IRVING (AP/KXAN) - More than 20,000 people gathered at tailgate parties and other spots Sunday to watch fireworks go off one last time over Texas Stadium before a ton of dynamite lit up the Dallas Cowboys' longtime home and brought it to the ground.
The building known for the giant hole in its roof — "so God can watch his team," according to local lore — was demolished in a planned implosion set off by the 11-year-old winner of an essay contest.
The Cowboys played 38 seasons in Texas Stadium, winning five Super Bowls during that time. The local landmark also was home for the world famous Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
"It was much more emotional than I expected," said Pam Seal, a cheerleader in 1975. She decided only Saturday to drive from the suburb of North Mesquite to watch. "I'm so glad that I had my family out there to hold my hand through it. I didn't think I would be that much of a basket case about it. It was like saying goodbye to an old friend."
Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys and the stadium lease for $160 million in 1989. The night he agreed to the deal, he went to the stadium, laid on the 50-yard-line and looked up through the roof. Driving by before dawn Sunday, he said he got a lump in his throat. The blast itself turned out to be emotional, "more so than I thought it would be."
His daughter and granddaughter both cried.
Hundreds of people arrived Saturday and stayed up all night for "final tailgate" parties before the implosion scheduled for 7 a.m. Along with the more than 20,000 assembled at official locations, people watched from hotels and office buildings as far as 10 miles away in downtown Dallas. Many former Cowboys players were among those taking a last look.
The event was surrounded by hoopla befitting the glitzy image of a club that bills itself as "America's Team." Local television stations carried the implosion live, and ESPN's Chris Berman served as the master of ceremonies.
When Casey Rogers pushed the button, white light flashed in the stadium's interior and there was a rumbling that sounded like a drumbeat. Then the ground shook and a cloud of smoke went up as the building dropped within seconds.
"Awesome!" said Casey, who was still wearing his blue construction helmet a few minutes later. "It was better than I thought it would be."
The only glitch created a cool image: Three buttressing pillars leaned but didn't fall.
"Now we've got Stonehenge," joked Irving mayor Herbert Gears.
The Cowboys moved to the new $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium in nearby Arlington after the 2008 season. With the new stadium and others in the area — including the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, where the Cowboys played from 1960 to October 1971 — Irving officials decided they needed the land more than the building and opted to demolish the stadium.
The state already has a 10-year lease to use the property as a staging area for a highway construction project.The old stadium for America's team became a pile of dust and rubble, as thousands of cheering fans paid homage to 39 years of fandom at the Texas Stadium on Sunday morning.
With the push of a button at 7:08 a.m. more than a ton of dynamiate brought down six million pounds of concrete and steel.
"It's a little surreal," said Lance Davis, 37, of Fort Worth. "We saw a lot of good games in that building. We saw Emmett Smith break the record for rushing yards, a lot of history went on there. But hopefully the new stadium will have as much history as this one as time goes on."
In about 30 seconds, down came the building that was home to the Dallas Cowboys during all five of their Super Bowl championships and was the birthplace of those famous cheerleaders. It also hosted events ranging from Billy Graham-led worship services to Von Erich brothers wrestling extravaganzas.
"They can blow it up, implode it, dynamite it - but they can't take away the memories created there," former Cowboys star receiver Drew Pearson said Friday. He planned to watch the demolition from a nearby building, "because I don't want anybody to see me tearing up."
For former running back Walt Garrison, it's just a building: "The memories are not about where you played, but who you played with," he said.
The Cowboys played their last game at Texas Stadium in December 2008, then moved into the $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington last season. The hole-in-the-roof stadium couldn't compete with its successor, or even area colleges and high schools, so leaders in Irving decided to clear the city-owned building for future development.
About 2,200 holes were drilled into the stadium's support columns and packed with dynamite. On Sunday, a series of 50 explosions on half-second delays levelled the building. The sound was like a drumbeat, the noise so loud it could be felt in the chest - and a thick dust cloud rolled up and dissipated just before reaching the crowd of an estimated 8,000.
The city charged $25 per car to attend what's being billed as "the final tailgate party." The proceeds will go to charity.