IRVING, Texas – IRVING, Texas (AP) — More than 20,000 people gathered at tailgate parties and other spots Sunday to watch fireworks go off one last time over Texas Stadium before a ton of dynamite lit up the Dallas Cowboys' longtime home and brought it to the ground.
The building known for the giant hole in its roof — "so God can watch his team," according to local lore — was demolished in a planned implosion set off by the 11-year-old winner of an essay contest.
The Cowboys played 38 seasons in Texas Stadium, winning five Super Bowls during that time. The local landmark also was home for the world famous Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
"It was much more emotional than I expected," said Pam Seal, a cheerleader in 1975. She decided only Saturday to drive from the suburb of North Mesquite to watch. "I'm so glad that I had my family out there to hold my hand through it. I didn't think I would be that much of a basket case about it. It was like saying goodbye to an old friend."
Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys and the stadium lease for $160 million in 1989. The night he agreed to the deal, he went to the stadium, laid on the 50-yard-line and looked up through the roof. Driving by before dawn Sunday, he said he got a lump in his throat. The blast itself turned out to be emotional, "more so than I thought it would be."
His daughter and granddaughter both cried.
Hundreds of people arrived Saturday and stayed up all night for "final tailgate" parties before the implosion scheduled for 7 a.m. Along with the more than 20,000 assembled at official locations, people watched from hotels and office buildings as far as 10 miles away in downtown Dallas. Many former Cowboys players were among those taking a last look.
The event was surrounded by hoopla befitting the glitzy image of a club that bills itself as "America's Team." Local television stations carried the implosion live, and ESPN's Chris Berman served as the master of ceremonies.
When Casey Rogers pushed the button, white light flashed in the stadium's interior and there was a rumbling that sounded like a drumbeat. Then the ground shook and a cloud of smoke went up as the building dropped within seconds.
"Awesome!" said Casey, who was still wearing his blue construction helmet a few minutes later. "It was better than I thought it would be."
The only glitch created a cool image: Three buttressing pillars leaned but didn't fall.
"Now we've got Stonehenge," joked Irving mayor Herbert Gears.
The Cowboys moved to the new $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium in nearby Arlington after the 2008 season. With the new stadium and others in the area — including the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, where the Cowboys played from 1960 to October 1971 — Irving officials decided they needed the land more than the building and opted to demolish the stadium.
The state already has a 10-year lease to use the property as a staging area for a highway construction project.
Over 38 seasons, the Cowboys won 213 of the 313 regular-season and postseason games they played at Texas Stadium. Many Americans can't remember a Thanksgiving that didn't include watching the Cowboys play there.
Hall of Famers Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman played there, and Emmitt Smith established himself as the NFL's career rushing leader. Coach Tom Landry set such a high standard a statue of him was erected outside the building.
The stadium also played a role in popular culture.
It was the setting for "Mean" Joe Greene's memorable commercial in which he throws his Pittsburgh Steelers jersey to a fan who gives him a Coke ("Hey kid, catch") and the movie "Any Given Sunday." Billy Graham opened the place with a 10-day Crusade, and country music star Garth Brooks held three nights of sold-out shows during which he flew over the crowd. There also were wrestling events, monster truck shows and motocross races.
The Cowboys and their stadium also led changes in the business side of sports, introducing personal seat licenses and making luxury suites popular. In the 1990s, Jones exploited an NFL revenue-sharing loophole by signing sponsorships for the stadium instead of the team.
Still, the enduring image of Texas Stadium will be an overhead image of a Cowboys game, shot through the hole in the roof and showing the men in the shiny silver helmets with the blue star cheered on by beautiful cheerleaders.
"Texas Stadium will never become tarnished, neglected or dishonored, but always remembered, revered and respected, a memory that will be cherished, a place forever honored by all of us who were there," said Alicia Landry, the coach's widow, at a Friday farewell event. "It was a special time and a special place, for the team and for the fans, to be part of our memories forever."