ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Jerry Jones could have just renovated Texas Stadium. Or he could've built the Dallas Cowboys a nice, new place for about $650 million.
Then Jones really thought about it.
With only one chance to do something like this, he didn't want just another stadium.
He wanted one of the biggest and the absolute best, something that would establish a new category of sports venues, like the Astrodome did decades ago and, in his wildest dreams, the way Rome's Colosseum did centuries before.
Nearly $1.2 billion later, Jones believes he might have done it.
"This," he says, "is the real deal."
Cowboys Stadium is a masterpiece of architecture and engineering, a facility that manages to be tricked-out without feeling like an amusement park, overwhelmingly big without making visitors feel swallowed.
The list of features is a roll call of first-this and biggest-that. The most stunning are the video boards, a pair of high-definition screens that run from 20-yard line to 20-yard line and are 25 yards tall, each the equivalent of more than 2,000 52-inch TVs.
Other highlights include a retractable roof and retractable walls on both ends; bars that seem plucked from five-star hotels; museum-caliber artwork; field-level suites with patios pratically bumping into the sidelines; a club players can walk through from the locker room to the field; and mingling areas for tens of thousands of fans who buy a $29 "party pass" instead of a regular ticket.
Since the doors opened two months ago, visitors have walked in expecting the grandest thing they've ever seen. For many, it still exceeds expectations.
"I wanted to be wowed and awed by it, and I'm totally wowed and totally awed by it," longtime Cowboys star Drew Pearson said during his first visit. "It makes me wish I could turn the clock back a little bit, lace up the cleats and strap on the hat."
The ultimate proof of this building's elite status is the list of events it has lured without its namesake tenant even taking the field.
The NBA All-Star game is coming in February, the Super Bowl in 2011 and the Final Four in 2014. All sorts of in-season college football games are scheduled, including a Notre Dame home game in 2013. The Big 12 will hold its next two football championship games here and is considering making it the permanent site. The Cotton Bowl already has moved in --literally, as its headquarters are right behind the broadcast booths -- and organizers hope the new address will help land the New Year's Day game a spot in the BCS.
Futbol is a big part of the stadium's plans, too. A special layer of turf was put in for a soccer pitch and an international tournament had the honor of being the stadium's first sports event. Don't be surprised if this place becomes the centerpiece of a U.S. bid to host the World Cup.
But the stadium isn't merely a ballpark, a point emphasized by the first event being a concert. And not just any concert, it was an unprecedented double-bill for the king and queen of country music, George Strait and Reba McEntire. The Jonas Brothers kicked off their current tour here, Paul McCartney was playing Wednesday night, and U2 is coming next month.
Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys will get their turn Friday night in a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. Fox is broadcasting it nationally, certain to make the building the star of the show.
"I had heard everybody saying it's big and da-da, da-da," receiver Roy Williams. "Then (I) finally saw it with my own eyes and it's the greatest thing on earth."
The Cowboys called the Cotton Bowl home their first 11 1/2 seasons, then moved to Texas Stadium in suburban Irving in 1971. The new building cost $35 million, a whopping sum at the time, and was considered a state-of-the-art marvel. It was packed with luxury suites and a hole in the roof "so God could watch his team," according to lore. Players sure responded to the upgrade, winning their first Super Bowl that season.
Jones took over in '89, knowing all along the lease would expire early in the 21st century. He started thinking about it more seriously as the millennium approached.
Fixing up Texas Stadium was eliminated pretty quickly. He looked into moving back to Dallas, but city leaders never took the idea to voters. He wound up being wooed by the folks in Arlington, already home to the Texas Rangers and Six Flags theme park.
In November 2004, Arlington voters approved a hike in sales tax to raise $325 million, supposedly half of the stadium's price tag, with Jones vowing to cover the rest, no matter how much that was. It didn't take long for the tab to jump to $1 billion, then it kept going. From the groundbreaking in April 2006 to the ribbon-cutting in May, Jones spent the equivalent of about $1 million per day.
"It never started with, `Let's just take a dollar amount and multiply it times 30 percent,"' Jones told The Associated Press during a recent stadium tour. "It basically began with, `What can we do to make this special? And what would it be to make it noteworthy?' And then the decision was, 'Well, is that something we want to expand what we're spending to get?' And, in many cases, it was."
Jones and his family traveled the globe for ideas, hitting Wembley Stadium in London, the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing, and facilities in Germany, Japan and France. They kept finding things to add, "changing the scope" of the project, as Jones likes to say.
The airport in Nice, France, was the inspiration for the building being wrapped in glass, one of many signature touches. This one is especially distinct because it's the first thing anyone sees -- and the view is constantly changing. Panels are sloped in a way that reflects the amount of sunlight available; internal lights make it glow at night. With all the angles and shiny facade, there's also a bit of rocket-ship look to it.
The building fills 3 million square feet, triple the size of its predecessor. It is tall enough for the Statue of Liberty to stand inside and about as wide as the Empire State Building is tall. More than 100,000 people are expected for the regular-season opener on Sept. 20, a Sunday night game with the archrival Giants, with around 120,000 likely for the Super Bowl.
The bigger the stadium became, the more the big-screen TVs were needed to make folks feel closer to the action. It helps having them above the center of the field, which is typical for arenas but is a first for an NFL stadium.
The screens are so dominant it's easy to focus on them instead of the live action. To fend off complaints from people who bought tickets but may wind up watching the game on the overhead TVs, the boards will carry images from eight stadium-run cameras, offering views far beyond what the networks are showing.
"We want it to be a great source of entertainment ... that you can't get in a living room somewhere," Jones said. "When you leave, you won't know which way you saw it, all you know is that you had a different experience than any place else."
Another signature touch is both ends of the football-shaped building sliding open like patio doors. There are no permanent seats in front of those spots, just vast areas that are part of the stomping grounds for the "party pass."
Essentially, it's a $29 standing-room-only ticket, just not the cram-in-wherever-you-can kind. There are platforms for fans to hang out, drink and people watch while looking down at the field or up at the video boards. Jones is counting on those people to bring a college football atmosphere to the building.
"The concept here is, `Hey, when you build a stadium, you've got your premium (seats), but then have an area where more people can afford to come watch the Dallas Cowboys play than any stadium in the country,"' Jones said.
There's definitely an emphasis on premium seats.
Seat licenses range from $2,000 to $150,000, and that doesn't even count the tickets themselves, up to $340 each. The prices drew so much backlash that the team ran an ad campaign emphasizing tickets were available for less than people thought. They must have worked because the team says about 95 percent of its club and reserved tickets are sold, and about 280 of the roughly 320 luxury suites were sold.
One thing Jones didn't sell was naming rights.
He either couldn't get as much as he wanted or anyone who could afford it didn't want to be scorned for writing a check that big in the current economy. So, for this season at least, "Cowboys Stadium" it is. But he does have sponsorship deals with Ford, Miller beer, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Bank of America and American Airlines.
There are still people who prefer names like Jerry World and Jones Mahal. While there's no doubt this will be as much Jones' legacy as the Super Bowl titles won during his tenure, he deflects the credit for the building. He insists this is a tribute to what the Cowboys have been and, he hopes, a reflection of what they will continue to be.
"Yes, we're proud of our building," Jones said. "More importantly, everybody that's got any Cowboys in them at all, have ever had it on them, I want them to walk in here and say, `That's my Dallas Cowboys.' That's what this is about."
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