Shawn Williams (Dallas Morning News): Securing the Cotton Bowl’s Future

Here is an article that I wrote that appears in Sunday’s Dallas Morning News Opinion section (Points).  Thanks to Nicole Stockdale for the opportunity.

On a sunny and mild afternoon – a day that would have been great for football – the city of Dallas and Mayor Tom Leppert unveiled a new and improved version of the historic Cotton Bowl. I walked away impressed by the wider concourses, expanded media area, club-level seating and toilets that actually flushed (yes, I checked).

But any mention of the Cotton Bowl since has been met with one word: Cowboys.It’s as if residents expected Dallas to throw in the towel when America’s Team chose to make its move further west.

But the days for debating what could have and should have been with the Cowboys are long gone. The fact is, Arlington is getting itself a world-class stadium, but it’s hard for Dallas to miss something it hasn’t had since 1971.

The $57 million approved by Dallas voters for the Cotton Bowl was necessary to protect the birds that were already in hand, even though the one in the bush was nice. The newly renovated stadium is being touted by leaders as the ninth-largest football stadium, by capacity, in the country. Dallas is notorious for making these types of claims, often to cover up for lasting insecurities. But bigger isn’t always better. And in sports, it’s great teams and great games that make for great venues.

The Cotton Bowl’s greatness, as always, rests squarely on the shoulders of the young men who will run up and down the gridiron this fall. The bulk of that load will be carried by participants in the Red River Rivalry and the State Fair Classic.

In the ’80s, the Texas-Oklahoma game was merely nice to have, but Bob Stoops and Mack Brown have since restored the contest to its past glory. The annual Red River Rivalry is still woven into the fabric of the city.

The Prairie View-Grambling game has always been undervalued, and Dallas needs to make sure school officials don’t feel neglected. With Prairie View having fielded its best team in decades, folks may have reason to stay at State Fair Classic past the Battle of The Bands over the next few years.

These two games are set to remain at the Cotton Bowl until 2015, but the time is now to lay the groundwork for the future – extending signature games and attracting more college football to Fair Park. Even if these four schools decide to bolt for Jerry World, the city will have made its money back from the estimated $30 million that the Red River Rivalry alone brings to the region each year.

(Still, I wouldn’t want to have to debate how we move forward with a spiffed up stadium devoid of its marquee matchups.)

Here is what I would like to see happen in the short term to help secure the success of Fair Park’s crown jewel in the long term.

First, keep the focus on the fair. Launching a new December/January Bowl has probably crossed the minds of local officials, but the package Fair Park offers during October is unrivaled. The weather is as good as it gets in this region.And where else can you listen to your favorite artist, experience the thrill of the Midway, eat chicken-fried bacon and witness an exciting football game all for the price of one admission?

Second, officials need to capitalize on black-college football. When it was announced that Texas Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff would play at the Cotton Bowl around Thanksgiving, I could almost see the question marks popping up over Dallasites’ heads. Because the city has long hosted a football game between historically black universities, many have missed the fact that these contests are now popping up all over the country.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Louisiana Superdome, Houston’s Reliant Stadium and Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium all host black-college football classics. Hosting two of these contests is a bigger deal for the Cotton Bowl than many recognize.

It won’t be easy, but those four October Saturdays must be filled with compelling matchups that people will pay to see. Dallas is halfway there, and we’ll see how Texas A&M-Commerce and its sizable local alumni base will support the Harvey Martin Classic.

The Cotton Bowl has never looked better – and I, for one, am glad that big-time college football will continue to take place in Fair Park well into the next decade.

The loss of the namesake game to the new Cowboys stadium in 2010 is unfortunate. But if Oklahoma and Texas leave, turn off the lights – ’cause the party truly will be over.

Shawn Williams is a community advocate and writer who publishes the Dallas South blog. His e-mail address is

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