Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A trip to Jerry World

Nick Eilerson, Cavalier Daily Columnist
October 28, 2009

As a diehard football fan, I was eager to skip Virginia’s game against Georgia Tech this past weekend. For me, some things are just more important than college football — like professional football, for instance.

For a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan like me, the perfect Sunday afternoon is spent in the sublime comfort of the brand-spanking new Cowboys Stadium watching quarterback Tony Romo befuddle defenses and wondering how in the heck those little wires hold up that 1.2 million pound video screen above the field. This past Sunday, my dream became reality.

Some years ago, when we heard that the ever-modest Jerry Jones was planning to build the greatest football stadium the world has ever seen, my family made a decision: We had to go. For the sake of our undying fanhood, we simply had to catch a game in the Cowboys’ first season there. When Dallas finalized its 2009-10 schedule, we had a hard time choosing which contest to attend. In the end, we settled on the Falcons game. Good call, us.

On Saturday morning, we embarked on our journey to the town of my birth, eagerly anticipating Dallas’ critical matchup with the 4-1 Falcons.

Upon first glance about a mile outside the place, it seemed clear that what awaited us was either the giant UFO from the movie “Independence Day” or the Death Star itself. This thing is enormous, especially amid the myriad of sheisty auto shops and car dealerships that comprise the rest of Arlington, Texas.

The outside of the building is almost entirely covered by glass, including two 120-foot glass doors in both end zones that slide open at the press of a button. I was also especially pleased to find several enormous televisions outside that allowed fans to watch every noon game being played.

Speaking of TVs, they were absolutely everywhere inside the stadium. They litter the place like cockroaches in a Manhattan apartment. Except that instead of disgusting bugs, they are all picture perfect Sony LCD flat screens. I kept trying to look in a certain direction to see if I could avoid having a television anywhere in my field of vision, but to no avail.

Among the more than 3,000 TVs, however, one in particular sort of stood out the most: JerryVision — the 60-yard-long video display board 90 feet above the field. It’s the largest high-definition television screen in the world, costing more than $40 million to construct — allegedly more than the entire cost of the Cowboys’ former home, Texas Stadium. After finding our seats about two hours prior to kickoff, we sat back and watched the Steelers-Vikings game being played on the gargantuan screen, all the while monitoring the punters’ warm-up kicks (none of which we saw hit the board).

Wandering along the 1.5 mile trek around the inside of the stadium, I tried not to blink for fear of missing something amazing, as every little detail was impressive: huge blue and white football-shaped light fixtures above the concourse, prime rib and free drinks in the club level, elevators and escalators everywhere, bars wrapped in crocodile leather, hundreds of luxury suites, random artwork making every area unique. But nothing could compare to the Miller Lite Club.

At Cowboys Stadium, players enter the field through a bar, something we definitely had to check out. With beer in hand and camera phone in the air, I hooted and hollered at the top of my lungs with all the other rabid fans as the players I had come to know via television strutted right by me within arm’s reach. There went Romo, looking surprisingly large in real life, and there was Marion Barber, adjusting his black band over a sinewy arm that could tear me in half, and oh Lord … there lumbered Flozell Adams, possibly the largest living creature I have ever encountered.

After all the hoopla of pregame introductions, we scrambled back to our seats, which were nicely positioned across the 40 yard-line about halfway up. We were actually some five rows below and to the left of Troy Aikman and the NFL on FOX booth. Before the game, I waved frantically up at Troy and, although I can’t be completely certain, I’m pretty sure we made eye contact.

All the amenities and distractions made me temporarily forget about the significance of the game itself, but when kickoff rolled around I buckled down and zeroed in on the action. The Falcons got the ball first, and they didn’t let the distractions of Jerry World phase them. After a methodical opening drive that ended in seven points for the visitor, I shook my head and hoped we hadn’t come all this way to witness an embarrassing beat down.

As it turned out, we did end up witnessing an embarrassing beat down, although it was thankfully in our favor. Gleeful high fives and hugs abounded as we watched our Cowboys roll to a decisive 16 point victory. The Dallas offense I’ve been waiting for all season finally emerged right before my eyes, as Tony Romo resiliently recovered from a first quarter neck injury to pick the Falcons defense apart for 311 yards and three touchdowns en route to the offense’s highest point total of the year. Meanwhile, Miles Austin continued to dazzle, racking up 171 yards and two touchdowns to solidify his new role as the team’s No. 1 receiver. Austin is quickly becoming the Tony Romo of receivers, an undrafted free agent whose sudden success has morphed him into one of the league’s top players.

The defense recovered beautifully after the opening drive, forcing four turnovers and making Falcons quarterback “Matty Ice” look more like “Fatty Lice” (yes, that’s the best I could come up with). Particularly inspiring was the play of Keith Brooking, the 33 year-old linebacker who was dealt to the Cowboys this season after 11 years with the Falcons. According to Brooking, the last thing Falcons coaches told him before releasing him was that the NFL was a “young man’s game.” Although his numbers on the day were not particularly impressive (two tackles), the team’s second-leading tackler unleashed all his anger on the field as he furiously helped clog running lanes and pursue ball-carriers. Brooking was easily the most enthusiastic player out there, pumping his arms and glaring at the Atlanta sideline after almost every play.

At a cost of approximately $1.15 billion, Cowboys Stadium is truly the epitome of excess, the very embodiment of an American culture driven by the words bigger, better and faster. Nothing about it is cheap, as the tickets are the most expensive in the league. Heck, even a 20-inch pizza costs $60. But it’s also a highly unique commodity in the sports world, providing a fan experience unlike any other. It’s a surreal sporting icon, the stuff of fantasy, and it’s likely a pioneer in the future trends of sporting experiences. For me, though, it was ultimately the stellar play of my favorite team that pleased me the most.

And if you still think watching the game at home beats being there, think about the difference between suffering through commercials and staring at crystal-clear images of those well-proportioned Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders via JerryVision. Trust me, folks, it’s well worth it…