- Associated Press - Monday, June 2, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - When George Strait wraps up his farewell tour here Saturday, the country music superstar won’t leave the stage alone.

The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1hrDwUO ) reports another Texas legend - also a Cowboy - will ease into retirement after decades as an entertainment industry icon.

Bruce Hardy, a Dallas Cowboys executive and longtime Texas Stadium general manager, is stepping down after 30 years and more than 1,200 games and events.

The 67-year-old turned Texas Stadium into a concert venue for music’s biggest stars and also helped make it an attainable dream for a generation of high school football players. A friend of Strait’s since the early 1990s, Hardy decided the Cowboy Rides Away tour at AT&T; Stadium was the perfect moment for him to also ride away from his backstage corner of team history.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Hardy said, not once but countless times. “I’ve had the greatest life of all: entertainment and what I’ve done with young people.”

A little unsteady due to multiple sclerosis, Hardy will leave AT&T; Stadium this summer with a career full of memories and stories that could be mistaken for scenes from a movie script or excerpts from a Rolling Stone article.

There’s a late night with Axl Rose, New Year’s Eve with Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, hugs from Taylor Swift, a stage collapse, a fire, as well as moments that seem at home in a Disney-produced inspirational sports movie.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Hardy’s sharp wit, creativity and resourcefulness made him an important part of the team. And his Rolodex and relationships were so deep, Jones said, that top entertainers were attracted as much to Hardy as to the team’s stadium in Irving.

“His fingerprints are all over the success we’ve had,” Jones said.

Garth Brooks, who sold out three record-setting shows at Texas Stadium in 1993, counts Hardy as one of his dearest friends.

“He disarms you with his honesty,” Brooks said. “From Day One, I don’t have to figure him out. This guy is just honest and loves people.”

Hardy was hired by the Cowboys in 1984, but his history with the franchise dates to its beginnings.

He grew up in Highland Park playing with the children of Bedford Wynne, who was part of the Cowboys’ first ownership team. In those days, the teenage Hardy hung around the Wynnes and often gave them rides.

That turned into a job chauffeuring Pat Summerall and Chris Schenkel when they came to town to broadcast Cowboys games. Hardy is certain he didn’t even have a driver’s license, but no one bothered to ask.

That was just fun and games for Hardy. It would take another couple of decades before the Cowboys were a living rather than a sideline.

He briefly attended Lon Morris College in East Texas before returning home following his father’s death.

Putting his marketing skills to work, Hardy started in the screen printing business and eventually co-founded Image Builders. The firm landed major corporate contracts with American Airlines, Trailways bus line, the Dallas Mavericks and others.

Hardy and business partner Holly Boggess also created T-shirts capturing the zeitgeist of the late 1970s and early ‘80s.

When Gov. Bill Clements announced that men should wear short sleeves and no tie during the summer, the partners designed a “Texas Dress Shirt” T-shirt with a collar and tie printed on it. They produced “Killer Bees” shirts memorializing the Democratic state senators who fled the Capitol in 1979 to bust a legislative quorum.

After years of chasing corporate contracts, Hardy said, he was just “worn out.” The 37-year-old left the screen printing business without plans for what to do next.

That changed suddenly when attorney Jim Francis, who lived nearby, pulled up to his curb one day in the spring of 1984. The two attended Highland Park High School together but were only casual acquaintances.

“Every morning at 7 o’clock, he’d come down my street,” Hardy said. “We’d almost hit each other, religiously, for seven years.”

Francis eventually noticed Hardy’s schedule had changed and guessed he “might not be doing much.” The lawyer, who represented Dallas oilman H.R. “Bum” Bright, told Hardy that he might have a job possibility.

A few days later, the news was official. Bright was part of a group that had just bought the Cowboys, and Hardy landed a Texas Stadium marketing job.

“They told me to fix it, and I looked at it like it was mine,” Hardy said about the stadium, which was losing money.

