Out With the Old

With the Cotton Bowl's inevitable departure, Dallas dies a little more

Wanna hear the worst idea since Saddam Hussein's kinfolk got him a tie for Christmas? The city of Dallas is spending $50 million to renovate a lame-duck stadium.

Unless you're a nearsighted, closed-minded, sports-oblivious politico, you know the Cotton Bowl's present is almost history because its future resides not in Fair Park, but Arlington. The Dallas Cowboys are building a $1 billion fantasy stadium west on Interstate 30. In 2009 it will open as the country's largest sports venue, complete with 100,000 seats, 2.3 million square feet (2.5 times the size of Texas Stadium), a retractable roof, 60-yard video screens and more than enough panache to host Super Bowls, Final Fours and, yep, January 1 college football classics.

Cotton Bowl officials have studied their supposed fork in the road for the past year, but come on, it's a no-brainer: Move to Arlington, increase your importance, amplify your image, ascend to the Bowl Championship Series and host college football's National Championship Game as early as 2011. Or, um, enjoy your fresh coat of paint and dwindling existence as a second-tier bowl that this year sagged to an all-time low ripple of interest with Monday's Auburn 17, Nebraska 14.

I'm not condoning tearing down another P.C. Cobb Stadium and putting up another Info Mart. But what makes more sense: Wrapping another sheet of aluminum foil around your rabbit ears or buying a hi-def plasma?

"It may seem like it to a lot of people, but deciding whether to stay or go isn't clear-cut for us," Cotton Bowl chairman Bruce Gadd says. "Business plays into it, but so does emotion. We've got traditionalists saying we've got to hold on to our history and others saying our game has outgrown our stadium. It's probably the biggest decision we'll ever make about the Cotton Bowl, and it's not easy."

Maybe, but relocation to Arlington on January 1, 2010, is merely a formality. In April, Gadd and his five vice chairmen will make a recommendation to the 75-member board. A motion will be made, seconded and, despite a smattering of old-school opposition, passed almost unanimously.

Out of the old; into the new.

"I don't want to mislead people to whether we are staying or moving," Gadd says. "But one of the realities of our college football bowl system is that it's driven by money."

In other words, in three years the Cotton Bowl stadium will be nothing more than a decrepit old artifact with a useless new video scoreboard and two very antsy tenants also eyeing Arlington: Texas-OU. With the loss of the Cotton Bowl, Dallas will die a little more. But for years the game has been dead.

Shunned by the BCS and shoved by Fox into an ungodly 10:40 a.m. kickoff, this year's game felt more insignificant than iconic. While the Cotton Bowl on the second Saturday in October can be magical, the first day of January can be miserable, despite Cowboys Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright serving as the parade's grand marshal and Pat Summerall returning to call a game he first announced in 1963.

"It would be very difficult to envision the Cotton Bowl played anywhere but Dallas," Summerall says. "But times do change."

On a crisp, cool New Year's Day, the teams yawn their way through a whopping three second-half points, fitting for a game that generated minimal buzz and kicked off with garish patches of empty seats.

"It's one of the worst Cotton Bowl markets I can remember," says Scott Baima, owner of Dallas-based Texas Tickets, which was forced to sell $90 face-value tickets for $40. "Maybe it was a combination of the teams or the game itself, but locally there just wasn't a lot of interest."

The beginning of the end, of course, wasn't 2007, but more so 2004, when Dallas city leaders fumbled a once-in-a-millennium opportunity.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones approached Dallas about a couple of sites, one along the Trinity River and another in Fair Park. Feigning a lack of time to study Jones' proposals but in reality fearing a high voter turnout that would've likely cost some of them jobs, a strong, stubborn block of Republican county commissioners kept the stadium issue off the November ballot. Mayor Laura Miller doesn't deserve all the blame, but it's safe to say if Ron Kirk were still mayor the Cowboys would still belong to Dallas.

Bottom line: Dallas turned away a businessman looking to spend $750 million in its city. Jones took his ball and went to Arlington. Soon, the Cotton Bowl will follow.

"It'd be a real shame," says Wright, who began his Cowboys career playing in the Cotton Bowl in 1967. "We all have a lot of memories in this place."

While Dallas continues its languid losing streak—Lone Star Park, Texas Motor Speedway, Dallas Burn, etc.—we're left with a ridiculous refurbishing plan founded on too little, too late. Pouring money into the Cotton Bowl amounts to little more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Look, I grew up going to the Cotton Bowl and watching Don Meredith throw bombs to Bob Hayes from the comfortable perch atop my dad's shoulders, and I appreciate that the sacred stadium has christened Dallas' new years since 1937. But who are we kidding? In the big business of bowls, the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl long ago increased their leverage by moving from charming quarters into corporate castles. The Cotton Bowl isn't Fenway Park or, for that matter, much more than serviceable. The seats are narrow, the concourses are cramped, and sight lines are obstructed. In a recent survey of 12 stadiums pushing to host a BCS game, the Cotton Bowl finished 12th. No chance.

And, furthermore, no concerts. No high school games. No future.

So how's this for perverted math? Dallas wouldn't shell out $325 million for an eternity of 10-plus Cowboys home games a year but is now willing to spend $50 million in a futile effort to keep two games a season.

Sorry, there's no way Dallas can keep up with the Joneses.

"I'm a traditionalist who likes the thought of our game being played outdoors in the elements on real grass in a stadium full of history," says Gadd, who played five games in the Cotton Bowl as quarterback for Richardson High School and Rice University. "But it's safe to say there are others on our board and among our partners who appreciate our game being staged for higher stakes in a state-of-the-art stadium. It's something we're really wrestling with."

Hello, Happy New Year.

Goodbye, crappy old stadium.

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