Jerry Jones is unbuttoning his shirt.

And as usual—as with everything concerning the owner of the Dallas Cowboys—the whole world is watching.

Well, for now, it's merely a handful of patrons at Coyote Ugly on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. But, seeing that most of them have drawn cell phones from their holsters, unflattering photos of a whipped-cream-covered, big breast-smothered Jones seem literally seconds from splashing onto the Internet.

Only the Dallas Cowboys’ owner could build a palace
big enough to match his larger-than-life persona
Brandon Thibodeaux
Only the Dallas Cowboys’ owner could build a palace big enough to match his larger-than-life persona
Jerry Jones has become the promoter-in-chief for his new stadium, giving personal press tours marked by his unabashed enthusiasm and  pride.
Brandon Thibodeaux
Jerry Jones has become the promoter-in-chief for his new stadium, giving personal press tours marked by his unabashed enthusiasm and pride.
Parking lot signs at Cowboys Stadium bear the image of Tom Landry, but what would the introverted former coach think of Jones’ opulent palace?
Brandon Thibodeaux
Parking lot signs at Cowboys Stadium bear the image of Tom Landry, but what would the introverted former coach think of Jones’ opulent palace?
The brains of the Cowboys was once Tex Schramm. In the new stadium,
it’s a computer mainframe in the Cowboys technology center.
Brandon Thibodeaux
The brains of the Cowboys was once Tex Schramm. In the new stadium, it’s a computer mainframe in the Cowboys technology center.
In Jones’ new billion-dollar stadium, the video boards alone cost more than it did to build all of Texas Stadium.
Brandon Thibodeaux
In Jones’ new billion-dollar stadium, the video boards alone cost more than it did to build all of Texas Stadium.
Cowboys Stadium may buy
Jones another season of clemency,
but he realizes the shelf life of past
performance is about to expire.
Brandon Thibodeaux
Cowboys Stadium may buy Jones another season of clemency, but he realizes the shelf life of past performance is about to expire.
Jerry Jones feels that his new stadium is a respite that will help people cope with hard times. But at those ticket prices?
Jerry Jones feels that his new stadium is a respite that will help people cope with hard times. But at those ticket prices?

It's a Wednesday night in early August, and the Cowboys have put to bed another successful day in what is undeniably a successful training camp. After watching quarterback Tony Romo develop timing with receiver Roy Williams before a weekday crowd of almost 10,000 at The Alamodome, Jones has piled friends, family, employees and sponsors into his customized, chauffeured Cowboys tour bus for a night on the town. A pub crawl that starts with red meat and White Russians at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on St. Paul Square has migrated to the Howl at the Moon piano bar, PolyEster's discotheque and, finally, this rowdy country saloon where the beer is cold, the dancers are hot, and there's a standing invitation to lie on the bar and have scantily clad waitresses turn your shot of choice into an interactive Josh Hamilton experience.

Drink firmly in hand, Jones has been boogying to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Now the waitstaff is begging him to open his mind and his shirt to the idea of a body shot. Jones, 66 going on 26, is a good-timin', big-hearted boy with bottomless reservoirs of passion for football, fame and, indeed, fun. He reaches for the top button...

And reminds us all that he's no dummy.

While the Rangers' Hamilton had God by his side that fateful night in Arizona when he notoriously caved to whiskey, women and whipped cream, Jones has something more tangibly effective: Personal security chief Roosevelt Riley, who red-flags any activity that tip-toes close to the inappropriate line. And the savvy to know he doesn't have to show skin to spread the Cowboys gospel.

"Let's have some fun here!" Jones suddenly announces while subtly removing his hand from his shirt and waving it over the heads of his adoring crowd like a wizard sprinkling fairy dust. "Put all this on my tab."

Cameras back in pockets. Fresh drinks in hand. Smiles on every face. Boogying resumed. The Dallas Cowboys just won a few more fans—courtesy of the most intoxicating owner in the history of professional sports.

