Not as dome as you think

Dallas attorney Darrell Jordan wants to cover the Cotton Bowl--anyone got $150 million to spare?

The Alliance, which consists of the commissioners of each NCAA conference, allows each bowl to bid on becoming a Tier I site: They have to offer exposure, money, and, of course, good weather. And they have to be able to pay the teams well--$8 million is the going price these days, a far cry from the $2 million UCLA and Texas A&M pocketed after playing in this year's Classic.

You simply can't play for high stakes when you're so low-rent.

"They have to beg for cheers at Texas Stadium. No one ever had to beg for cheers at the Cotton Bowl."

--Former Dallas Cowboy Walt Garrison

From the moment it was completed in 1921, the old Fair Park football stadium--as it was first called, and it was a generous name even at that--was never good enough. The first structure was barely even a frame, just a wooden shell that held a mere 15,000 people. Most Dallasites thought it a waste of money--they took to calling it the city's "white elephant." The stadium wouldn't host its first sell-out until 1923, when SMU hosted Baylor.

On May 28, 1930, the old wooden frame was torn down when Mayor J. Waddy Pate broke ground on the new State Fair stadium (or Fair Park Bowl--newspapers could never quite decide on its name), which was tantamount to beginning construction on a ditch. After all, the stadium was really nothing more than a hole dug 24 feet below ground level with the discarded earth piled up around it, till it reached 15 feet above ground level. Concrete beams were laid on the excavated earth for the wooden decks and bench seating; such construction was called "cut and fill," which was appropriate enough, because the bowl became a puddle when it poured, a dry gulch during droughts. The bowl cost $328,000 to build and held 45,507 people--though only 25,000 showed up to sit on splintered wooden bleachers when the stadium hosted its first game (SMU 27, Indiana 0) on October 25, 1930.

In 1937, the bowl was finally christened the Cotton Bowl, and for the next decade it sat there, slowly washing away with each heavy rain. Before each season, engineers would have to go in and shore up the embankment between the field and the seats, using crossties and telephone poles. By 1941, the place looked like an experimental art project, and State Fair president Harry Seay was considering having the WPA come in and rebuild the entire bowl with concrete. The idea died when war broke out, and so the Cotton Bowl was left to melt away.

In 1943, local architect Frank Chappell took it upon himself to convince the city's leaders that they needed to turn their attention to rebuilding Fair Park, especially the Cotton Bowl. He began correspondence with Mayor Woodall Rodgers, First National Bank president Nathan Adams, Daily Times Herald president Tom Gooch, Dallas Morning News chairman of the board George Dealey, and others.

In a private letter dated August 19, 1943, Chappell wrote that the Cotton Bowl was "rapidly washing away" and that the expense of maintaining the crumbling facility far surpassed its worth. "Major reconstruction will be necessary in a very few years," he wrote. Chappell, sounding so much like his successors in the Cotton Dome venture, promised bigger and better things for Dallas if the city would only enlarge the Cotton Bowl--more college football games, national prominence that would rival Pasadena and New Orleans, anything under the sun. "The stadium," he insisted, "should be reconstructed on a larger and permanent basis."

By late 1945 and early '46, Chappell had come up with plans to replace the seats, rebuild the foundation (replacing the washed-away earth with concrete), and build a new press box. He wanted to expand the capacity to 100,000. When Chappell received the OK to begin construction in January 1947, the cost of the entire project was $750,000, to be paid for with bond money--and the Cotton Bowl would hold only 62,400.

The project was completed by the beginning of the 1948 season--at which point officials found the Cotton Bowl still too small to hold the sell-out crowds that came to witness the football heroics of SMU's Doak Walker, who ran his way into the Heisman history books. In 1949, Walker's senior year, the second upper deck was added on the stadium's west side, opposite the press box, and capacity grew to 75,510. The Cotton Bowl, known for 49 years as "The House that Doak Built," has remained virtually unchanged since then--save the aluminum seats that were installed in 1968 as a last-ditch effort to save the Bowl's most prominent host.

In 1960, the Bowl was home to both of Dallas' pro football teams--Lamar Hunt's American Football League Dallas Texans and Clint Murchison's NFL Dallas Cowboys. Both teams couldn't outdraw high school football, much less SMU: They competed for fans by giving away tickets and bringing in Roy Rogers to ride around the field. The town wasn't big enough for the two of them, so, at the end of the 1962 season, Hunt took his Texans to Kansas City, where they became the Chiefs, and left the Cotton Bowl to Murchison's struggling Cowboys.

"We had two host teams there, and neither could draw a fly," recalls Hunt, a current CBAA board member who is said to have attended every single New Year's Day game played in the Cotton Bowl since 1937. "We were drawing 10,000 people. The Texans needed to find a place to play."

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