By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
T. Boone Pickens is impressed. Are you?
Curious at what $57 million will get you these days, the gazillionaire entrepreneur and Oklahoma State booster toured the reupholstered Cotton Bowl with mayor Tom Leppert last week and left thinking an annual OSU-Texas Tech football game just might fit into Dallas' State Fair schedule after all.
"He couldn't believe how well it turned out," State Fair of Texas president Errol McKoy says of Pickens' kick-the-tires visit. "He said we got a lot of construction for our money."
Maybe. But, in the end, will Dallas get enough bang for its Cotton Bowl buck?
Considering Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance also frequented our famed-yet-fresh stadium recently, OSU-Tech is a real possibility. (Of course, with Pickens' close relationship to Jerry Jones and the Cowboys' owner last year flying to Lubbock to personally court the Red Raiders to his new coliseum, the game could still wind up in Arlington.) It would certainly be a coup for bowl officials and city leaders trying to justify the joint's pricey facelift by filling in the 364 gaps around Texas-OU.
There are things in the works: high-profile international soccer matches, professional minor-league football and, who knows, maybe even a resurrection of the old TCU-SMU Labor Day kickoff game? McKoy promises—"No question," he says—that a new bowl game will play in the Cotton Bowl as early as December 2009, replacing the traditional namesake that heads west to Arlington after its January 2 farewell.
"There aren't many Texas-OUs out there," Cotton Bowl manager Roland Rainey says. "But we're having a lot of positive conversations with folks willing, even anxious to play in the Cotton Bowl."
With a divorce from its longtime spouse imminent—the Cotton Bowl Classic is up and leaving for the state-of-the-art amenities and higher visibility of the Cowboys' new digs—the stadium needed a lift here and a tuck there to get back on the dating market.
But while officials commence the selling of the stadium in the wake of ESPN and ABC showing off the renovations during Texas-OU two weeks ago, critics continue to cringe at money poured into a past-its-prime artifact propped up by one game per year.
Bigger stadium. Smaller games?
"We're not getting the bang for our buck, no," says the Dallas City Council's fiscal hawk Mitchell Rasansky. "We keep hearing talk of this 'Field of Dreams,' but it hasn't materialized. I hope it happens. But so far we've dumped $57 million into an old building with only one long-term tenant. That's not the way to do business."
Patience, retort the Cotton Bowl head honchos.
McKoy puts the economic impact of Texas-OU weekend at $35 million, claiming Dallas has almost already recouped its investment of $37 million (Fair Park pitched in the other $20 million.) The Longhorns and Sooners will play in Dallas at least through 2015.
"Even if there isn't another single event besides Texas-OU," he says, "the renovation was a great business deal for the city and the citizens."
Also, a search is under way for a corporate partner willing to shell out $10 million for 10 years of naming rights. (In contrast, Jones is seeking $100 million for 10 years.) And this week the bigger-is-better proponents begin a mass mailing of DVDs to potential clients, convinced that the sight of 92,000 in the stadium for Texas-OU will generate new business.
"We could've talked about how great the new Cotton Bowl was until we were blue in the face," McKoy says. "But now we've got proof. The Texas-OU folks gave it rave reviews. Now we've got to go out and close some deals. We've landed the big fish. We need a couple smaller ones."
Like, say, the itsy-bitsy, tiny one—East Central State (Oklahoma) vs. Texas A&M-Commerce—flopping around last Saturday afternoon.
While Jones amasses an embarrassment of riches in Arlington—Super Bowl XLV, Cotton Bowl Classic, Big 12 Conference championship football game, Arkansas-Texas A&M and possibly a Final Four and the 2010 NBA All-Star Game—the Cotton Bowl is left with simply an embarrassment.
See, the thing about 87,000 empty aluminum bleachers: They echo-o-o-o ...
Equally nosy and only slightly poorer than Pickens, I, too, wanted to see for myself. So on the last Saturday of the Fair, I went to the Cotton Bowl and watched a college football game pitting teams from Texas and Oklahoma.
Division II teams, that is.
This is what happens when Jerry Jones forces you to settle for his scraps.
Sandwiched around Texas-OU, our iconic old stadium hosted ECU and TAM-C—can't tell you how uncomfortably weird those acronyms looked painted in the end zones—and an October 4 game between Prairie View A&M and Grambling State. On November 29, Texas Southern will play Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Apparently $57 million can't even buy you a team without hyphen or parentheses.
At the first annual Harvey Martin Classic, there was 78-degree sunshine, remnants of orange confetti and crimson tears, teams with a combined 5-9 record and—I shit you not—237 fans sitting on ECU's side of the stadium. The announced crowd was 5,697, but I'm guessing more people ate chicken-fried bacon outside than watched football inside.
The minuscule gathering was swallowed by the mammoth stadium, like Winona Ryder trying to fill out Amber Campisi's bra.
The Cotton Bowl is finally a bowl, its open ends now closed and stubbornly blocking out the scenic views of the Texas Giant, Big Tex and the downtown skyline. A fresh coat of sand-colored paint has been slapped on widened corridors and concourses, and the restrooms have increased in quality and quantity. The video scoreboard is fantastic and mesmerizing. Unless, that is, you happen to be sitting in the south end zone, whereupon it's inconveniently located in your blind spot, leaving you looking at a north end-zone auxiliary scoreboard with pizzazz befitting a Class A high-school field.
The biggest change is the seating. From a capacity of 76,000 to 92,000, making it the nation's ninth-largest stadium. And from fold-down seats to 26 miles of hard, skinny aluminum benches, making it no longer cozy nor comfy. Style has always ridden shotgun to the Cotton Bowl's substance, but you'd think $57 million would offer something a little less barbaric than armless, contiguous, numbered personal spaces.
Not to say the stadium needs placement on Leppert's hit list of eyesore buildings to be paved over before the Super Bowl's "arrival" in 2011. Some Botox, a little liposuction and, voila!, the 76-year-old is presentable and functional, if not irresistibly desirable.
Works for Cloris Leachman, why not the Cotton Bowl?
With the stadium's trademark game and our region's major sporting events migrating to Arlington, something about this reconstruction smacks of a horse and a barn and a door. It will take Tech-OSU, TCU-SMU, Mexico vs. Real Madrid and perhaps a new bowl game pitting teams from the Western Athletic Conference and Conference USA to resurrect the stadium's relevancy.
For now, The House That Doak Walker built—once playing to Tom Landry and Jim Brown and Elvis and the Texxas Jam—is being kept on life support by Grambling's kick-ass band and a former Cowboys defensive end's small-school alma mater.
I, too, hope the sparkling old stadium keeps Texas-OU past its current contract and lands another crown jewel or two, lest it go the way of once-proud Midway sideshows like the bearded lady and fried Twinkies.
T. Boone Pickens is impressed. Color me intrigued.a