowl Classic will also never again host the Southwest Conference champion--because, since 1996, there hasn't been a Southwest Conference. And in two years, Southern Methodist University--for years the Cotton Bowl's home team, the provider of some of the grand old building's biggest and best memories--will move to its new permanent stadium on the school's University Park campus.
The Cotton Bowl will lose another tenant, another link to its glorious past as it stumbles toward a tenuous future. Long gone are the days when Heisman hero Doak Walker roamed the wide-open field, when Tom Landry led Eddie LeBaron and Don Meredith and Bob Lilly and his young Dallas Cowboys into battle, when Texas and Notre Dame battled it out for national championships. The old place is full of myth and lore: During the 1954 Cotton Bowl Classic, Rice's Dicky Moegle was running toward the end zone when he was tackled by Alabama's Tommy Lewis--who had leapt off the bench to make the touchdown-saving play.