Oh god, the unnecessary horrors one inflicts on oneself. Book the 8.50am flight on a SUNDAY morning to Dallas….it will be fine….we won’t go out the night before….
Get up, a bad case of the Heinekens from the night before; because even though there had been some sense shown with regard to a finishing time, 6 o’clock is still an early start. The taxi rings at 6.25 and says he is outside waiting, fantastic for him; I booked for 6.45 and am barely awake.
Road works leaving the city means a delay on the way to the airport, none of this helps the stomach. Get there and blessedly get through security quickly and head for the plane. United Airlines and all American airline companies in general, I am calling you out; your planes are a disaster unless you flying business or economy plus. The lack of legroom is a shambles, and the age and dirt of the seats is really, really unsettling.
In the middle seat between two strangers, avow all ideas of politeness and aggressively win the battle for elbow room early doors; a small mercy. The flight is packed, it is uncomfortable and it is rocky taking off. Not being now, or ever before, a nervous flyer any uncertain feelings in my stomach are chalked down to the night before. Blessedly land just over 3 hours later and the worst is over, out into fresh air.
Rent a car and head for the stadium. Enter the address for the parking lot into google maps and go. Google maps bring me to a spot outside a small housing estate. The stadium is not visible. Knowing that the stadium is vaguely approximate to an extremely large rock in the middle of an extremely flat desert this is a worry. Re-set and go again. Drive for another 15 minutes and we are there.
Tailgating is going on all around us, people in pick-up trucks loaded down with barbeques, flat screen tvs and beer. It is late October and the temperature in Texas is just perfect, mid to high 20s with almost no humidity. The kind of weather Ireland gets one or two days a year and which induces impromptu national holidays, runs on ice cream trucks and fights between drunken teenagers at the beach.
The atmosphere is relaxed and most obviously social. The game, the drinking, the eating, the whole day, is clearly THE weekly event for most of the people tailgating. Entire families are here, some of them won’t even bother going into the stadium to watch the game, and they sit outside, keeping an eye on the barbeques and flat screens. They will sleepily watch the Cowboys game on one of their five flat screens, all the while checking the progress report of players on their fantasy team across the other four.
Dallas Cowboys stadium (AT&T Stadium) is the stadium you’d get if you gave a teenage football fan unlimited money and told him/her to build his/her perfect stadium. The place is a monstrosity, but in a good way. If you’ve ever been to Wembley, or the Emirates, or any modern day stadium then imagine that, but imagine it on steroids; because that is AT&T Stadium.
There are 90,000 fans, a giant HD TV hanging from the ceiling (which is almost the length of the field), party zones where people are packed together in pens, drunkenly cheering and shouting (for a very reasonable ticket price of $25). There is a fountain in one place, with half a Ford car dealership beside it. There is an entirely unnecessary rotating ad display feature, with 20 HD screens rotating every few minutes to reveal….AT&T logos.
It is a cathedral to watching sports in the 21st century. You have brilliant mobile coverage (an absolute anomaly in sports stadium, which only makes sense considering the whole thing is sponsored by America’s largest mobile provider), you have great sight lines, tons of concession stands which means little or no waiting lines and while everything has a certain element of “stadium pricing” it is not the wholesale robbery which you normally experience. The entire focus of this stadium is on the fan and the fan experience, on encouraging fans to get off their couch and away from their 55” HD television and come to the game instead. “If you build it they will come” and they will come in great numbers, and spend the day, and drink beer and eat nachos, and be happy, and Jerry Jones will make scrooge mcduck loads of cash.
It is both the most American and least American thing I have witnessed – let’s make something as big and as obnoxious and as ridiculous as possible…but let’s make it accessible for everyone.
Before the game starts an American flag is unrolled to accompany the singing of the national anthem. It is in the shape of America and it is the length of the pitch. Cannons of smoke and fire are released.
The game itself is one of the original rivalry games in the NFL. The Cowboys against the Giants, Americas team against “Big Blue”; Romo against Eli; Romo against his (unfair) reputation as a choker; DeMarco Murray against the all-time rushing record; The list goes on.
The Cowboys get up early and they get up big; for the sake of atmosphere in the stadium that is to be encouraged. I have bought a comically large novelty polystyrene cowbody hat which is possible blocking the people sitting behind me, but the huge screen hanging from the roof of the stadium means in reality there is nobody in the stadium who can’t see what is happening on the field. The screen is distractingly large, you watch it for replays and before you know it you have watched five minutes of the game without realizing. In the upper level it is at perfect height to act as a giant tv for everyone in the stand. It is as if you are sitting at home, except there are 90,000 other people in your living room.
The seating situation in the stadium seems almost entirely fluid. People who have paid $25 for entrance to the party zone wander up and fill empty seats, enjoy the break from standing for fifteen minutes and then return from where they came. Other people move around to get a better view or get closer to the concession stand exits. Women are dressed, almost universally, in tiny shorts, tight jerseys and cowboy boots. Men are dressed, almost universally, in the uniform of male America on a day off – khaki shorts with a golf polo shirt tucked in about four inches above the normal waistline, both items of clothing at least two sizes two large.
The game continues and Eli Manning is roundly abused at all turns. The one brave (/foolish) Giants fan in our section also gets treated to some solid abuse from a couple of fans beside us who are of an age, but probably not a state of sobriety, where they should know better. He laps it up, safely ensconced within a group of friends who are all sporting Cowboys jerseys. At this point we are drinking novelty margaritas; in 25 degree weather; at an NFL game…the whole experience is marvelous.