Who else could build and fill a billion-dollar sports stadium in the depths of a catastrophic recession? Who else could keep the Cowboys not only relevant, but wildly popular, in the depths of an unprecedented 13-year stretch without a playoff win? Who else could risk the ire of the NFL by challenging the way it does business? And who else could market a bold, cutting-edge coliseum into a distraction to keep fans from thinking about his years of being an inferior general manager?

There's only one Jerral Wayne Jones.

"The guy's amazing," says former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, who teamed with Jones to win two Super Bowls in the '90s. "Jerry goes to bed thinking about making money, and he wakes up with brilliant marketing schemes. He's just different than the rest of us. I always credit his great passion, his energy. When he does something, he does it the best and biggest it can possibly be done." 

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By 6 most mornings Jones is on his elliptical fitness machine. Texting. Calling. Sweating. Reading. Planning. Yearning. Multitasking.

For an owner who has delivered three Super Bowls in the past, secured his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement in the future and just opened the doors on his $1.2 billion legacy, the glaring, expanding hole on his résumé resides right here, right now. For all their popularity and pizzazz, the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since December 28, 1996, the longest such drought in franchise history.

Jones has always been a polarizing owner: To some Cowboys fans, he's the divine deliverer of championships and a cathedral; to others, he's the devil who fired Tom Landry, ran off Johnson, signed Terrell Owens and priced the blue-collar fan out of his hoity-toity coliseum.

"It's motivating to me to have not won a playoff game in 13 years," Jones admits during training camp. "It has an impact on me. Really does."

In his opening day press conference at camp, Jones recalls that he learned almost immediately upon buying the team in 1989 that marketing machinations can earn first downs, but not touchdowns. He tells a story about riding in a car to Austin with former GM Tex Schramm en route to firing the legendary Landry. Jones remarked how impressed he was with the America's Team image cultivated by Schramm's regime.

After a long pause, Tex grumbled, "Yeah, it'd be a hell of a business if we didn't have to play the football games."

Cowboys Stadium may buy Jones another season of clemency, but he realizes the shelf life of past performance is about to expire. The Cowboys indeed have to play the football games. And they have to win in December, even January, ideally February. 

Jones, who made his fortune in oil and gas and built his '90s dynasty in Dallas with a speculative Herschel Walker trade that yielded a gusher of talent, knows a dry well when he's dug one, and 2008 may have been rock bottom.

Because of last year's monumentally disappointing 9-7 season, Jones has altered the course of his team. A whopping 17 players are gone, including their second-best pass rusher, three best special teamers, a former Pro Bowl safety, second-leading tackler and, of course, petulant leading receiver Owens.

While replacing T.O.'s 10 touchdowns won't be easy—since 2006 no quarterback-receiver duo has combined for more scores than Romo and Owens—life without his personal agenda, self-serving rants and divisive locker-room presence should be an addition-by-subtraction blessing.

For the 2009 season, the Cowboys will try socialism. Not the kind that dogs President Obama, but the type that takes a talented team of coddled underachievers and attempts to change its identity by spreading the wealth. With Owens banished to the Buffalo Bills, the Cowboys will attempt to take up his slack via receivers Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin and Sam Hurd.

"We can really move the ball around [now]," Jones said after Owens' March 5 release. "With Terrell here, there was a thought of how many balls we had to go around. And the main thing is we headed in the direction of being Romo-friendly. At the top of the list, the T.O. move was good for Tony."

The Cowboys transformation starts for real on Sunday in Tampa Bay when they kick off their 50th season against the Buccaneers. But the substance-over-style Cowboys were apparent from the first day of camp at The Alamodome. A purportedly tougher head coach Wade Phillips yanked players out of drills for mental mistakes and drove the team through 31 practices over 22 days. Gone were egomaniacal distractions like Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, safety Roy Williams and Greg Ellis, and substandard veterans like Brad Johnson, Zach Thomas and Anthony Henry.

This year's training camp—the polar opposite of 2008 in Oxnard, California—featured no HBO cameras, lowered expectations and only a hint of a sheepish swagger. (It did include 4th & Long reality show winner Jesse Holley taking up a roster spot, but the stunt barely caused a ripple of publicity much less consternation.) Super Bowl hype that nosedives into missing the playoffs tends to humble even the cockiest Cowboys.

