The Smith family of Pittsburgh didn’t come to Dallas this week to see their beloved hometown team play in the Super Bowl. They came to see Cowboys Stadium.
“It’s very, very nice,” said Johanna Smith, 63, who arranged the trip after the Steelers clinched their spot Jan. 23 in the National Football League’s title game. “Plush. Ostentatious. Like the Cowboys.”
Though local fans didn’t get their wish of seeing the Dallas Cowboys play for the championship with the home-field advantage, the $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium remains at the center of hype for the Feb. 6 Super Bowl. Thousands of fans and tourists are paying $40 apiece this week to explore the site where the game will be played, a 60 percent increase over the standard $25 tour price. About 1,400 people a day are taking the 90-minute excursions, which are sold out.
Tour-goers get to test the view from seats in a luxury, glass-enclosed skybox above the 50-yard line where Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sits to watch the games. Then the groups descend to field level for a look at the locker rooms, and stop by one of the bars where the players pass through on their way to the sidelines.
On the Sunday before the game, the Smiths took their turn in groups of 35 leaving every quarter hour from a tent erected in the parking lot outside the stadium. Lifetime Steeler fans Johanna and Rich Smith couldn’t afford the $600 to $1,200 price for tickets to the game. The cheapest ticket available on StubHub Inc.’s resale website yesterday morning was $2,575.
So the family converged on Arlington, Texas, the city between Dallas and Fort Worth where Cowboys Stadium is located, meeting up with their son and daughter and six grandchildren, who traveled from Houston and New Jersey for a close-up look at the Super Bowl venue.
“We’re fans,” Rich Smith said of himself and his wife. “They’re fanatics,” he said of his son and daughter, who both sport tattoos of the Steelers’ logo.
All wearing black and yellow Steelers’ jerseys, the Smiths were greeted by the sight of the stadium’s glass walls draped with giant portraits of Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward and other players from the Super Bowl teams. The family listened to tour guide Dustin Morrison’s Texas-sized patter.
Largest, Biggest Everything
“You are standing inside the world’s largest domed structure, the world’s largest NFL stadium, the world’s largest room that is not supported by a column,” Morrison told the group. “We have the world’s largest freestanding support arch that holds this building up. We have the world’s largest and the world’s fastest sliding glass doors at each end zone.”
He also pointed out what he called the world’s largest high-definition video screen suspended above the playing field, a 60-foot-by-160-foot video monitor weighing 600 tons.
“That’s the equivalent of an Airbus A380 jumbo jet on the runway, loaded with fuel, passengers and luggage waiting to take off,” he said.
The stadium, with its field embellished with the colors and logos of the two playoff teams, was bustling with criss-crossing tour groups and crews preparing for the game.
High above the end zones, on platforms usually reserved for standing-room only crowds, workers were installing steel bleachers. The risers were some of the about 20,000 temporary seats Jones is adding for the game to help beat the Super Bowl attendance record of 103,985, set at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, in 1980.
Squeezing More In
More people will be squeezed into tents outside the stadium, where they will watch the game from video monitors. Though with the extra seats and more than 5,000 media registered, “I think we can get to the NFL record without counting those outside,” Jones said at a press conference in Dallas two days ago.
Near the end of their stadium tour, the Smiths cheered when they entered the Steelers’ locker room. In the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders dressing room, they imitated poses struck by the cheerleaders in larger-than-life-sized photos hanging above the lockers. And in the Packers’ quarters, Rich Smith, 65, a computer consultant, said he put a hex on the rival team.
“I sat where I figured their quarterback would be and thought about him getting the heebie-jeebies,” he said.
Local Cowboys fans also took part in the tour, soaking up the atmosphere of professional football’s biggest event. “This is as close as I’m going to get with the cost of tickets,” said David Wilk, 64, who manages an engine parts shop in Dallas.
Leaving the stadium, the Smiths sampled some of the Super Bowl frenzy taking over the rest of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. East of the stadium, in downtown Dallas, the Omni Dallas Convention Center Hotel is draped with 15-story tall images of the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu.
The Dallas Fire-Rescue Department is monitoring 300 parties, concerts, fundraisers and other events in the city this week, said Joel Lavender, department spokesman, featuring celebrities including singers Prince, Willie Nelson, and Snoop Dogg.
Buildings in Dallas are lit up in blue at night, the color of the National Football Conference in honor of the Packers team staying in Irving, a Dallas suburb.
West of the stadium in Fort Worth, where the Steelers are staying, buildings are lit in red, the color of the American Football Conference.
“Now when we watch the game, we’ll have a better sense of it, knowing we were here,” Johanna Smith said after the tour. “It’s a beautiful stadium, but they made sure to tell you how much everything cost. That was a little strange.”