With a $1 billion stadium for a backdrop, Cowboys greats Jerry Jones and Roger Staubach march toward the Super Bowl as Big Ds spot on the sports map gets even bigger.
Photographs by TADD MYERS
Listening to Jerry Jones talk up the Dallas Cowboys colossal new playground is like watching a child be in charge of the TV remote control. The Cowboys owner is all over the place, zigzagging with an excited vengeance through the project details.
Questions are taken just as suggested starting points by Jones, who sprays answers Gatling gunstyle. Jones launches responses with, "Okay, let me say three things about that" or "Well, I'd like to back up on that one and talk about..."
Nothing puts extra pep in his ownership step like talking up the teams new baby. The Cowboys $1 billion stadium, on pace for a splashy 2009 debut, was the centerpiece of a bid last year that finally established the Dallas Cowboys as a Super Bowl host.
Americas Team, as the Cowboys are known, a proud outfit with five Super Bowl trophies, has never presided over the big kahuna of domestic sports happenings, a fact that irritates Jones worse than a bad rash.
Done. Americas Team will finally host a Super Bowl and all its global pomp the opulent parties, the A-list sightings (Hey, isnt that Prince?), and a national TV audience of 140 million.
Last May, NFL owners awarded the 2011 Super Bowl to the Cowboys new home in Arlington, Texas, a suburb roughly halfway between downtown Dallas and downtown Fort Worth. Now its up to those three powerful influences Jones, Host Committee chairman Staubach, and the worlds most ambitious stadium to convince NFL owners that Dallas deserves a coveted place in the regular short rotation of Super Bowl venues.
This is a football region. The Cowboys have a great history here, and people all over the world are going to see that we have the resources for a great Super Bowl, one that hopefully people will talk about and say was done right, Staubach says. The Super Bowl continues to grow and gain momentum, and I think we're going to add to that growth.
Jones, progressive in thought but folksy in his ways, has known all along that his new facility would need to be something special. He understands better than anyone the burden of Americas Teams fame, the competitive legacy, the national visibility, and the iconic status of that fabled star on the helmet.
So what will distinguish this stadium? Sheer size, for one. It will seat about 80,000 in the bowl, plus thousands more in 205 luxury suites, easily the most in any NFL stadium. Add other crowd-packing maneuvers (including seating areas in large endzone plazas, where fans will watch on huge screens) and the Cowboys say Super Bowl attendance could reach 115,000. So the game in North Texas is sure to crush the previous Super Bowl attendance record of 103,985. That crowd saw Pittsburghs 1980 win at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
Designed by HKS, the Cowboys 2.3- million-square-foot facility, dubbed Jerry World, will feature a pair of dominating arches that seem destined to become regional landmarks, a retractable roof, retractable end-zone glass doors, a canted glass wall, a signature center-hung video board, and other gadgetry that should impress the most bookish of techies.
Jones sees even the cosmetic features as important, as tied in with the Cowboys substantial contributions to pro-football lore and NFL brand equity.
If you extend that to the idea of a venue, the quality of the venue, the size of the venue, it wasn't much of a step to say this must be recognized as one of the best, if not the best, sports venue ever built, Jones says from a sofa in his office.
You need a big-market area to justify a big building like this, yet you need the combination of public and private financial support in a big-market area, and it's hard to find one of those, he says. It's hard to find that in Los Angeles, as we know, because they can't get a stadium built there. It was difficult in Chicago. And it took two teams to get together and get it done in New York.
Jones has immersed himself in the process throughout, dating from 1995, when he began maneuvering through his own local minefield of municipal politics. In 2002, two years before hard-won final financial approval for the stadium, a process laden with emotional collateral damage throughout the region, Jones already had a huge wish list of design elements and features.
Jones' scouting trips to study other modern venues took him to pricey soccer stadiums in Paris, Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and London. During one of his four visits to the monstrous new Wembley Stadium in London, he met with project architects on a day when 3,000 workers buzzed about. The scale of what he was envisioning began to emerge.
"It really gave me some perspective on the task ahead," Jones says. "It helped me in sizing everything up, in terms of capacity and square feet, and really helped me to think at that level, that big."
Even as the team jetted to a fast start during the 2007 NFL season, led by new NFL wow-boy Tony Romo, Jones continued to visit the construction site three or four days a week. While the construction cranes whirred away, he communicated with contractors or hobnobbed with corporate chiefs, helping to arrange a powerful cache of high-dollar marketing attachments. Back at the teams headquarters, he practically bounced into weekly Tuesday meetings with stadium architects.
Jones remains absorbed by the competition aspect as well. He's chasing Super Bowls, Final Fours, high-profile college games, concerts, conventions, and other events to fill an estimated 250 to 275 dates a year. Still, the most recurring number in Jones' daydreams is six as in the clubs sixth Super Bowl crown.
That's why Jones took fliers and signed notorious NFL bad boys Terrell Owens and Tank Johnson. Brad Sham, the Cowboys longtime radio voice, says Jones has certainly learned that while fancy stadiums and lucrative merchandise sales are great, like all empty-calorie fizz, they eventually dissipate. That honeymoon wears off, Sham says. One thing hes learned: All these events won't mean as much if they aren't winning.
