Stadium Visit Gave Me A Look Into A New World


I was in Dallas last weekend while the Cowboys were playing, and my sister-in-law Linda took me for “the nickel tour” of the sports complex — just a drive-by, really.

I know nothing of sports. I am a writer whose happiest days are spent hiding up in my garret — reading, writing and reading some more. Here’s what makes me happy — rain. Sounds great on the roof, calms the atmosphere, magically keeps people from calling me. Love it.

Now that I have seen Dallas tailgaters, I am aware of a whole new world. I also understand why football players make so much money and are cared for as if they are prized polo ponies. They are responsible for the weekend happiness (or sorrow) of hundreds of thousands of people. What they wear, everybody wears. They are cash cows for their owners; sources of pride (or not) for their sponsors. They can make little kids whoop for joy and grown men weep.

That’s a lot to have on your shoulders, padded or not.

When I was a teenager, I remember buying a ticket to a Led Zeppelin concert at the ridiculously expensive price of $7. I just toss that out there as a rate of comparison. The cheap seats at a Cowboys game cost 10 times that. To get into the parking lot of the Dallas stadium will cost you $50. If you decide to park a mile away in, say, the lot of a medical office building, that’ll still cost you $30. I was ready to buy a store, never open it and just rent out the parking spaces. Geez!

But evidently — rain or shine — the parking lot is the place to be. They have barbecue grills, tents, coolers, lawn chairs and all their friends around them.

“When does the game start?” I asked Linda.

“Oh, it started an hour ago,” she replied.

I thought tailgating was something you did until the game started, but no! I looked closer, and these people are watching the actual game on TV! They have big-screen television sets strapped into the back of their pickup trucks with little tarps over them to shut out the glare. (It was not raining last Saturday, but it was 95 degrees.) They line up their lawn chairs in front of their TVs — hundreds of feet from bathrooms, ice makers and air conditioning — so far from the action that they can’t even hear the roar of the crowd. Why?

Linda’s son told me that even when you have a good seat in the stadium ($178 and up), you watch the game on a TV, the Jumbotron. “You can’t really avoid it,” said his wife.

So, this is obviously a cult thing. Thousands of people make the trip to Mecca, set up their campsite and spend an hour or five worshiping their favorite team. Then, sunburned and a little tipsy, they head for home, where they will spend another couple of hours talking over the game and then, on Monday morning, reviewing it with friends. An “away” game means they are forced to do this in the comfort of their own homes or at a bar, surrounded by strangers.

I don’t understand it, but I do know one thing: there are never really any “strangers” among Cowboys fans. Whereas writers, we’re as strange as they come.