ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Excess may be a dirty word in many facets of American life, but for sports fans who revel in it, this is a pretty swell year. With a couple of billion-dollar stadiums opening their doors for the first time, 2009 measures up in the history of mankind alongside AD 80, the year the Roman Colosseum opened its doors.
In April, the New York Yankees' $1.2-billion palace was unveiled. That stadium was both imperious and a bit chilly -- not unlike the team itself -- and ultimately underwhelming, a more comfortable mirror of the team's old home right next door.
That won't be an issue tonight in Texas. In fact, take any ancient Roman sports spectator you can find to the new $1.2-billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, site of its first regular-season National Football League game today, and he'll be gawking at the splendiferous setting.
At 3 million square feet, the stadium is among the largest air-conditioned spaces in the world. By contrast, the Cowboys' previous home, Texas Stadium, its 900,000 square feet moldering not far away and slated for tear-down, would fit neatly inside.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, October 06, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
NFL stadium: An article in the Sept. 20 Travel section on the state-of-the-art features of a new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys incorrectly reported that the stadium's site, Arlington, Texas, is south of Dallas. Arlington is west of Dallas.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 11, 2009 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
NFL stadium: A Sept. 20 article on the state-of-the-art features of a new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys incorrectly reported that the stadium's site, Arlington, Texas, is south of Dallas. Arlington is west of Dallas.
With its sloping, cantilevered glass and steel exteriors and open roofs --the top is retractable -- the new stadium has an eerie resemblance to the massive spacecraft dwarfing cities in "Independence Day," the 1996 doomsday sci-fi epic. Cowboys Stadium is clearly the mother ship.
For all the spaciousness and grandeur -- after all, everything's supposed to be big in Texas, right? -- the interior is surprisingly understated and welcoming. In fact, you can see it all and get in half a mile of pre-game exercise by walking around its upper level.
The palette is a sophisticated mix of silvery steel, charcoal and navy blue punctuated by colorful murals splashing the concourses and ramp ways. Contrary to expectation, Cowboys' stuff is not plastered everywhere; it's largely confined to more than 400 small video screens dotting posts, pillars and food stands.
In the words of Cole Porter, a man not usually associated with the gridion: The place is swellegant.
To achieve that balance, design elements were culled from sources other than sports enormo-domes. Planners drew from the glass walls at the upcoming Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton museum in Paris; the appointment of outdoor spaces adjacent to the stadium and the trees, grass and walkways were inspired by public spaces in Chicago's Grant Park; the idea for oversized video boards came when team owner Jerry Jones saw Celine Dion perform at Caesars Palace.
"Jerry realized," said Cowboys spokesman Brett Daniels, "that even from a close seat he spent as much time watching her image on the huge screen behind the stage as he did the singer herself."
Screen vs. real life
Thus, Dion, projected live, was deemed as visually compelling as Dion, live. It's a conclusion Dion might resist, but that's how it rolls at Cowboys Stadium.
In fact, once you stop sightseeing and settle in to watch the game, the dual video screens towering over the field become the experience, an afternoon in the world's biggest sports bar. The technology is simultaneously defining and daunting -- facing each sideline, the screens use 36 million LEDs (light-emitting diodes) to display more than 25,000 square feet of imagery. The boards stretch 60 yards long, projecting figures up to 70 feet tall.
It's not without its controversies. The video Goliath hangs so low that punters have hit it, prompting a "do over" rule.
The overhelming video screens create a first for any American sporting venue: The cheaper seats are the better seats. The design triumph of Cowboys Stadium is that, excepting at field level, all locations have equally impeccable sightlines. But viewing a recent pre-season game from each of the five seating levels established that the video boards were best experienced at eye level from the top 400-level seats than near the field. Fans in the nose-bleeders may pity the poor wretches down below, who paid hundreds of dollars more for seats that, in several locales, leave them craning their necks.
But a straight-on view of the video boards does result in a couple of unintended oddities. From a seat in the upper level, with the field perfectly framed below and those diodes seductively twinkling dead ahead, you find your eye instinctively straying to the crystal-sharp projections of light and color instead of the play on the field. After a while, the mesmerizing mirage on the boards had to be consciously resisted: "I will watch the next play live, really, I will."
Also, the video boards strangely diminish, not enhance, the players they are presumably designed to showcase.
As on stadium scoreboards everywhere, there were between-plays visual filler, candid crowd shots with fans mugging for the camera. Visually projected at super-human size, the average 8-year-old was displayed in larger dimensions than a 340-pound tackle walking back to the huddle.