Having lived in Dallas for several years and attending a handful of games at the soaring monstrosity of new Cowboy Stadium, the trip to the Big D was more about catching up with friends than exploring a new corner of the college football world. With Notre Dame playing Arizona State in one of their annual “Shamrock Series” neutral site contests, a special event that grants leeway for the crack design team at Adidas to make some deplorable changes to the traditional Fighting Irish uniforms, this trip was a great opportunity to reconnect with a few of my Irish cohorts that were also making the journey into town. But with #22 Arizona State fresh off a blowout victory over the USC Trojans, this game would be anything but a walk in the park for the decidedly pedestrian Irish squad thus far this year. Of course the allure of some proper Texas barbecue would offset any anxieties that I shared about the tenuous Irish matchup…(See my review of Pecan Lodge from last year here)
Saturday morning we rise early and load up Bryce’s truck with a payload of tailgating provisions. Coolers are stuffed to the gills with refreshment, and shopping bags ripple with snacks. We rendezvous with a handful of friends in the parking lot of a Bone Daddy’s restaurant in Grapevine, a Hooters restaurant clone known for their, ahem, “alluring” fare. From there we convoy south into Arlington with surprising ease, and then enter the asphalt expanse surrounding the new Cowboy Stadium. We have a hangtag parking pass for Lot 12, a privilege that Jerry Jones charges $50 apiece for. Judging by the wide open swaths of parking that never fill up, the contest will be far from a sellout.
As our tailgate is unfurled in the cool overcast morning air, our numbers swell as visitors stop by and meet up. Bryce sets up a slick Beats By Dre portable radio with some Texas Country pumping, while Kate lays out an impressive spread on a foldout table. I take this opportunity to crack into my first Shiner of the day. My friends Larry and Luke had followed us in and parked alongside. Both friends from my Notre Dame years, they were in town for a doubleheader of the Irish contest on Saturday, and then an NFL Cowboys game the next day. Seasoned tailgating veterans in South Bend, they were both familiar with my tailgating antics, and we spend the morning working our way through an impressive list of microbrews that Bryce toted along. As always, a few hours tailgating with great friends flies by like seconds, and as the sun starts to dip into the horizon, it signals the end of our festivities. We stuff our pockets with a few walking beers and head towards the giant alien spacecraft that is Jerryworld.
Walking towards the stadium, tickets are for sale everywhere. People stand on corners with fistfuls of them in hand, asking as low as $5 apiece for the tickets which the university had the gall to put a $110 face value price tag on. There simply isn’t enough demand for what amounts to a neutral site game between two lackluster teams that are each nearly 1,000 miles from their respective campuses. Security procedures as we enter the giant dome include a metal detector and possible pat down. If it’s one thing I always appreciate – it’s invasive, superfluous and ineffective security procedures that cause a choke point to enter the stadium and offer little more than an illusion of safety. Fortunately, the “security” goons aren’t wise enough for my ruse, and I breeze through with a full can of Shiner Bock cleverly concealed by years of experience (send me an email if you want the technique)…
For those that haven’t been, Cowboy Stadium (recently redubbed “AT&T Stadium”, which I will ignore) is an impressive space, a befitting monument to football in the Lonestar State. It’s sparkling new and clean, has generously wide concourses that are easy to navigate and a plethora of concessions that sport everything from nachos to sushi. The retractable roof soars nearly 300 feet over the field, supported by a pair of massive 35’ deep box trusses that span the entire 1200’ length of the stadium. The gaudy centerpiece of the structure is the infamous Mitsubishi Jumbotron, a 160’ high definition TV screen that continuously flashes replays and advertisements, the largest of its kind in the world. Stretching from one 25 yard line to the other, the epilepsy inducing behemoth is so obtrusive, that you find yourself accidentally watching the game on the screen instead of the actual action on the field.
While it’s impossible not to be impressed by the sheer size and spectacle of the structure, and it’s a fine venue for the climate controlled, banal professionalism of the NFL; I find Jerryworld completely unfit for a college football game. College football is quite simply meant to be played outdoors, under the elements, in the splendor of a fervent college campus bursting with foliage on a crisp fall afternoon.
But despite my purist protestations, beer flows freely at the concession stands, and Larry, Luke and I intend to take advantage of this break from typical NCAA Puritanism. Given the frustrating play of the Irish thus far this season, we’ll clearly need it, and we alternate a few rounds while the countdown clock winds down. Although billed as a neutral site contest, looking around the audience is anything but an even split. The Irish fan base probably outnumbers the Sun Devils 3:1, and the massive jumbotron plays exclusively Irish promotional videos and messages. After a few pre game announcements, the contest kicks off with as much roar as the 2/3 capacity crowd can muster as helmets begin popping on the artificial turf below.
After a scoreless first quarter, what follows is a surprisingly competitive, seesaw battle that delivers for all four quarters. Irish running back and Texas native Cam McDaniel batters the ASU defense on the ground, while QB Tommy Rees has a serviceable day in the air with three touchdowns against one (albeit costly) interception. After trading a few quick touchdowns in the second quarter, the score at halftime is 14-13 in favor of the Irish.
In the third frame, as Rees finds some rhythm, the Irish jump out to a comfortable 24-13 lead after successful touchdown drive and impressive 53 yard field goal boot by place kicker Kyle Brindza. But the explosive Sun Devil squad will not be pinned down in the 4th quarter, as they return a Tommy Rees gaffe for a six point interception, and later punch in a touchdown with eight minutes remaining to knot the score at 27. After an ensuing Irish field goal drive (30-27), the key play of the game occurs as Arizona State assumes the ball deep in their own territory with 1:16 remaining. Skilled ASU QB Taylor Kelly, facing a 4th and 13 conversion to keep his teams hopes alive, fires an interception into the outstretched arms of ND linebacker Dan Fox. Fox returns the interception for a touchdown, effectively icing the game as the Irish assume a 37-27 lead with only a minute remaining. Final score ND 37 ASU 34.
Special thanks to my friends Bryce and Kate for their incredible Texas hospitality as always, and can’t wait to see what games we meet up for next year!
Thanks to my friends Larry and Luke, it was awesome to catch up with you guys in Dallas, and lets lock down ASU in Arizona next year!!!
Full clickable gallery below:
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