"I was a little skeptical at first because we lost a lot of good football players," linebacker and defensive captain Bradie James says after a camp practice. "But it didn't take long to get excited. Guys are focused on nothing but football. It isn't about reputations or image or trying to remember lines for the Hard Knocks cameras. It's about football."

Adds Romo, "We learned a lesson last year in failing to recognize the pitfalls of looking ahead and just assuming the success early would continue. We've got to be a different football team. One that continues to get better."

The mellowed mindset led to a boring camp in which the lone off-field high jinks was veteran offensive lineman Leonard Davis giving outlandish haircuts—Greg Isdaner wound up looking like The Three Stooges' Larry—to his rookie teammates. Focus is well and good. But ultimately the Cowboys' results—if not Jones' eternal reputation—will depend on football.

The Cowboys remain talented, but—other than running back and tight end—about as deep as Mr. Skin.

Romo has dumped girlfriend Jessica Simpson, picked up some leadership and added weapons in healthy running back Felix Jones and rapidly maturing tight end Martellus Bennett. The Cowboys are counting heavily on Williams, even though he has just one Pro Bowl season and last year managed only 16 catches and no touchdowns in eight games with Romo. Regardless, a significant injury to the offensive line and the whole thing implodes.

"I think Tony Romo can win a Super Bowl, I do," Jimmy Johnson says of the Cowboys quarterback who is 27-12 as a starter but 0-2 in the playoffs. "He just needs to pull back the reins and protect the ball in the clutch part of the game. He's so confident in his abilities that he takes chances he doesn't need to."

On defense, the Cowboys added two former Phillips players in end Igor Olshansky (San Diego Chargers) and inside linebacker Keith Brooking (Atlanta Falcons) and will have a new starter at outside linebacker (Anthony Spencer), strong safety (Gerald Sensabaugh) and right cornerback (Mike Jenkins or Orlando Scandrick).

The biggest improvement must come on special teams, where an off-season overhaul arrived in the form of firing assistant coach Bruce Read and drafting 12 rookies with coverage capabilities. The Cowboys hired Joe DeCamillis, began each practice in San Antonio with special teams sessions and even drafted a kickoff specialist in Southern Cal's David Buehler. Last year, Dallas had zero touchbacks while the Carolina Panthers, for example, had 30.

"There's an emphasis on getting it right," Phillips says during camp. "We had too many breakdowns on special teams last season. In all areas."

For the most part, most NFL experts ain't buying what the Cowboys are selling.

Las Vegas oddsmakers and the majority of pre-season prognosticators on TV, in print and online have them pegged as the third-best team in the NFC East behind the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. Their projected win total is generally 9, and when it comes to Super Bowl XLIV conversation, Dallas isn't tip of tongue or top of mind.

A year ago—coming off 13 wins and boasting 13 Pro Bowlers—it was Super Bowl or bust.

"It's the first time I can remember us being overlooked a little bit," Romo says. "It's a different role for us, but I kinda like it."

Doubters don't believe in Williams as a No. 1 receiver. They don't believe that—outside of elite pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware—the Cowboys have enough defensive playmakers. And don't believe in Phillips, who tried his darndest to toughen up during training camp but is ultimately a powerless lame duck in the shadow of Jones and without a contract past this season.

At this point, the Cowboys aren't exactly sure they believe in themselves. Time and tinkering be damned, the Texas Stadium-closing heartbreak loss to the Baltimore Ravens and the gutless, season-ending 44-6 loss in Philadelphia last December still resonate.

"Have we lost some of the swagger?" Jones says, repeating a question during camp. "You know, I don't think that any of us feel like swaggering after last year. I'm a little hesitant to say we've lost it all because I know the pride and I know the expectations we have being part of the Cowboys."

Discarding high-profile gambles, publicly downgrading predictions and softening the team's profile is Jones' way of grudgingly admitting his mistakes. But they're nothing a little 3-million-square-foot stadium can't smother.

"Our energy this year will be the new stadium," Jones says. "I absolutely can see it being a positive factor in the way we play football."

