By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Initially criticized for subsidizing a sports team in the face of infrastructure shortcomings, Arlington is now basking in the financial and feel-good glow of Cowboys Stadium. The place is its own stimulus package, paid for through a November '04 tax increase and rewarding a city's pride with positive national exposure.
"There is nothing like this stadium anywhere in this country and maybe anywhere else in the world for that matter," Buck told his TV viewers. "And it's right here in good old Arlington, Texas."
Said Arlington mayor Robert Cluck at a recent Super Bowl XLV planning meeting, "Initially people told me I was crazy. Now they're all jealous."
Jones had visited London's Wembley Stadium; Sydney, Australia's Opera House; and the new Yankee Stadium in New York to collect ideas for his monument. For the video board brainstorm, he simply went to a Celine Dion concert in Las Vegas.
"See that board up there?" Jones likes to tell first-time, jaw-dropping guests. "There's only one other one in the world like it...and it's on the other side."
The centerpiece of the world's largest media room is jumbo all right, but, turns out, not well-hung.
Jones' Mitsubishi HDTV is a ridiculous 1,200 times bigger than your living room's 50-inch you used to be so proud of. It is 71 feet high, runs from 23-yard line to 23-yard line, is as big as 24 DART buses and—oh yeah—tends to get in the way of really high punts. After Titans punter A.J. Trapasso hit the board in the pre-season opener, the NFL competition committee deemed that—since Jones installed the thing to specifications (that is, 90 feet above the field)—any ball caroming off it will prompt a do-over.
On a week when convicted dog-killer Michael Vick returned to the field, Jones somehow had the NFL buzzing about his latest toy.
"It's going to get hit from time to time," a defiant Jones says. "But I don't expect it to be that big of a deal."
The stadium itself—designed by Bryan Trubey of Dallas-based HKS Architects—is three times bigger and 300 times classier than Texas Stadium. (And, yes, it still has that new car smell.)
It boasts the world's longest single-span arches, the steepest retractable roof, the largest glass doors and enough room to house the Statue of Liberty at mid-field. Inside there are 300 luxury suites, 24 air-conditioner units, steel from Germany, marble from Italy, fritted glass, art from 14 painters around the world and—because Jones demanded not a sunroof but a convertible—a luxurious lid that when closed resembles Texas Stadium's famed "hole" but also the ability to open and transform a dome into an outdoor stadium.
At kickoff against the Titans it was 89 degrees outside, 73 inside.
Among the 80,000 seats are several thousand at $59 per game, not including $29 Party Passes that entitle fans to standing-room-only spots. Jones expects a crowd of more than 100,000 for the home opener September 20 against the New York Giants.
The Cowboys, who walked down Texas Stadium's famed tunnel onto the field, now enter Cowboys Stadium only after passing through a Miller Lite Club where lines of patrons are inches away.
"I don't even know how to describe it," Romo said after the first pre-season game there. "It's an awesome, awesome place."
Like a proud papa, Jones will pass the priceless family heirloom down to his three children—Stephen, Charlotte and Jerry Jr., who each hold management positions for the club.
But, in the end, is the stadium's sexy bang worth its staggering buck?
"I think it is, but I don't know for sure," longtime season-ticket holder Scott Weidenfeller says. "I love the Cowboys. I love the stadium. It's unbelievable. The jumbo screen is beyond description. But as I'm driving away realizing I just spent $900 for a pre-season game, it makes me wonder what the hell I'm doing."
Weidenfeller, chief marketing officer for a Richardson-based IP services company, had four tickets on the 35-yard line in Texas Stadium. Because of Cowboys Stadium's ratcheted prices—to keep those same seats his total outlay would have been an unfathomable $154,350—he downgraded to two tickets on the 10. Still, after adding up his tickets ($340 x 2), parking ($75), concessions ($75) plus a trip to the chic, two-level Pro Shop ($100), his one-game bill flirted with $1,000.
"I know it's crazy taking 10 vacations a year to the same place," Weidenfeller says. "But Jerry's a genius. He just makes you want and need to be there so bad you can't resist. It took some serious 'nads to charge these prices in this climate, but I'll be darned if he isn't going to pull it off."
Back in 1971 the Cowboys opened Texas Stadium and won a Super Bowl. If they don't duplicate the feat in Arlington this season, you won't be able to blame Jerry's Jonestown Coliseum.
"Honestly, they shouldn't give a nut like me enough credit to build something like this," Jones says. "Because, look around, I'll go crazy."
At exactly 5 p.m. on Friday, August 21, the doors to Cowboys Stadium swung open for business before the pre-season game against Tennessee. Some fans sprinted in, like crazed shoppers rushing for deals the day after Thanksgiving. Others zombied in, slowly soaking in the experience of a lifetime. Some even wept.