With just days left before the NFL draft 2015 I’m feeling a mixture of great anticipation (who will the Jets take at six? Will someone trade up to get Mariota?) ,combined with frustration that the number of variables involved in making draft predictions makes it nearly impossible to write about without getting twisted in knots. So in the words of Monty Python; ‘now for something completely different’.
Google tells me that I am an ‘Americanophile’; a fan of all things USA, and in order to satisfy my obsession I have been lucky enough to take several trips across the pond in the last two years. One of the most attractive features of the States is the huge difference between each place you visit, making it impossible to compare or choose a favourite. New York City is my first love, but partying on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, the Bellagio fountain show in Vegas, Grant Park in Chicago, The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and museum hopping in Washington DC show the diversity of the country. One activity which is always on the to-do list when visiting the USA is trying to see and tour (if possible) as many NFL stadia as possible with a bucket-list aim of visiting them all at some point. So far I’ve ticked off Met Life Stadium, Soldier Field, Candlestick Park, New Orleans Superdome and AT&T stadium.
Sports stadia in general are a source of great fascination to me, sometimes because of their worldwide fame (Wembley, Madison Square Garden), personal interest (MetLife Stadium, Elland Road) or because of the sheer spectacular nature of the building. Which brings me to the main topic of this post; the largest domed structure in the world; AT&T stadium, Jerry’s house.
As you drive up the I30 out of Dallas; the aptly titled Tom Landry Highway, there is plenty to see as Jerry Jones’ football shaped monster looms large on the horizon. Flanked by the huge coasters of Six Flags over Texas, Hurricane Harbour waterpark and the Texas Rangers’ baseball stadium, AT&T stadium sits in an area of Arlington, Texas which is designed purely for adrenalin and excitement. For a Cowboys fan the stadium experience, even without a game, is probably heaven on earth; the pro-shop stocking everything you could possibly imagine (and a fair bit you couldn’t) with a white star emblazoned across it. For a non-fan it was hard to not be impressed by the scale of the construction, the details in the design and the way the Cowboys brand oozes through every inch of the place. As a Jets fan, this is something which will never be possible at MetLife stadium due to the shared nature of the stadium. I was particularly intrigued to visit a stadium completed just a year before MetLife opened its doors.
Unlike the Superdome in New Orleans, which is an equally impressive structure to witness, it is possible to take a guided tour around AT&T. This usually involves an opportunity to throw a ball on the pitch, however sadly on my visit the turf was taken up in preparation for a huge country music event (very Texan). What hits you though, is the sheer enormity of the place centred on the simply gargantuan HD screen suspended in the middle which apparently weighs more than an Airbus A380. Fun fact; the Jonas brothers once played Xbox games on it.
Although the stadium is used for a wide range of events in the off-season from monster truck rallies to live music, football is clearly the central business with the motif of the ball shape being prevalent from the fountain pools above the end zone, (yes fountains) and lighting fixtures in the VIP clubs. The design is also focused on the fan experience, for example having enough toilets to avoid queue lines and thousands of flat screen TVs at various sight lines, so fans never have to miss a second of Cowboys’ action, even when paying for their Tex-Mex snacks. The more surreal elements include the full Ford range of cars stacked up on one of the end zone platforms, which have to be craned in through the huge opening end zone glass doors and huge individually commissioned art installations which you can tour separately.
The tour allows you to visit Jerry’s perch (his private game viewing box on the 50 yard line), an executive suite, the Cowboy’s locker room, VIP clubs and the media room. Oh yes…and the Cheerleader’s locker room.
If you had any doubt over the Cowboys’ prior successes, pictures, inscriptions and statues placed everywhere are clear and pervasive reminders.
Jerry has certainly put a lot of effort into trying to ensure the place screams Cowboys at every opportunity even though some might argue that it is the Jerry Jones empire, through the inconspicuous display of his wealth, that the stadium epitomises, hence the nickname ‘Jerry’s World’.
It is definitely true that not all Cowboy fans are all impressed with what he has created in Arlington; watch the 2012 documentary ‘America’s Parking Lot’ to follow the journey of some die-hard tailgaters and their emotionally charged relationship with the old Texas Stadium in the last season played there. As in many new stadia across America and around the world, the issue of personal seat licenses (PSLs) caused much understandable disgruntlement amongst fans. To illustrate, the tour guide was unable to put a price on some of the VIP PSLs which take up the prime viewing positions, only being able to explain that each are sold like real-estate for undisclosed costs, some for up to 30 years. The tour doesn’t take you to the ‘cheap seats’ which are mainly in the rafters. This matches the global trend (see Club Wembley as a further illustration) but definitely points to the increasingly corporate-centric nature of many high level sports in general.
MetLife stadium is very different, less shiny, more functional. As the location of two of the best sporting experiences of my life (despite Jets’ losses), I can’t complain too much. However, like many other Jets fans I find it frustrating that the Green and White identity that has been so successfully realised in the facilities at Florham Park will never be fully embedded at the Meadowlands, purely because every other week it turns blue. The temporary nature of all the Jets fixtures in and around the stadium (granted, I’ve never seen any of the club areas), makes a real bond with the stadium difficult, although Jets fans are more than used to this. At least it’s no longer named after the other team. As I’ve written previously, it is the passion of the fans which makes Metlife feel like the home of the Jets, not the fixtures and fittings, but I have a lot of respect for what Jerry has created in Texas. If you get a chance, its well worth a visit, Cowboy fan or not.
And with that…back to the draft.