In his October story, “Arlington’s Team,” senior editor Gary Cartwright describes the ongoing struggle over whether to build a new stadium in Dallas for the Dallas Cowboys. Here, Texas Monthly recalls the key venues that have hosted professional football over the years.
Cotton Bowl, Dallas
Each fall, fans of the Longhorns and the Sooners pack the Cotton Bowl for the Red River Shootout. But lately the annual game between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma is one of the few occasions that fills the stadium to capacity. With no permanent tenant currently utilizing the facility, the Cotton Bowl has become more of an icon than a functioning sports arena. Its symbolic value, however, stems from its strong heritage as a Texas football landmark.
The building was constructed in 1930 after the Fair Park Football Stadium, built in 1921, was deemed unfit for the Southern Methodist University Mustangs. Originally named the Fair Park Bowl, the Cotton Bowl took its current title in 1937. Built for $328,000, the structure could support a crowd of more than 45,000, and it welcomed Mustang fans off and on for several decades. Dubbed the House That Doak Built in honor of the legendary SMU running back Doak Walker, the Cotton Bowl still stands amid other Fair Park sites like the Tower Building, the Band Shell, and Centennial Hall.
According to The Handbook of Texas Online, the stadium was expanded by almost 30,000 seats during the late forties and furnished with new changing rooms, a multilevel press box, and an automatic sprinkler system. So in 1960, when the Dallas Cowboys joined the National Football League and the Dallas Texans joined the American Football League, both teams found a home on the grass playing field of the Cotton Bowl. The Texans’ short-lived stay ended in 1963 (they became the Kansas City Chiefs), but the Cowboys remained residents of the building until 1971, the year they relocated to Texas Stadium, in Irving. The Mustangs played at different venues and ended up at the Cotton Bowl from 1995 through 1999 before moving to their new on-campus facility, the Gerald J. Ford Stadium, in 2000.
Discussions emerged in the nineties about doming the Cotton Bowl, but plans were paused when Dallas decided to seek the 2012 Olympics. Had the bid succeeded, the stadium and its surrounding areas would have undergone a massive renovation, but instead only London, Madrid, New York, Paris, and Moscow remain potential sites for the Games. According to a 2001 article in the Houston Chronicle, Cotton Bowl Dome Foundation founder Darrell Jordan still wanted to proceed with the goal of an “all-weather stadium,” despite the loss of the Olympics. His latest efforts, though, concentrate not so much on the Cotton Bowl itself but on the fight to bring the Cowboys back to Fair Park.
Despite the uncertainty about Fair Park’s future, football fans can be certain of three things: The annual State Fair Classic, a matchup between Prairie View A&M and Grambling, will take place on October 2, 2004; the Red River Shootout will return October 9, 2004; and the SBC Cotton Bowl Classic will host teams from the Big 12 Conference and the Southeastern Conference on January 1, 2005.
Texas Stadium, Irving
The hole in the roof of Texas Stadium spans 2.25 acres in width, but this expansive opening is more than just a gateway to fresh air. Supposedly, God looks through the space to watch his favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys.
Prior to 1971, the year the Irving stadium was completed, the Cowboys played at the Cotton Bowl, in Dallas’s Fair Park, but $35 million in bonds helped propel “America’s Team” into a new building complete with hundreds of luxury suites and more than 65,000 seats. For several decades the team played on a surface similar to the Astrodome’s Astroturf, but in 2002, the Cowboys switched to RealGrass, a synthetic substance that provides a feel close to that of natural grass.
The Cowboys and high-school football teams are the only current inhabitants of Texas Stadium, but how long the professional squad will remain is under deliberation. A biennial evaluation in 2002 deemed the stadium in relatively good condition, with wear and tear on the roof being the only real problem; however, as Texas Monthly senior editor Gary Cartwright reveals in the October issue, the latest dilemma centers on owner Jerry Jones and his mission to erect a new Super Bowl-worthy stadium.
In the meantime, the Cowboys have kicked off yet another football season at Texas Stadium, their just-out-of-Dallas home of 33 years.