Can Jones really implement steel and glass and five-star luxury as a 12th man?  Can he actually facilitate a Super Bowl via a super stadium?

"Don't put it past him," Hall of Famer and former voice of the NFL Pat Summerall told reporters before the stadium's first pre-season game. "There's never been anyone quite like Jerry Jones."

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Seems daunting for an under-siege owner to try and barter outrageous prices for an underwhelming team, especially one that hasn't won a post-season game since before Monica Lewinsky's blue dress needed dry cleaning. But, then again, Jones possesses the charisma and chutzpah to sell green bananas to a suicide bomber on the way to work.

"Jerry just has a way of making things bigger and better, whatever it is," former Cowboy and NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith said before camp. "When he does something, or the Dallas Cowboys do something, the whole world is going to know about it."

There is little from his boyhood that would indicate he would become a supreme salesman, someone earmarked to be the most innovative marketer in the history of the NFL. Growing up in North Little Rock, Arkansas, he did learn customer relations watching his father, Pat, run the town's favorite grocery store and a successful insurance company. Didn't stop him from mistakes. At 23, he passed on a $6 million investment in the American Football League's San Diego Chargers that 60 days later—upon merger with the NFL—was valued at $11 million. Couple years later he dove into fast-food franchising, passing on deals in Missouri for established Kentucky Fried Chicken and iconic McDonald's for a chain of forgettable Shakey's Pizza Parlors. Finally, as a renegade wildcatter who struck oil in an uncanny 12 of his first 13 wells in Oklahoma including one that netted him $80 million, Jones found his fortune. And later, in 1988, when the Cowboys went up for sale, his passion.

These days—entering his 21st season as owner, president, general manager and autonomous caretaker of the Cowboys—he's a well-heeled, time-tested amalgamation of Pat Jones, Tex Schramm, Al Davis, Rupert Murdoch and Sam Walton.

"Sam's advice to me was to always be understaffed," Jones says. "That way you'll know who your heroes are."

To say Jones wants the spotlight is to say Kate needs her "Plus 8." He is loved. He is loathed. Above all else, he matters.

Critics lambaste his lingering omnipresence, usurping power from head coaches by watching the second half of games on the sideline and gagging them in the off-season. He's narcissistic, they say, Cowboys Stadium is merely a colossal self-portrait. He's a shrewd, ruthless capitalist, they add, tarnishing the Cowboys' once-pristine image by slapping it on everything from diapers to charcoal to lotto tickets, and tearing apart Texas Stadium and selling the pieces—3-inch slivers of the goal posts sold for $35 at an auction last winter—as though the guts of the iconic place belonged in Sanford & Son's side yard.

"If for one second you believe it's about the fans and not about the almighty dollar," says a former Cowboys employee who requested anonymity, "then you don't know the real Jerry Jones."

Some in our Bible Belt even chastise Jones for introducing alcohol to Cowboys games, clinging to a kinder, gentler time framed by Tommy Loy's National Anthem trumpet and original owner Clint Murchison's humility. They hear his cryptic, rambling interviews, see his diamond star lapel pendant and cringe when he allows tight-end Bennett to call him "J-Dawg" in a TV pizza commercial.

But by trying to avoid the supposedly sinister spell of his steel-blue eyes, they miss his big heart.

"When [former Cowboys' long-snapper] Dale Hellestrae's dad died, I remember Jerry giving him unlimited use of his private jet to fly family all around the country, no questions asked," says 30-year voice of the Cowboys, Brad Sham. "It's a side of him not many people get to see, and that's a shame."

Most damning, his detractors say, was Jones appointing himself de facto GM after Johnson's departure in 1994 and making mind-boggling decisions—passing on Randy Moss, falling for Chad Hutchinson and signing Owens come to mind—that have plummeted his team into the smelliest stretch in franchise history. Unless they finish 10-6 this season, the team will suffer its worst won-loss decade ever. And since Dallas last won its last playoff game, every NFC team—save the lowly Detroit Lions—has won at least two.

The Cowboys have become Paris Hilton. Famous for nothing other than being famous.

