- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2009

IRVING, Texas | As the national anthem played before the Dallas Cowboys’ first regular-season game in their new stadium two months ago, fullback Deon Anderson noticed something strange on the New York Giants’ sideline.

Usually, a matchup between the NFC East rivals begins with some pregame intimidation. Not this time.

“Normally, we try to do a little stare-down during the national anthem,” Anderson recalled. “You know, looking across at each other. But I didn’t see any eyes. All their eyes were looking up at the video screen or looking off to the left or right. I could tell they were shocked.

Anderson chuckled. “That place does that to you.”

“That place” is Cowboys Stadium, a $1.2 billion, 3 million-square-foot leviathan in Arlington, midway between Dallas and Fort Worth. Owner Jerry Jones’ monument to grandiosity, which opened this summer and will host the Redskins for the first time Sunday, was intentionally designed to be the biggest and most expensive facility in the NFL, with every bell and whistle imaginable.

Well, almost every bell and whistle. Among those missing: an American flag and a real scoreboard. The flag is usually provided by a color guard on the field for the anthem, and what passes for a scoreboard is a small, hard-to-find section of the between-decks ribbon board tucked away in the corner.

The rest of the stadium is jaw-dropping. The retractable roof is the world’s largest. So are the gigantic glass doors behind either end zone. It includes field-level luxury suites that give high rollers a view from the sidelines, as well as high-definition flat-panel TVs at every concession area and 1,700 toilets, twice as many as the Cowboys’ former home, Texas Stadium.

“Jerry Jones knows what he’s doing,” Anderson said. “When my wife makes a good dish, she likes to say she put her foot in it. Well, Jerry put his whole leg in it. He actually jumped in the pot, you know?

“Yes, there’s a ‘wow’ factor. It’s more than a wow, it’s a bling-blow-wow factor. A little bit more than a wow.”

The stadium has 80,000 seats, but for the opener, the Cowboys sold enough standing-room “party passes” to fill the end zone areas with more than 25,000 fans, bringing the official attendance to 105,121 - an NFL regular-season record.

While that number has decreased in every game since - a mere 80,886 showed up to watch Dallas rout Seattle on Nov. 1 - the house remains quite impressive.

Nothing in the place, though, is more impressive than the video boards, easily the largest high-definition screens in the world at 60 yards long. The images are startling in their size and clarity, to the extent that sometimes even the players can’t resist taking a peek.

“You can’t help it,” defensive end Stephen Bowen said. “It’s right there. When you’re on the sideline, you try to look at the field, but the screen’s so big, you’ve got to look up there.”

Many fans feel the same way, watching most of the action on the screen as the network video feed is displayed.

But the board has had its moments of controversy. During a preseason game, Tennessee punter A.J. Trapasso smacked the bottom of the board, 90 feet above the field, with a kick, causing the team to quietly remove two ad boards hanging down from the main board. The board was raised for a concert afterward and then supposedly lowered back to its original level. No punts have approached it since.

The stadium can still have an effect on the game. Cowboys kicker Nick Folk said the glass in the end zone can cause major glare during a late afternoon game, though Sunday’s kickoff at noon local time should preclude that.

“We had to kick a field goal going right into the sun at one point,” Folk said. “It’s tough, and you’ve got to get used to it. But it depends on the time of day. … This one shouldn’t be a big deal with the sun.”

Indeed, sun or no sun, the Cowboys are adamant that the facility’s impact on the field is at most minimal. Reactions such as the Giants’ tend to disappear when the game starts.

“The field is the same,” tight end Martellus Bennett said. “Grass is grass, turf is turf, and guys go out and play. When they first come out a couple hours before the game, they’re all out there talking about the stadium, how big it is and how nice it is. But once the game starts, the awe factor goes away.”

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