The new owners decided to construct 120 suites at Texas Stadium and put Hardy in charge of selling them. The stadium was one of the most famous in the NFL, but it had fallen behind in amenities.

“I knew he was hungry; he was a hard worker; he had a great personality,” Francis said. “You size people up, and you make a decision based on instincts.”

Hardy helped design the suites and sold more than $20 million worth in the first year.

In searching for other revenue sources, Hardy was determined to turn Texas Stadium into a concert venue despite its reputation for not being musician-friendly.

Louis Messina was then a music promoter known for the now-legendary Texxas Jam hard rock and heavy metal festivals at the Cotton Bowl, the Cowboys’ original home. But he had long wanted to follow the team to Irving and make that his home base for stadium shows.

“There’s only one Texas Stadium,” Messina said. “It was prestigious. . I always wanted to play it, but I couldn’t get anyone’s attention.”

After his hiring, Hardy and Messina met for lunch.

“I begged him just to give me a try,” Hardy said. “I promised him that he would not have one problem.”

Hardy and Messina brought Madonna’s “Who’s That Girl” tour to Texas Stadium in 1987. That started a business relationship and friendship that continues today.

The biggest performers made stops in Irving. There was George Michael, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Strait and ‘N Sync. And the performers, from Swift to U2, kept coming to Arlington when AT&T; Stadium opened.

“Not many people like him (Hardy) come around that often,” Messina said. “He’s always been a business partner, but he’s also my friend.”

As Hardy was getting established, Bright decided to get out of the football business after only a few years. The new buyers came in with more oil money, this time from Arkansas.

Francis, who was involved in negotiating the sale of the Cowboys, urged the Jones family to keep Hardy.

“I made a point to Jerry that the success of the stadium operations was contingent on Bruce,” Francis said. “I said: ‘Bruce won’t let you down. He’s a crown jewel for you there.’”

The concerts kept coming.

But there was also tragedy. Three workers died at Texas Stadium over the years. There was a fire that damaged some of the suites. At the Brooks shows, a lighting and sound grid collapsed, injuring workers.

Brooks quoted a church sign he saw in Memphis that reminded him of Hardy: “Character is not created in crisis. It is revealed.”

“This is a friendship forged out of the fire,” Brooks said. “Now, time can’t touch it.”

Although Hardy has enjoyed the glamorous life - weekend getaways organized by Brooks and concert after-parties - he said he’ll miss high school football the most. He estimates that more than 700 games have been played at Cowboys’ stadiums during his tenure.

Texas Stadium hosted high school football playoff games before he arrived on the scene. But the frequency increased from a few games a year to 30 or so.

Hardy said he still remembers a moment in 1985, when he watched a burly high school player staring at his nameplate hanging above his locker in Texas Stadium.

“He was patting his nameplate,” Hardy said, remembering that the teen had tattered shoes. “I went to talk to his coach, and when I came back, he was still there. The kid was still patting the nameplate and tears are running down his face.”

Betsy Hardy, a retired teacher, said it’s been a memorable three decades with her husband and the Cowboys.

Even with the perks, Betsy Hardy said she won’t entirely miss that world.

“Both of us feel like it’s time. If we want to go (to an event), we can go,” she said. “But if we don’t want to go, we don’t have to.”

After retirement, Hardy plans to continue help with efforts to create a Texas high school football hall of fame. There’s a scattering of high school helmets throughout his office as he tries to collect ones from each championship team.

He points out those helmets to visitors with the same enthusiasm as he shows his three Super Bowl rings and autographs by Brooks, Strait, Paul McCartney, members of Pink Floyd and Alabama and others.

In other ways, Hardy’s post-work plans sound ordinary for someone who has lived such a colorful life. Hardy wants to spend more time with his grandchildren, miss fewer milestones and exercise more.

If he can strengthen his legs, he’ll take his wife - who studied Italian in college - to Italy.

“I might go over there and just sit in a hotel and let her walk around to fulfill her dream,” Hardy said. “I’ve already fulfilled my dreams.”


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com



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