"I honestly like Jerry Jones," says longtime WFAA-Channel 8 sports anchor Dale Hansen, who has deliciously sparred with the owner through the years. "Now, I'm convinced he's full of it half the time and he's a horrible general manager. But I genuinely like him. He's like one of those old inflatable toys that you punched and it would bounce right back up. The guy can take a hit. Nobody in this town is better at dealing with the criticism."

Jones has the thick skin, the ego, the loot and even the baritone KEH-boyz drawl to be a Texas-sized villain. All that's missing is the Cadillac (he prefers a black Lincoln Town Car) with the oversized longhorns protruding from the hood.

One problem: He's big hat, bigger cattle.

For a guy who once took on—and defeated—the NFL's staid old guard of owners, scrubbing a locker room, bleaching his team's image and repackaging the Cowboys as "new" should be relatively uncomplicated. Long before Jones was a carnival barker who slapped backs, pumped hands and seduced fans into watching TV pre-season games 15 times more than they watched Texas Rangers' games, the Cowboy was a maverick.

By 1995—six years after his team debuted with a 1-15 flop—Jones had two Super Bowl trophies but still one goal: Making money.

  But he continued receiving minimal returns from Texas Stadium, which he owned (most teams merely leased) because existing NFL policy forced him to share revenue with 27 other teams. So Jones went rogue. He signed a deal with Pepsi that generated $40 million, even though the NFL was Coca-Cola. At his press conference announcing the deal, he famously kicked a red, white and blue Pepsi-logo boot off his foot, into the air and—symbolically—into the ass of his crotchety, conservative peers.

"At the time, the Pepsi thing really flew in the face of conventional thinking," says Cowboys director of media relations Rich Dalrymple, Jones' confidant and strategist for three decades. "He was smart enough to find a loophole and eventually the NFL backed down. That doesn't happen very often."

By the time Jones signed lucrative, independent deals with American Express (the NFL was VISA) and Nike (the NFL was Reebok), commissioner Paul Tagliabue was calling him "self-serving" and "destructive" and in a September 19, 1995, article, The New York Times screamed: "Jerry Jones and the NFL are officially at war."

The Times was referring, of course, to the lawsuit filed the day before against Jones by the NFL, which was suing to protect its team revenue-sharing agreements and its strict guidelines in place for 35 years that prevented teams from negotiating independent contracts. Instead of backing down, Jones countersued for $750 million. Less than a year later, both claims were dropped with Jones keeping his contracts and the league its revenue sharing.

Also on his résumé for Pro Football Hall of Fame status will be Jones' urging the league to jump from CBS to Fox in the early '90s, creating seat licensing fees which gave fans the right to own a specific seat for up to 30 years, and generally—via in-house sponsorships like Ford, Miller Lite and Papa John's at his new joint—making stadium ownership a profitable arm of business.

Megalomaniac? Maybe. Trailblazer? Absolutely. Success? You betcha.

Jones, already in both the Texas Sports and Business Halls of Fame, is one of only six NFL owners to win three Super Bowls. He's sharp enough to vault his $140 million investment in 1989 into a franchise now valued at almost $2 billion, yet grounded enough to keep in touch with his customers—evidenced when he casually high-fived an Oakland Raiders fan in a gorilla suit at last month's pre-season opener.

Says Roy Williams, pointing toward Jones after a practice in San Antonio, "In Detroit we had like 20 people at our practices, and here we have 20,000. Credit that man right there."

Jones, who's equally comfortable with a crown or dunce cap (or toupee?) atop his head, remains popular locally and nationally despite his team's plight. The Cowboys play 11 of their 16 games in showcased network TV slots, and every day at camp an ovation announced his arrival to practice.

He's the visionary of Cowboys Stadium. The financier who paid for most of the bells, whistles and unfathomable upgrades out of his own pocket. And the ambassador who opened the place for free to 30,000 fans in an open house and 25,000 more for an open practice.

"Sports has a role in hard times in that it's a respite for people to move away from life and their real jobs," Jones says. "This stadium will help people cope. It was my job to build a place suitable for the fans of the Dallas Cowboys. I think we've done that."

