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.
Jr., who founded the Cowboys in 1960, never liked their original home in the Cotton Bowl - and he liked it less once Houston built the Astrodome. Dallas officials didn't want to build a stadium for a billionaire, so Murchison convinced suburban Irving to spend a then-whopping $25 million to build one. Murchison kicked in another $10 million.
When the team moved in midway through the 1971 season, during an era when players were paid about as much as ordinary fans, players were awed by a facility that would eventually change the world of professional sports.
"When we got into Texas Stadium, it felt like, 'This is our new home. We've got to make the most out of it,"' former star safety Cliff Harris said.
And they did. The Cowboys won their first Super Bowl that season. The cheerleaders started the next year, and more Super Bowl trips followed. Their glitzy image and state-of-the-art stadium helped brand them as "America's Team."
The nickname stuck as the club went from Roger Staubach to Troy Aikman to Tony Romo, Tony Dorsett to Emmitt Smith to Marion Barber, Bob Lilly to Randy White to DeMarcus Ware, Tom Landry to Jimmy Johnson to Bill Parcells.
Over 38 seasons, the Cowboys won 213 of the 313 regular-season and postseason games they played at Texas Stadium. Many Americans can't remember a Thanksgiving that didn't include watching the Cowboys play there.
Hall of Famers Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman played there, and Emmitt Smith established himself as the NFL's career rushing leader. Coach Tom Landry set such a high standard a statue of him was erected outside the building.
The stadium also played a role in popular culture.
It was the setting for "Mean" Joe Greene's memorable commercial in which he throws his Pittsburgh Steelers jersey to a fan who gives him a Coke ("Hey kid, catch") and the movie "Any Given Sunday." Billy Graham opened the place with a 10-day Crusade, and country music star Garth Brooks held three nights of sold-out shows during which he flew over the crowd. There also were wrestling events, monster truck shows and motocross races.
The Cowboys and their stadium also led changes in the business side of sports, introducing personal seat licenses and making luxury suites popular. In the 1990s, Jones exploited an NFL revenue-sharing loophole by signing sponsorships for the stadium instead of the team.
Still, the enduring image of Texas Stadium will be an overhead image of a Cowboys game, shot through the hole in the roof and showing the men in the shiny silver helmets with the blue star cheered on by beautiful cheerleaders.
"Texas Stadium will never become tarnished, neglected or dishonored, but always remembered, revered and respected, a memory that will be cherished, a place forever honored by all of us who were there," said Alicia Landry, the coach's widow, at a Friday farewell event. "It was a special time and a special place, for the team and for the fans, to be part of our memories forever."
The hole-in-the-roof concept was to keep fans comfortable while exposing players to the elements, which didn't really catch on.
But other concepts did - for better or worse.
Personal seat licenses can be traced to Murchison forcing fans to buy bonds to buy season tickets. He also pioneered catering to the elite by building 176 luxury suites, billing them as a "personalized penthouse." They became so popular, the stadium eventually had 360.
When Jerry Jones took over, he exploited a loophole in NFL revenue-sharing rules by getting companies to sponsor his stadium instead of his team. He ended up making big bucks from Pepsi and Nike at a time when Coke and Reebok were league sponsors.
The building deteriorated over the years, but it always looked great on television. Anyone flying into Dallas' two major airports probably heard a pilot pointing out the place below.
"Texas Stadium just happened to bring out the Hollywood in people," longtime tight end Billy Joe DuPree said. "It was always show time on Sundays."
The final show happened Sunday.
The wireless button to trigger the detonation was pushed by 11-year-old Casey Rogers of nearby Terrell. He won a nationwide essay contest by writing about his charity, Casey's Heart, which provides food and clothes to the homeless.
It's one of the few sentimental demolition jobs for Jim Rawson, the project manager for A&R Demolition who has been helping blow up buildings for 20 years. He grew up a Cowboys fan. But his field superintendent, Terry Tejada, is a lifelong 49ers fan.
"When we brought in the first machine, I actually yanked my operator off of it and I got on it," Tejada said with a big smile. "I was the first one to tear this building up. I loved it."
Dirt scooped up for a nearby highway construction project has been used to fill in the stadium's subterranean level. The state transportation department has a 10-year lease to use the land as a staging area for the project, with an escape clause if a development deal comes along.
A sense of fading nostalgia was already evident at a luncheon
Friday, when Mayor Herbert Gears presented a key to the city of Irving to Alicia Landry, widow of the club's longtime coach. It was the city's last key featuring the stadium.
What will replace it?
"We're still working on that," Gears said.
Karen Brooks of KXAN reported from Irving.
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