Cool Cotton

If anything, now is the time to embrace the Cotton Bowl

Mullets and rebel flags. Those Dallas Cowboys know their target demographic.

Here goes. I am going to write about a sports-related issue. I know better. But I just can't take any more of this hang-dog, slump-shouldered, foot-scuffling, snot-snuffling agony over the Cotton Bowl game.

So the big namesake winter classic football game has announced it will leave Dallas to go to suburban Arlington in 2010. What? We want to be more like Arlington?

I can't believe we're going to let suburbs and football owners and sports promoters tell us what our city is. Or should be. It's preposterous—no, it's obsceneto think we would turn our backs on the historic Cotton Bowl stadium at Fair Park because this one big game is going to take a powder on us.

The Cotton Bowl has everything that the suburbs do not have. It is everything the new stadiums are not, because we are everything the suburbs are not. We're old. We're diverse. We're cool.

Twenty years from now the Cotton Bowl will be too hot to touch, and professional football will have melded into the rebel-flag-waving netherworld of NASCAR, mullets and gated cul-de-sacs. You heard it here first. Then the professional football team owners and some of the big college leagues will ask themselves why, when the world was rushing back into the cities, they anchored themselves out in the boonies.

At some point if we want to be cool, we have to stay cool. We have to know where and what we are and where and what we are not.

I'm not going to get into a technical thing about sports. In fact, they had a rule on the city desk when I worked at the Dallas Times Herald: "Schutze may not write about sports." Apparently I'm not the world's biggest expert.

Right before they posted that rule I wrote about a fight or something at Texas Stadium, and I used the wrong term for the umpires. Oh, my gosh! Assistant city editors and copy desk people were staggering all over the newsroom, falling backward, fanning themselves with their hands, swooning, about to pass out because if they hadn't caught my mistake the men of Texas might have discovered that a reporter at the Herald didn't know the right word for football umpires.

Then I guess they would have had to kill us all.

I'm not a huge fan. My wife is. She's the Texan. Sometimes when she's watching games, I ask questions. But she gets all slitty-eyed and clench-jawed, like, "I just pray the boy isn't listening."

She's the one who got me going on this Cotton Bowl thing. She and Mary Suhm.

First I saw Suhm, our city manager, on KTVT-Channel 11 at 10 p.m. Reporter Jay Gormley was giving her a good devil's-advocate roughing up—always fun for me to watch. He said to her: "A thousand TXU jobs possibly going to Las Colinas. The [Dallas Cowboys] stadium going to Arlington. The Cotton Bowl game going to Arlington. Certainly that doesn't feel good. You're the city manager. You can't feel good about that."

Suhm death-rayed Gormley with one of her real hard looks. She said, "I refuse to be negative about what's going on with the city. Tons of positive things are going on with the city."

Yeah! Much as I like to devil Mary Suhm myself, I happen to know she's got the evil eye and the brass knucks to make it stick.

That's city. The whining and the slump shoulders: That's not city.

I never got the Cotton Bowl anyway. I have a cultural barrier. I always thought the Cotton Bowl should have a mascot who was a giant plantation owner in a white suit, like an inflatable Colonel Sanders running around the sidelines leading cheers with a whip. But I can't say that stuff at home, because...well, I already explained about the mixed marriage. I'm lucky just to live indoors.

The next morning after I saw Suhm on TV, my wife was the one slapping her hand against the front page of the newspaper and using very strong language—very, very strong language, if people only knew—because she was so angry at the slump-shoulders who were saying we should just tear the Cotton Bowl down and not waste any more money on it.

Here is her point: The Cotton Bowl is blue sky and green grass on a keen fall day. It's kids at a summer concert getting fire-hosed for heat exhaustion, which they think is fun, because they're idiots, because they're kids. The Cotton Bowl is personal, tactile, retro and therefore rare.

Best of all, it's old, and it's old-fashioned. It has soul. It already has more history and more experience soaked into its skin than that thing out in Arlington will have the day they tear it down.

