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Thursday, September 17, 2009
Cowboys Stadium: A tribute to excess

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

James D. Smith/Icon SMI
Dallas will play its home opener this Sunday in the $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium, which will become the new standard by which other stadiums are judged.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has a different spin on an old saying: "If you're going to do it, you might as well do it bigger." This is a man who's been breaking rules ever since he barged into the NFL in 1989 -- and he's turned the Dallas Cowboys into the most valuable franchise in American sports.

Jones could have saved himself some money by staying in the aging Texas Stadium, but that would've been way too safe for the former wildcatter from Arkansas. It was his vision to build the greatest stadium in the world -- and he just might have pulled it off.
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On Sunday night, new Cowboys Stadium will make its regular-season debut when the division rival New York Giants come to town. Not many people know this, but in order to get his players' attention, Jones assembled everyone in the locker room in the offseason and told them exactly what he was spending per month. At one point during the 2008 season, Jones told me that the "burn rate" for the new stadium was $1 million per day. I'm never been a big burn rate guy, but that certainly sounded like a significant investment.

"Jerry has different ways of letting us know how important things are," linebacker Bradie James told me recently. "And the numbers he was throwing out got our attention pretty fast."

The latest word on how much the stadium cost Jones and the citizens of Arlington is $1.2 billion, but then, who's really counting? More than his three Super Bowls and numerous marketing breakthroughs, Jones believes this stadium will be his legacy. He'll look at you with a straight face and tell you that Cowboys Stadium will soon be as recognizable as the White House -- and I'm not talking about the structure shared by some of his early '90s players.
James D. Smith/Icon SMI
Jerry Jones went around the world to draw inspiration for Cowboys Stadium's design.

Jones and his family flew around the world looking for inspiration for the stadium. They studied London's Wembley Stadium and an airport in Lyon, France. To hear Jones talk about his passion for fritted glass is good for one's soul -- especially in that familiar accent. After trips to Great Britain, France and Italy, the Jones family made a pilgrimage to one of America's architectural treasures: The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where Celine Dion was making her 5-year run. Jones became so intoxicated by the images shown by an enormous video board hanging over the stage that he couldn't focus on Dion.

"I couldn't take my eyes off it," Jones told me about a year ago. "It was something I knew we'd have to have."

But more on that later. For now, Jones truly believes the opening of Cowboys Stadium will serve as a motivating force for his team in '09. He's done everything except name the stadium a team captain, but I think that's probably coming Sunday night.

"I think our team will play to the level of the new stadium," Jones said at the beginning of training camp. "We've spent a lot of time over the years talking about playing for the Cowboys, what it means, the visibility of the team, the interest in the team. We're the most-watched team there is in the NFL; we're the most-watched programming in all of television … the Dallas Cowboys. That's fact."

I've never heard of a new building leading a franchise to a Super Bowl, but Jones is convinced something like that can happen. Yes, going 13 years without a playoff victory can take its toll on a fan base, but it's nothing a $29 Party Pass can't solve.

OK, here's my list of features that will blow your mind about new Cowboys Stadium:

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
The massive video boards in the stadium's center have already created waves this season.
Until you see it in person, you can't truly appreciate JerryVision: I find myself studying the steel wires that are holding the enormous video boards suspended from the ceilings. It's a surreal experience to look up there and see this monstrous scoreboard -- and it's in HD. When I was at Giants Stadium last week, the video boards in the corners seemed like 50-inch Curtis Mathes TVs by comparison. It's fun to watch players walk out for warm-ups and just stare at the video board. And yes, every punter is going to try to nail that thing before the game. Bradie James confronted former Tennessee Titans punter A.J. Trapasso before the game and asked him why he was trying to bang kicks off the scoreboard. "Because it's up there," responded Trapasso.

There's a lot of wow factor associated with the stadium, but the scoreboard is the most memorable feature. There's nothing quite like it in the world -- not even at Celine's old place.

The players enter the field through a bar: Actually it's called the Miller Lite Club. After leaving the locker room, the players make their way to the field while surrounded by hundreds of screaming fans. There's nothing close to this around the league. Jones wants this to be an interactive experience -- and he's succeeded. But is it a good idea to give a bunch of fans beer bottles after the Cowboys have played a horrible first half? We'll see. Asked about entering the stadium through a bar, Australian punter Mat McBriar joked that he was "tempted" to stop for a drink.

The nighttime views from outside the stadium are stunning: Jones didn't cut any corners on all that fritted glass. On one side of the stadium, the glass wall is inverted at a 14-degree angle. For whatever reason, that allows thousands of lights to create a shimmering effect. At the base of all that glass is some limestone rock that has a Texas feel to it. The lead architect on the stadium, Bryan Trubey, told me recently that he wanted to create an "airy" feel to the stadium. So even when the roof's closed, all the glass makes fans think they're in an outdoor environment.

You have to love the Party Pass approach: I think the feature that excites Jones the most is the $29 Party Pass that allows an additional 20,000 fans to have standing-room only tickets. Jones envisioned it being like the pavilion areas at PGA Tour events. In the end zones, fans will be able to mill around sipping on $8 beers while watching the game. There could be 100,000 fans at the Giants game. Jones studied the other NFL stadiums and he talked about how Buccaneers fans loved the ship at Raymond James Stadium.

"They were on it like they were going after chum," Jones said of Bucs fans.

The Cowboys have the most expensive seats in the league, but the $29 Party Pass provides a much better price for fans on a budget. On Sunday night, Jones will roll out his prized possession for the world to see.

And don't ask him to raise the scoreboard.