The legacy of the Houston Astros and their similarly named stadium dates back less than fifty years. Around 1960, Judge Roy Hofheinz introduced his Colosseum-inspired model for a domed stadium, and in October 1960, the National League granted Houston a franchise. The new Colt .45s played their first season in 1962 at Colt Stadium, but the building was just a waiting station while architects constructed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
The Astrodome cost about $35 million for initial construction and $60 million in 1989 for renovations. The air-conditioned facility on Kirby Drive opened in 1965 as the Harris County Domed Stadium, but soon the Colt .45s became the Astros and their home base changed its name to the Astrodome. The gem of the air-conditioned building was its eighteen-story domed ceiling featuring more than four thousand skylights. It also sported 53 luxury suites and a 474-foot scoreboard.
But one strike against the stadium became immediately clear. Even though the fans could enjoy the game from anywhere in the stadium, the players quickly found fault with the design. As sunlight shone through the ceiling’s windows, it obscured their ability to spot fly balls. Workers, therefore, painted over some of the skylights, but the lack of natural sunshine then caused the grass to die. The result was the introduction of artificial grass called Astroturf.
During its first year in operation, the Astrodome also became the center for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The stadium expanded its resume as a sports venue in 1968 when it welcomed the American Football League’s Houston Oilers. The team had played previously at Jeppesen Stadium and Rice Stadium, but for the next three decades, the Oilers would entertain fans at what many Houstonians came to call the ‘Dome.
Over the years, the facility hosted sports competitions, lassoing contests, concerts, and special events, but during the nineties, its status as a revolutionary stadium and its place as a Houston landmark were overshadowed by financial issues and modern stadiums elsewhere. The original scoreboard that once displayed graphic animation at every touchdown and homerun had been replaced in the 1989 renovation to make room for about 10,000 additional seats, but such expansion did not suffice. Both teams sought new facilities, and after the 1996 season, Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams relocated his organization to Tennessee.
Reliant Energy bought naming rights to the structure in 2000, making it the Reliant Astrodome, but the corporate-named building lost the Astros to downtown’s new ballpark, Minute Maid Park. When the Houston Texans joined the NFL in 2002, they played in the Astrodome’s newly constructed, more macho neighbor, Reliant Stadium.
Reliant Stadium, Houston
Houston’s most recent professional team could have been a hockey squad, not a football team. That was the initial attempt by Chuck Watson, a minority owner of the Houston Aeros, and Bob McNair, the founder of Cogen Technologies. But football fans can thank the National Hockey League for rejecting that idea and thus encouraging the men to pursue the pigskin instead.
Watson and McNair focused on proving to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue that the city should be awarded an expansion team. Neither Rice Stadium nor the Astrodome would suffice, and their proposal for a new stadium had to outshine any plan from Los Angeles, a city also seeking a franchise.
As Houstonians learned with the abandonment of the Astrodome, sometimes even a world wonder can’t compete in the big leagues. Architectural innovations of the sixties no longer wowed fans and visitors. These days, a stadium must truly be electrifying, and therefore, in 2000, Houston began constructing the state-of-the-art Reliant Stadium. Purchased by Reliant Energy, the official naming rights cost $300 million over 32 years and apply to the whole complex—Reliant Park—in which the stadium sits.
Thirty five years after the Astrodome sprang up for less than $50 million, it was clear that such a fee could no longer guarantee a professional franchise. Instead, Reliant Stadium’s cost by opening day was $449 million, paid for by taxes, personal seat licenses, a loan from Harris County, and a loan from McNair, the owner of the new NFL franchise team, the Houston Texans. But in exchange for the high price tag came bragging rights: The building was the first NFL facility with a retractable roof made of Teflon-coated cloth, big-spending fans literally sit in the lap of luxury as they watch the games from one of the 187 suites, and the team works out in the NFL’s largest weight room and plays on a field of natural grass.
Workers broke ground on the new arena on March 9, 2000, and Reliant Stadium opened on August 24, 2002, with the Houston Texans charging into the spotlight. Earlier this year, the stadium hosted the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, but these teams were just guests at Houston’s premiere sports venue. Week after week, Texan supporters decked out in red-white-and-blue garb show up ready to tailgate at Bud Plaza, hoping that one day they too will have a Super Bowl-ready squad.