The Death Star.
Or District 9, whatever you want to call it, the future of football lies in Arlington, Texas.
In the middle of Arlington, among a Wal Mart, Cici’s Pizza, and Panda Express, Cowboys Stadium looks extremely out of place. That being said, there aren’t many places outside of Dubai where a football stadium/spaceship wouldn’t look odd. The mystical mountain of a stadium can be seen from 15 miles away on the Texas horizon. As an outsider I imagined Cowboys Stadium to be a hostile environment with thousands of storm troopers on patrol. A place where barking Clevelanders would be forced to face the emperor and pay for their behavior. Instead of entering the Death Star though, we were welcomed to Jerry World, home of America’s biggest party.
Fans are greeted by the twanging of guitars and thumming of drums as they walk through the gates into a rock concert outside the concourses. A crowd gathers in front of a stage and dances along with the music. The party has only begun.
As you walk into the stadium, the sound system overwhelms you like walking into a bar from a quiet street. The music is loud, crisp, and reverberates through your bones. It feels more like an arena hosting the NBA Finals than Browns vs. Cowboys. Fans bop around the concourse, hands holding margaritas and shots, along with Miller Lites and MGD’s. Beer is a bit expensive. 16 oz. aluminum pints are $8.50, and they only sell Miller Lite and Miller Genuine Draft1, but food really wasn’t too bad. A Texas sized cheeseburger or Texas sized sausage with chips is $10, only a little more expensive than the $8.50 it costs at any sandwich place in Texas. Drinking, eating, and dancing is standard to see at most NFL stadiums, but here it was the main focus of the pregame, not the football, but enjoying the party.
What’s the best way to cap off the pregame party? How about 40 Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders? These women aren’t simply cheerleaders, they are icons. Fans young and old, men and women, boys and girls, all adore their Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. The Cheerleaders treated the fans to an extended performance capped off with all 40 in a perfect line doing the can-can.
How about Emmitt Smith on Jerry Vision pumping you up?
This is no ordinary place to watch a football game.
The game starts and the first thing we learn about Cowboys Stadium is that their fans get up for 3rd downs. Every good crowd should rise to their feet and be their loudest on critical third downs, Cowboys fans have no choice not to. The public address announcer roars to the crowd, announcing the down, followed by every single screen in the stadium/spaceship to flash “3rd Down”. As a player, you have to love playing in that atmosphere every week.
Although the atmosphere is a little gimmicky, it works. Before the game, the real cheer leaders, men dressed as cowboys, engage one side of the crowd to yell “Let’s Go” and the other to respond “Cowboys”. The back and forth is reminiscent of a college atmosphere. The passion of the fans and the decibel level of the sound system make Cowboys Stadium a raucous place to watch and play football. Cowboys Stadium is a loud environment for a road team to overcome, but not a hostile one. I felt as if I went to a party and a football game broke out. Much like the NBA, music is constantly playing, and fans are glued to the big screen. Where in most stadiums, big screens are over the end zones, Cowboys Stadium hangs Jerry Vision right in the center, much like a scoreboard hangs from an NBA arena. The clarity of the big screen and how effortless it is to view make it almost impossible not to watch. Whether it is Rob Ryan’s hair or the “most energetic cheerleader” competition2, everything looks great up there.
When I learned Jimmy Haslam was in attendance on Sunday, I couldn’t help wonder if he was taking notes. I imagine it will be hard for a fiery, competitive guy like Haslam to go from a futuristic funhouse, to the “Factory of Sadness”, and sit back idle. I proclaimed I’ll never be able to watch a football game the same way after my visit to Jerry World, and I have to think a billionaire like Haslam agrees with me. In today’s modern technological age, where attention spans are miniscule, and boredom is not tolerated Cowboys Stadium manages to dazzle you from the moment you walk in to the moment you walk out. Not a moment goes by where you don’t feel like you’re in a magical place. It feels like you’re in the future. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Jerry Jones appeared on the big screen, unzipped his head, an alien came out, and Cowboys Stadium blasted off into space. It’s that unique of a place and experience.
Along with me and 80,000 other on Sunday, Jimmy Haslam saw the future of the NFL game day experience. He saw the night and day difference of Cleveland Browns Stadium and Cowboys Stadium. He saw a spectacle, not just a football game.
What I hope Haslam saw more than anything on Sunday?
Jimmy Haslam has the fire, bravado, and most importantly the wallet to bring Cleveland Browns Stadium into the future. He may not be Jerry Jones, but he is at the very least Dan Gilbert. Much like Gilbert helped bring the Cavs game day experience to the top of the NBA, I expect Haslam to do the same for the Browns.
No one enters Jerry World the same way they went in, not even Tennessee billionaires. Jimmy Haslam may not have left Big D with a win, but he surely took notes. Cleveland lost on Sunday when Dan Bailey kicked the game winning field goal, but Cleveland won as soon as Haslam stepped foot in Cowboys Stadium.