I really don’t know how to handle it. The once proud home of the Dallas Cowboys will be blown up in the morning. How do you feel after one of your best friends is “put down”?
Standing in the lobby outside today’s “A Stadium Farewell” luncheon at the Dallas Marriott Las Colinas in Irving, Maura Allen Gast of Irving’s convention and visitors bureau was having mixed feelings about Sunday morning’s scheduled implosion of Texas Stadium.
On the one hand the implosion means great PR for the city, Gast said, with 300 media types expected and exposure on CNN, Inside Edition, Good Morning America. On the other, Sunday will mark the end of a place–and an era–that touched many: “We’ve been surprised at the depth of emotion and passion for the history that happened at that stadium–by the fans, the players, really all of us,” said Gast
That was also a theme heard throughout the luncheon, where long-retired Cowboys stars like Drew Pearson, Chad Hennings, Billy Joe Dupree, Cliff Harris, Rayfield Wright, Preston Pearson and Walt Garrison tried to explain to a crowd of 200 why Texas Stadium–and the Cowboys teams they played for–were so special.
The luncheon, whose honorary chair was Alicia Landry, widow of legendary ‘Boys coach Tom Landry, attracted its share of local luminaries. They ranged from the Cowboys’ Charlotte Jones Anderson (she sat at Alicia’s table) and radio legend Ron Chapman to Irving Mayor Herbert Gears and Richard Holt, Dallas market president for Bank of America.
It was the ex-Cowboys, though, who attracted the most attention during a series of “live interviews” by co-emcees Scott Murray and Candice Crawford (pictured), a KDAF-TV reporter who’s said to double as Tony Romo’s main squeeze.
Murray kicked things off by noting that much has changed since Texas Stadium opened in 1971–and Garrison agreed. Clad in his trademark cowboy hat, the former ‘Boy and rodeo competitor recalled that back in those days, a can of Copenhagen or Skoal cost a whopping 27 cents. Garrison also recalled telling someone that he’d seen Coach Landry smile exactly one time, but added: “I only played for him nine years, though.”
Dupree, for his part, said the Cowboys of his era were “a professional team with a college attitude,” and that Texas Stadium “seemed to bring out the Hollywood in people.” Certainly, it brought out the big-time names. Hennings, for example, said that one of his fondest memories came one year after Dallas had finished whipping its arch-rival, the Washington Redskins.
Hennings was standing in the locker room, having just pulled on his shorts, when he felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around to find Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a huge Cowboys fan. “Chad, how are you?” the prince said. “I want you to meet a friend of mine … Nelson Mandela. Now let’s have a picture!” After the photo was snapped with a barely dressed Hennings posed between the two world figures, Chad recalled, he told the photogapher: “Burn the negatives on that one.”
Harris said he was personally awed by Texas Stadium, and that it was a threatening place for visiting teams. Two big reasons: the Cowboys had a good record there, and the famed “hole in the roof” could make it tough to see the football between the sunlight and the shade.
Preston Pearson, meanwhile, recalled the integrity–and the consistency–of Coach Landry. He also remembered how, during his first game at the Irving stadium, he was met with a sign that said: “Welcome to Dallas Preston Pearson.” That welcoming sign, he added, may be one reason “I’m still in Dallas 35 or 40 years later.”
Drew Pearson (pictured at left, with Holt of BofA) said Texas Stadium definitely added a “wow” factor to games, with the stadium’s ”high crown,” open roof and oppressive heat intimidating opposing teams. Coach Landry’s mystique also helped, he added.
So, how do the players who gathered in Irving today feel about the stadium’s imminent demise?
Harris was philosophical: “It’s kind of like tearing down the place you grew up in. But, it’s progress. We wouldn’t have had the  Super Bowl if not for [Jerry Jones’ new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington]. Texas is not for standing still; it’s for the new.”
Drew Pearson took a more graphic approach: “They can take dynamite and blow up the stadium. But the one thing they can’t do is take a stick of dynamite to my head and implode my memories.”
It was Wright, though, who had one of the last words–and the most poignant thought of the day. “I had a 17-year-old German Shepherd,” remembered Wright (pictured). “We used to drink a can of beer together after every game. That’s probably why he lived to be 17! But, I wound up having to carry him to the vet to be put down, to be put to sleep. After all these years, it’s time for Texas Stadium to go to sleep, too.”