ARLINGTON, Texas • The Missouri and Oklahoma State football teams have their share of high-profile players, but when the Cotton Bowl kicks off Friday night, the main attraction will be AT&T Stadium, the cause of countless strained necks and retinas from the thousands of visitors who have passed through the sparkling home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Knowing many of his Mizzou players had never set foot in the 4-year-old building, Gary Pinkel decided to have the ninth-ranked Tigers (11-2) practice all week in the stadium, starting Saturday. That way, the players could spend the first few days lifting their jaws off the turf and get acclimated to the lavish surroundings, starting with a video board that hangs from the roof and stretches from one 20-yard line to the other.
“Man, the first time I walked out here for our first practice, I was like a chicken in the rain looking up the entire time,” Missouri offensive guard Max Copeland said. “Coach was like, ‘Max, stop.’ But it’s so pretty.”
Before the Tigers arrived in Dallas on Friday, junior receiver Darius White, a Fort Worth native, joked that the video board was as big as Mizzou’s indoor practice facility in Columbia. He wasn’t that far off. The screen is suspended 90 feet above the field and weighs 1.2 million pounds. Upon completion in the summer of 2009, it was the biggest high-definition screen in the world but has since been surpassed by the video board at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In five NFL seasons, punters have twice hit the video board with towering kicks. Missouri’s Christian Brinser was trying his best to plunk the screen with kicks during practice Sunday and Monday but came up short.
“I’d like to think I can, but it’s a lot higher than it looks,” he said. “I came close after Sunday’s practice, but I’m not going to try too much because I want to get used to kicking in here normally.”
The video board is only one of many amenities at AT&T Stadium, a nine-story structure that’s considered the world’s biggest domed stadium. It officially seats 80,000, though 91,166 attended Sunday’s Cowboys-Eagles NFL game and more than 100,000 have filled the stadium for non-football events. The stadium is home to more than 300 suites and more than 3,200 HD TVs scattered throughout the building.
Along with Cowboys’ home games, the stadium has hosted the 2010 NBA All-Star Game, Super Bowl XLV, and concerts by Paul McCartney and U2, and in March will host the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four. Pinkel and Mizzou’s players, coaches and traveling party attended Sunday’s NFL game and watched from a suite high above the field, an experience Pinkel hopes pays off come Friday.
“If you just come one time and see it you’ll probably be OK,” he said. “But practicing helps. Also seeing (the stadium) full. The way it’s designed, you’ve got these giant sections and it’s almost vertical seating. It’s just a lot different. People are right on top of you.”
“You can’t get on the phone and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you what this is like,’” he added. “You’ve got to see it. When you see it, it’s overwhelming. … They put on a show. It’s spectacular. It was kind of fun to be a fan (Sunday) and watch it from the other side. The pageantry is hard to describe. I don’t know if you can ever have a good enough football team to go along with all the pageantry. It’s just an amazing facility.”
Oklahoma State (10-2) has opted to hold its first few practices at Trinity High School in nearby Euless. The Cowboys visited AT&T Stadium on Monday for interview sessions and will practice there today and Wednesday.
So far, the Tigers’ football experience in the Dallas area barely resembles their last trip to the Cotton Bowl. After the 2007 regular season, the Tigers practiced in the since demolished Texas Stadium in Irving. The game that year, Mizzou’s 38-7 win over Arkansas, was the penultimate Cotton Bowl played in the actual Cotton Bowl, an antiquated outdoor stadium at the downtown Texas State Fairgrounds.
AT&T Stadium, also known by its nickname Jerry World, as in Cowboys billionaire owner Jerry Jones, began hosting the bowl game after the 2009 season.
“I love it,” said Missouri linebacker and Dallas native Donovan Bonner. “Jerry did a great job.”
By Friday, Pinkel hopes the Tigers have grown accustomed to all the bells and whistles. Copeland, preparing for his final college game, already seemed assimilated by Monday’s practice.
“Well, you know what, football’s about a field that’s 100 yards long and 53 yards wide,” he said. “Everything else around it is just details. It’s a pretty amazing facility, but it doesn’t change the field. The field’s green here just like it is everywhere else — except Boise (State).”
Where it’s blue. That’s one indulgence Jerry World has resisted so far.