Nonetheless, Jones didn't exactly offer sign-of-the-times discounted tickets. Maybe that's why his stadium is such a lucrative business.

The Cowboys, already the most valuable team in sports according to Forbes, expect to boost revenue this season by $90 million thanks to Jones' innovative club seats that require one-time rights fees of as much as $150,000 a pop. And that's, mind you, without a lucrative corporate naming partner that should surface in 2010 with the expected uptick of the economy.

Though the initial cost of Cowboys Stadium was $650 million, Arlington's ($325 million) and Tarrant County's ($25 million) contributions remained fixed while Jones dug deeper for unprecedented amenities like the $40 million video boards that cost more than the whole of Texas Stadium 28 years ago ($35 million).

"Some fans will never outgrow or outlive the fact that Jerry fired Tom Landry and that's OK," Sham says. "But I think the majority realize the three Super Bowls. The majority realize that Jerry put in much more of his money than he initially intended to. The majority realize that Jerry's real legacy will be seen in 50 years when we have all the memories from the Cowboys games and Super Bowls and Final Fours and all the money that was funneled into North Texas by the house that Jerry built."

Wittingly or not, Jones is our Pied Piper. He has passionately hypnotized Cowboys fans into ditching Landry, absorbing Parcells, embracing Owens, welcoming Pacman and now moving to Tarrant County. With his unique combination of money and moxie, he gets what he wants, usually when and how he wants it.

And no, thanks for asking, Jones isn't about to change.

"I'm not afraid to shove it all out there," he says. "There's no real guesswork on where I stand on most things."

Asked if Jones the owner will ever acquiesce to public outcry and fire Jones the GM in favor of an experienced football voice, Johnson says without hesitation. "No."

No one doubts Jones' powers of persuasion. His knack for attracting attention. Or the likelihood that he'll sell out the biggest, most expensive sports stadium in the country. In the midst of 10 percent unemployment and the bleakest economic times since The Great Depression, Cowboys Stadium is already 95 percent sold.

"One real advantage here is they have maybe the greatest salesman in America, who's selling and getting people excited about this project: Jerry Jones," Fox's Joe Buck told a national TV audience during his play-by play of the Cowboys' first pre-season game in Arlington. "You just have to believe he will make this work, whatever the economic situation is."

Jones sells you a stadium.

You wind up buying hope.

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Cowboys Stadium feels like a plush hotel with a football field for a courtyard. Imagine Ghostbar's synthetic beat and fake boobs, accented by artificial grass.

Two thoughts upon your first visit: 1. As a society that greedily lusts after grandeur, opulence and decadent excess, we're all going to Hell. 2. This is Heaven.

"With the excitement and visibility this gives us nationally and internationally," Jones says, beaming, one day during training camp, "it has a chance to be one of the important sports venues in the world."

It's at once an obscene, extravagant edifice and the final frontier of sports architecture. It's a temple. A palace that will host Final Fours, Cotton Bowls, NBA All-Star Games and Super Bowl XLV, built by The Joneses seemingly for The Jetsons.

And to think, the defining structure of North Texas and the nation's most significant sports stadium to open since the Astrodome in 1965 had every chance to be in Dallas' backyard. Then-mayor Laura Miller held talks from April-July 2004 with the Cowboys about a Fair Park site, but failed to reach an agreement.

Just imagine, a city that's stuck in the sand on a Trinity River project when it's not spending $350 million on a convention center hotel or wasting $50 million for a Cotton Bowl facelift, having a single businessman invest $800 million into its image and its future.

"I made it clear that we weren't willing to pay for half their stadium," Miller told The Dallas Morning News after the Cowboys took their ball and headed west five years ago. "I have no regrets that they went to Arlington. It's too rich for me."

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.

"It's breath-taking...wow!" whispered Julie McManus, dabbing tears after a 90-minute drive from near Waco. "This is one of those moments. I'll be able to tell my kids and their kids about how I was there the day Cowboys Stadium opened. Amazing."

Jerry Jones is unbuttoning his stadium.

And, as usual, the whole world is watching.

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