I visited Dallas exactly two years ago and saw the Cowboys beat Miami 20-19 in what was then known as Cowboys Stadium. Recently AT&T purchased the naming rights, but don't be mistaken that this is another case of a team selling out; the stadium was already covered in corporate signage. Given that it cost $1.3 billion to build, much of it provided by owner Jerry Jones, it is hard to blame him for using the private sector to generate a bit of revenue.
As the stadium lacks any public transport, I stay at nearby hotels to avoid the traffic and parking charges. With Six Flags in the area, there are a lot of accommodation options, and not all of them raise their prices when the Cowboys are in town. I ended up staying just east of TX-360 and walked the 1.5 miles there, passing the Ballpark at Arlington (below) on the way. The shot above is taken from one of the parking lots east of the stadium. Again, this place is huge.
The Cowboys were very kind in offering me a credential, which I had to pick up at media will call. To get there, I walked around the entire venue, but didn't take many pictures as I had been here before. The shot below is taken from the west side. To get full shots from the north or south, you have to walk back a bit or have a wide angle lens.
Upon entry, I did the usual walkaround, which took over an hour because this place is so enormous. There are at least nine seating levels (starting with the field level seats and including all the suite levels and club levels) and I was able to access every one with the credential.
I walked up to the top level for a few shots, including the panorama, which missed the top of the huge scoreboard.
One great feature of the stadium is the number of standing areas. You can buy a party pass and stand for the game, or relax at the Pepsi lounge. Spots are taken up as soon as gates open, so this is not a good option for the solo traveler who wants to explore the stadium.
Fortunately, my credential allowed me into the club section (below) and there was a standing rail here that provided an excellent vantage point along the entire sideline.
I camped out at the 20 yard line on the right side of the Raiders' bench. This turned out to be a great place to stand, as it provided views of the introduction ceremony and the cheerleaders throughout the game.
The national anthem was sung by Mary J. Blige, a singer I have actually heard of, quite a rarity these days as the music world has passed me by.
As an example of my musical ignorance, the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Kick-off was held at halftime with Selena Gomez performing. I have heard of her, but only in the context of dating fellow Canadian Justin Bieber, and did not know that she could sing. In fact, I still do not know if she can sing, because she lip synced the entire show. Binoculars came in handy here, because without using those, it wasn't obvious that she was just mouthing the words. Not that her fans cared; most of the people around me were more interested in her than the actual football game. Which was their mistake.
This was the second time I would see the Raiders on the trip, after watching Terrelle Pryor lead them against Indianapolis back in Week 1. Since then, Pryor got hurt and Matt Flynn got released, so undrafted Matt McGloin got the start. He is a Penn State grad and had played quite well over the past three games.
Tony Romo started for Dallas, who were wearing their blues at home for the first time since they left the Cotton Bowl in 1971. I personally like the look but there is a superstition associated with those uniforms, in that the Cowboys always lose when they wear them. Given that the Cowboys lose quite often wearing white these days, I'd say the superstition is just that and it might be time for the team to change things up.
Dallas received the kickoff and Terrance Williams (below) ran it out from 8 yards deep. His indiscretion was immediately punished when he fumbled and Greg Jenkins returned the ball for a touchdown. Just 12 seconds in and the Cowboys were down 7-0, the earliest they had conceded a score in their history. Hmm, those blue uniforms are sure unlucky.
The first quarter was messy, with neither team doing much in their few couple of times with the ball. After Dallas' third possession was stopped, they punted and Jenkins called for a fair catch at the 6. Stupid! Let the ball bounce, the likely result is a touchback. Instead the Raiders started there and on the first play, they fumbled the snap and Dallas recovered on the 2. On the next play, DeMarco Murray ran for an easy score to tie the game at 7.
McGloin took over the second quarter, leading the Raiders on two 12-play drives, each resulting in a 1-yard run by Rashad Jennings. McGloin looked very good, especially on 3rd down, converting on all seven opportunities. But the Raiders made what I consider to be a fatal error. They scored their second TD just after the 2-minute warning. I think they should have run a couple of plays to force Dallas to use a couple of timeouts. Instead, Romo had all 3 left and he ran a perfect two-minute drill, including a 25-yard pass to Dez Bryant (#88 below on another play), taking the Cowboys to the Raiders' 4. Murray took it home from there for his second TD of the afternoon. The Raiders still had the 7-point lead, but the Cowboys had regained some confidence and it showed in the second half.
The Raiders took the ball to start the second half and punted immediately. Dallas took over from their 13 and with Murray struggling, unleashed their secret weapon, Lance Dunbar. On his second carry, he rumbled for 45 yards (below) taking the ball down to the Oakland 25. A few plays later, Romo hit Bryant in the end zone and the game was tied at 21 midway through the quarter.
After three incompletions by McGloin on the ensuing possession, the Cowboys took over and seemed to move the ball at will, taking 7 plays to go 43 yards as the quarter expired. This was good for me, because the play was now directly in front of me, which allowed me to catch Murray running for his 3rd TD of the game, a 7-yarder that made it 28-21 (below).
After both teams went 3-and-out, McGloin started the Raiders' penultimate drive with a 35-yard completion to Andre Holmes, moving the ball to the Dallas 21. Two plays later, McGloin tried to hit Jacoby Ford in the end zone, but the throw was terribly short and Brandon Carr intercepted. The Cowboys then constructed a beautiful 14-play, 79-yard drive that took the clock down to the two-minute warning, at which point Dan Bailey hit a short field goal to make it a 10-point game.
Oakland needed to score a touchdown, recover an onside kick, and kick a field goal to tie the game, all with no time outs. They quickly moved the ball to the Dallas 27, and decided to kick the field goal instead. This infuriated those who had bet the Cowboys to cover the 9.5 point spread, as the final score would now be 31-24 after the abysmal onside kick failed. Apparently this cannot be referred to as a "backdoor" cover as Dallas only took the 10-point lead with a couple of minutes to go, but still, I'm sure the sports books in Vegas heard some choice words when coach Dennis Allen called for the field goal.
The game clock started counting down again from 60 minutes after the game ended, but just in case you didn't follow what happened, I present the below:
A very entertaining game, with another home-team comeback. Tony Romo gets a lot of grief from the press, but he is a solid performer who needs a bit of playoff luck to get the monkey off his back.
With Thanksgiving over, it is time for Christmas and there were already lighted trees outside after the game. No rest for the holiday-weary I guess.
I finally bought the NFL Helmet set that you can use for standings, which means you will see lots of pictures like this: