ARLINGTON, Texas – The initial plans were modest. Jerry Jones said he was going to build a stadium for the Dallas Cowboys that would cost around $650 million. He asked suburban taxpayers to put up the first $325 million and promised to pay the rest, no matter how high the tab ran.
Once the votes were counted, Jones gave up on being modest.
He didn't want just another stadium. He wanted something unlike anything ever built, something as glitzy and audacious as "America's Team," something that would make every Sunday seem like the Super Bowl.
Nearly $1 billion of his own money later, Jones got his wish. And next Sunday, the NFL's showcase event, the Super Bowl, will be held in his showplace, Cowboys Stadium.
"You can't take for granted how amazing it is," said Bill McConnell, the NFL's director of event operations. "We're really excited about those two things coming together."
While the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers will be taking center stage, the stage itself will get plenty of attention, too, because this place embodies the notion that everything is bigger in Texas.
The Statue of Liberty could stand on the 50-yard line and not touch the roof. From end to end, the football-shaped stadium is longer than the Empire State Building is tall. The arches that support the retractable roof are longer than the Gateway Arch in St. Louis — twice as long, actually.
So it must feel like the Grand Canyon inside, right? Wrong. The void is filled by a center-hung video board that holds the world's biggest high-definition television screens.
The TVs are the stadium's defining characteristic. They stretch between the 20-yard lines and are 73 feet high. No matter how many times you visit the place, you can't take your eyes off the screens. OK, sometimes that's because the ball is at the other end of the field and you need help seeing what is happening. But once you start watching the screens, it's hard to snap back into watching the field.
There are extraordinary features throughout the stadium.
Parts of the concourse feel like a five-star hotel. Museum-caliber artwork is sprinkled around. Hallways in the suite levels are decorated with pictures from Cowboys history, both famous moments and candid behind-the-scenes shots. The Cotton Bowl game has its offices here, with the Xs and Os of its most famous moments etched into the glass. The biggest spenders can watch games from field-level suites or in the bars that each team will walk through to and from the field. Even the outside is elegant, with curved glass that brightens and darkens depending on the amount of sunshine, and end-zone doors capable of sliding open like patio doors; they'll be closed for the Super Bowl, as will the roof.
League owners picked this stadium to host a Super Bowl two years before it was even ready for business. There was talk of rewarding Jones for such a major investment and for rewarding his franchise for being the league's marquee club. Don't underestimate the profit that can be generated by a crowd of more than 100,000 people.
Trucks began arriving at 6 a.m. on Jan. 8, the morning after the Cotton Bowl, to start adding the Super Bowl touches. As much as the building was designed with this game in mind, there's still work to be done, like putting eight miles of fencing and 300,000 square feet of tented areas in the parking lots. Workers have painted the field and added about 15,000 temporary seats, filling pretty much every spot with a decent sight line, including the end-zone decks that had been giant display cases for sponsors.
"I think what the NFL is doing is taking all the bells and whistles that we've designed into the stadium and capitalizing on making them the best ever," stadium spokesman Brett Daniels said. "For example, one of the things they're doing here for the first time is an in-stadium pregame show live to the board. Just like people at home will be watching the Fox pregame show, people in the stadium will be seeing a live broadcast from here in the building."
Tickets carry a face value of $600 to $1,200. Those include seats. There are also $350 tickets to stand inside the building, and $200 tickets to roam a party plaza on the east side of the stadium. If this nose-against-the-glass experiment works, it could become a Super Bowl staple.
The Packers and Steelers are getting into town Monday. Both will be at the stadium Tuesday for the Media Day circus. Since neither team has played here, it will be the first time in the building for most players.
"I'm excited to see what the stadium's got," Green Bay running back John Kuhn said. "They said it's wild, so I'm really pumped up."
Some say the place looks like a spaceship. It's also been dubbed the Jones Mahal and JerryWorld.
Instead, it carries the simple name Cowboys Stadium, giving Jones another way of marketing what Forbes magazine considers the most valuable professional sports franchise in North America.
"That's the silver lining of not getting a naming rights deal," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based consulting company Sports Corp. Ltd. "He'd rather have the $30 million a year, and I suspect he will get it, but he is maximizing the value of this time without a name."
The only downer for Jones is that his team isn't playing in this game.
He hoped to become the first Super Bowl host to also participate and wasn't shy about saying so. The Cowboys proved to be such a big disappointment that he fired his coach midway through the season, after an ugly loss to the Packers. Now those Packers will be using the Cowboys' locker room as the NFC representative in the Super Bowl. As for the Steelers, this will be their eighth Super Bowl, tying Dallas' record.
"Great tradition, outstanding teams," Jones said this week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. "With what the Packers are about and what the Steelers are about, it makes a great game. If you're in my shoes right now as far as Cowboys Stadium is concerned, I'm really proud that they're going to be there. I'm proud for North Texas."