Why wouldn't we take something like the State Fair (Al Lipscomb) Classic and promote the hell out of it as one of the coolest, most unique, most exciting experiences that folks of any kind...yea, verily, even white folks...can find anywhere on this planet? ONLY at the Cotton Bowl.

Since its inception 20 years ago, the Grambling-Prairie View shoot-out at the Cotton Bowl has evolved into one of the premier black cultural and social events in the Southwest, in no small part because of the battle of the bands. Every year Grambling's Mighty Tigers pit their classic marching style against the irreverent high-stepping innovations of Prairie View's Marching Storm, especially "The Box," Prairie View's wild drum line.

Things have changed. People who are less than black themselves are nevertheless flocking to movies with black stars such as Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, Will Smith and Denzel Washington. Give white folks a chance. We can't stay scaredy-cat forever.

I talked to Errol W. McKoy, president of the State Fair, and, man, he and I were singin' the same verse, same song, same hymn book. He talked about the huge potential of the Cotton Bowl as a venue for soccer, based mainly on the region's enormous Latin-American community but with lots of great action for everybody else, as well:

"You know, we've got a huge Hispanic base that's growing by leaps and bounds in Dallas. Just imagine, say five to 10 years from now, an entrepreneur comes along out of the Latino community. Maybe he's made a lot of money in the high-tech industry like a Mark Cuban, and he has the sports savvy of a Lamar Hunt.

"And he says, 'You know, I'm watching Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and Houston grow by leaps and bounds. And soccer, as we know, is the No. 1 sport in Latin America. What about creating a league for each major South American and major city up here for what I would call the Pan American Soccer League?'

"And he says, 'I'm going to go into major metropolitan areas that have a heavy Hispanic base and also have a big outdoor venue that's soccer-friendly.'"

I did a devil's advocate on McKoy: "And why," I demanded, "is this guy not going to want to go to the slick new domed stadium in Arlington?"

Long silence on the other end.

"Because they have to play international soccer on grass," he said. "They have to play outdoors."

Well knock me over with a feather. I believe I mentioned earlier in this column that I am not a walking encyclopedia of technical sports knowledge. (I hope Richie Whitt doesn't read this. He might have to beat me up.)

I talked to Suhm too. She went straight to the idea that the Cotton Bowl Stadium is a "people stadium."

"It's college football in the open air," she said. "It's soccer games. It could be high school playoffs, particularly if it's a 90,000-seat stadium that's going to be completely renovated [under the 2007 city bond program].

"We've made some commitments, and we've got some opportunities. The commitments were to Texas-OU that we would make those improvements in hopes that they would honor the form of our commitment and agree to stay more years.

"But the other thing is, there's a rail line coming out there, and I don't think anybody has a full appreciation of what the impact is going to be. You know, zoo attendance went up 30 to 40 percent [when the zoo got rail].

"People are going to be innovative and take chances and come out there and start businesses or look at new ways to use Fair Park. I think it's going to make a huge, huge difference."

I do happen to know about the Texas-OU football game, because my son goes to UT. His fraternity comes to town on buses for the game. We don't actually see him that weekend.

But I can tell, when he talks about it afterward, that for all the fun he has at the game itself, he and his fellow Woodrow Wilson High School alums may have even more fun being the urban dudes who guide the rest of them around the State Fair and downtown Dallas. I believe at one point my son may have been telling some of his new suburban acquaintances that he grew up in an old hotel downtown and had to survive a lot of knife fights in grade school, which, of course, was not true. I'm sure he has gone back by now and corrected that.

The point is, being from Dallas is cool. It's serious. The city is a rich bounty of culture and experience that will never ever happen out there in 'burbia.

I don't think we should fault the Cotton Bowl folks for taking a hike. It's a winter game that needs to be televised, so it needs to be indoors.

But we need to turn right around, right now, and make the Cotton Bowl everything that nobody else has got, because we are everything that nobody else can be.

For any sports mistakes or technical issues involving sports as mentioned in this column, please send complaints by e-mail to sohowmuchdoyouknowaboutdostoevsky@getinline.com.

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