Texas Titanic

And now for something completely different…

Unlike seemingly everyone else in the Pagan and UU communities, I like sports. I liked playing sports when I was a kid, although I wasn’t very good at anything. I took up running at age 36 and completed two marathons and numerous shorter races before injuries and weight gain forced me to stop.

But I still like watching sports, and when the new Cowboys Stadium opened earlier this year, I wanted to see it. But I didn’t want to pay NFL prices. Today, Cathy and I drove to Arlington to see Texas Tech and Baylor play, but mainly to see the monument Cowboys owner Jerry Jones built to himself.

As stadiums go, there’s a lot to like about this one. I’ve seen mixed reviews on the architecture, but I like it. I’m fond of the faux-old baseball parks, but professional football is a modern sport – it seems right that it be played in a glass and steel building that some have compared to a spaceship. It’s bright, open and spacious. I’m more than a bit claustrophobic and I detest crowds, but I never felt crowded, even though the stadium was sold out. Lines at the concession stands were reasonable and lines in the restrooms were non-existent – men’s and women’s.

The sight lines are as good as advertised. Our seats were in the second level end zone and we had a great view. I wouldn’t hesitate to sit anywhere in the third level, but I wouldn’t sit in the fourth level if the tickets were free – you’re just too far away from the field. The video boards are impressive, but watching them defeats the purpose of actually going to the game.

As reported elsewhere, the acoustics are horrible. Do not pay money to go to a concert in this stadium. I’m genuinely surprised that Jerry Jones put so much work into perfecting all the visual details and ignored the sound.

Concession prices are obscene, even by stadium standards. A tub of popcorn that would cost $6 at a movie theater was $10, a 32 oz. drink was $6, and a 20 oz. bottle of water was $5. They weren’t selling beer (at least not on this level) – don’t know if that was because it was a college game or because it was Baylor’s home game. The signs on the coolers said $8 for a 16 oz. bottle.

Traffic and parking were very well organized, although we paid for reserved parking when we ordered the tickets. Things may or may not have been so smooth at some of the more distant cash lots. I drove to Texas Stadium once – it took me over an hour to get out of the parking lot, and I swore I’d never go back. I didn’t. This was infinitely better.

Cathy and I enjoyed ourselves and the new stadium lives up to the hype. But two things about it really bother me.

We got there about two hours before kickoff. Part of that was to stay out of the worst of the traffic, but mostly I wanted to wander around the stadium and see what it looks like from every vantage point. You can’t. Every section has its own entrance, and every transition point is blocked by “stadium staff” to make sure you stay in your section. I know that helps keep the crowds manageable, and as someone with a professional interest in efficiency and a personal interest avoiding chaos, I can appreciate that. But I couldn’t help feeling like I was on the Titanic, safely locked away from my “betters” in first class and the “peasants” in steerage. I don’t like that.

The second thing I don’t like is the sheer extravagance and expense of it all. Jerry Jones has been quoted numerous times saying he wanted it to be “the best.” Other than the sound, he succeeded. But he spent $1.2 billion (a combination of his own money and Arlington tax dollars) to do it. For $352 million (in 2002) the Houston Texans built Reliant Stadium, which also features a retractable roof and can be reconfigured for other events. From everything I’ve heard and read, it’s an excellent place to watch a football game. Because the cost to build was lower, the cost of events is also lower. Again, I can’t help but think of the Titanic, and the hubris behind it.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are watching Tennessee play football in Neyland Stadium, which opened in 1921 and has been under construction or renovation virtually non-stop ever since. And I’ll never forget sitting behind the band, in the snow and watching Purdue upset Michigan in 1996.

Here’s the bottom line. If you want to watch a football game, stay home and watch it in HD. You’ll have a better seat, a better view, cheaper concessions, and when the game is over, you won’t have to drive home. If you want to experience a football game, go to one of the on-campus college stadiums, squeeze into the metal bleachers with 100,000 of your closest friends and cheer your lungs out.

If anybody’s interested, the engineers beat the Baptists 20-13.

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