Even backed by the new standard bearer of stadiums, the Cowboys bid for the 2011 Super Bowl was hardly a slam dunk. It took NFL owners four rounds of voting to choose the Cowboys over other Super Bowl XLV suitors, namely, Indianapolis and Glendale, Arizona, where the Arizona Cardinals recently helped christen the new University of Phoenix Stadium.
As cities reach for Super Bowls, the financial prize keeps escalating. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the $463 million poured into Miami-area restaurants, bars, hotels, etc., last February represented a 17 percent increase over the $396 million gleaned from Super Bowl XXXIII, held eight years before in the city.
So when owners chose North Texas, most media accounts credited their decision to the lure of unrivaled revenue. Super Bowl ticket prices are projected to be $900 by then, and the Arlington stadium will have about 27,000 more seats than the other two finalists. That's almost $24 million in additional revenue, even before adding the multipliers from ancillary streams such as concessions and souvenirs.
Even in a league that generates more than $6 billion annually, an extra $25 million to $30 million cant hurt, wrote ESPN .coms Len Pasquarelli, who is among the nations senior NFL writers. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also talked up the venues extraordinary capacity.
While finances certainly matter, never underestimate the influence of ownership politics in the Super Bowl selection process. Jones admits that they do play a role. Who's upset with whom? Who owes a favor? Who is taking sides on revenue-sharing divides? Are there small-market, large-market splits in the room?
That's where Staubachs universal respect paid handsomely as the point man to lobby on North Texas' behalf. He remains revered by both the old guard and the new money of NFL ownership. He has two Super Bowl wins and only recently stepped down as CEO of the Staubach Company but remains very active with the company as executive chairman. With almost 70 offices nationwide and an annual revenue of more than $400 million, his business is among the countrys largest and most respected commercial real estate brokerages. Respected also as a civic leader, Staubach assuaged concerns, brokered deals, and generally helped contain any destructive acrimony during the assembly of the official bid document (200 pages plus thousands of pages of supporting documents) throughout the six months of its creation.
During the selection process, regions do not have a limit on the number of speakers allowed to make their pitch. Dallas chose just one: Staubach, someone who could effectively neutralize the careening politics during those tense meetings last May in Nashville.
Ultimately, it comes down to money and revenue streams that dont exist in other places, says Sham. But all those guys [owners] have a lot of money, so it is about more than just money at that level. Its about egos, and its about politics. You dont transcend that level of politics, you manage it. Id say Roger was probably the perfect one to manage it.
Phoenix's bid was the first to be eliminated. The Indy bid, braced by a thriving downtown scene, a new dome, and presentations from respected Colts head coach Tony Dungy and famous Indiana son David Letterman, was especially strong. As a counterweight, Jones said Staubach could add context to Dallas' place in NFL history as no one else could.
But the Dallas bid needed a little something extra. While the retractable roof subdued concerns about game-day weather, the owners still had to consider that weather conditions in North Texas in February can be dodgy. Wintry weather could discourage the well-heeled sponsors customary grippin' and rippin' on an area golf course during game week, and that's probably a bigger factor in site selection than anybody realizes, insiders say.
Even with domes available in places like St. Louis, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Detroit, and others, 13 of the last 20 Super Bowls have been in Florida, Arizona, and Southern California. Despite all of this, Staubach steely enough to engineer 23 fourth-quarter comebacks in the 1970s and a religious man whose life is grounded by 12 grandchildren copped to some nervousness as he presented Dallas' bid.
It was a healthy, good nervousness, he says. I didn't use a script. I decided I would personalize it and talk about what the NFL meant to me, how its defined my business life, defined our life as a family. I had the privilege of playing in four Super Bowls, and the ability to host a Super Bowl and to give back to the NFL was something I was looking forward to.
Was it Jones' idea to recruit Staubach to be the bid-committee chairman and, subsequently, the Host Committee chairman? Staubach can't exactly remember.
"But I was so readily accepting of it, I could have it confused with being my idea," he says with a chuckle. "It was such a natural thing."
While Jones continues to shepherd the construction of the stadium, Staubach is tasked with pulling off the broader event. Staubach is 65, but he just may be the youngest 65-year-old you'll ever find. He still quarterbacks a local charity football game; two years ago, fellow Hall of Famer Troy Aikman quarterbacked the other side. In fact, as a Super Bowl champion and MVP, a winner of the Heisman Trophy, a former Navy officer who volunteered for duty in Vietnam, and an architect of a global real estate company who knows plenty about big-enterprise structure and leadership, Staubach seems ideally suited for the Host Committee position.
The next couple of years will be about raising money, assembling sponsorship packages, and arranging a massive operational structure. Organizing thousands of volunteers is just part of the work, Staubach says. The nuance is in gaining the right tenor and leadership. The final 18 months prior to Super Bowl XLV are expected to be particularly challenging. That's when he and a soon-to-be-hired executive director (who will report directly to Staubach) will slog through hundreds of transportation, lodging, and security conundrums.
For guidance, Staubach's leaning on Roger Penske, the highly successful auto-racing owner who served as chairman of Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
"We know how challenging it will be," Staubach says. "I know we'll have the right people in the right places doing the right things, and we'll put on a great Super Bowl. But I also feel I've had enough experience, 30 years, dealing with building a business that I can make sure this is done right."