Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

February 14, 2011

Inches to Go

Super Bowl dream deflated in Dallas

Banks Dishmon
Pauls Valley Daily Democrat

Pauls Valley, Oklahoma — Every Super Bowl Sunday, my wife LouAnn and I have talked about how neat it would be to see the game in person, to take in the spectacle of the biggest sporting event of the year.

We repeated that wish last weekend, even though we were just a few feet from the field where the NFL championship was played. We were watching the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers play, but we saw the game on a television screen inside a bar in Cowboy Stadium.

My wife and I were two of the 1,200 people with tickets to a new section of seats in the stadium that apparently didn't meet safety standards. When we finally got to our seats about a half-hour before kickoff, they were cordoned off and empty.

About 800 ticket-holders were led to other parts of the stadium to see the game, though I understand some of their views were only a little better than mine.

The rest of us - the ones who didn't leave altogether - were led to the Miller Light Clubs on either side of the 50-yard line. The bars' windows looked onto the field, but we could see little more than the back of the players.

It was hardly the Super Bowl experience we imagined.

LouAnn and I had been ecstatic just a few weeks earlier, when we learned I had won tickets to the Super Bowl in a contest my company sponsored for its newspaper publishers.

Of course, we almost never got the tickets.

A major storm that iced over Oklahoma the first week of February also froze our tickets in FedEx. We tracked our prize for days, fearing the tickets lost, until we discovered they had arrived safely at the airport in Oklahoma City at 4:30 p.m. Friday before the game. We braved the blowing snow and bad roads to drive to the FedEx center to retrieve our tickets.

The next morning, we were in the car and headed for Dallas.

Being from North Texas, I've always been a Cowboys fan, but I didn't need my team to be in the Super Bowl to enjoy the excitement. My wife's family is from Pittsburgh, so we planned to cheer for the Steelers.

We got up early Sunday, drove to Arlington, parked our car at Six Flags theme park and took a shuttle to Cowboy Stadium. We didn't mind a half-mile walk to the entrance.

Nor did we mind waiting. We arrived two and a half hours before the gates opened. We didn't want to miss anything.

The time flew. Everyone waiting with us - Packers and Steelers fans -was relishing the moment. About a dozen of us were Super Bowl first-timers. We were all pumped.

Soon after the gates opened at 1 p.m., we passed through the pat-down and scan in the security tent, then presented our tickets at the entrance. A woman who scanned my ticket looked at her computer and told me, “Sir, you'll need to step over there and see that gentleman in the blue vest.”

That's when our ordeal began.

The usher directed us to an NFL tent in a parking lot shared by Cowboy Stadium and Texas Rangers Ballpark. That was about a mile away. We made the journey to find about 400 other upset fans looking for an explanation. There wasn't one, just the word there was a problem with our seats and we were being reassigned different ones.

We waited and waited, stewing in unanswered questions and frustration, when someone with a bullhorn directed us to a new security line and a “Party Plaza” adjacent to the stadium. Free drinks and food awaited, we were told.

 So we herded back through the parking lot, stopped briefly by another security tent, and finally found a place in the plaza to sit down and rest.

 It was now about 4 p.m. We were hungry. I went to get a grab a couple of sodas and hot dogs for my wife and me. The guy at the concession apparently had not heard about the promise of free refreshment. He charged me $24.

Back in the plaza we received a sheet of paper, with no names or contact numbers, that simply said the NFL regretted our situation, would refund us three times the face value of our $800 tickets and would work to find a place for us to see the game. We later received a more formal, detailed letter, telling us where to mail our tickets for a $2,400-per-ticket refund.

We had not given up hope of getting inside the stadium, and at one point our group of wayward fans moved toward a stadium gate at the edge of the plaza. Someone had found a way inside.

Security stopped the rest of us before we could squeak through the opening. We stood staring through a fence. That's when the unfriendly chants about Jerry Jones began.

About 5 p.m., a half-hour before kickoff, the doors finally opened to us. We were told we could go inside. We weren't told, of course, we still did not have seats.

LouAnn and I hustled to the other side of the stadium, up five levels of ramps, to find the taped-off temporary benches that were supposed to have been our seats. An usher confirmed for us that the section was closed. A public relations person pointed us back to the bars on the 50-yard line.

Having been to Cowboy Stadium, I knew we wouldn't be able to see the game from the bars. But we had to watch it somewhere, and the giant television was as good a source as any.

The bar crowd at first divided into Steelers and Packers camps. It wasn't long before people were mixing, drawn together by a shared, miserable experience of having gotten so close to watching the Super Bowl only to be disappointed. Some had spent more than $10,000 on tickets, plane tickets and hotel rooms.

Earlier this week the NFL made a second attempt to appease fans who missed a chance to see their team play. They can choose tickets to any future Super Bowl and will also receive airfare and hotel accommodations.

But that's not enough for some, who've filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL, the Cowboys and team owner Jerry Jones.

I'm not one of those folks. My wife and I will happily take the NFL's first offer - the generous compensation package with tickets to next year's Super Bowl.

Maybe then we'll finally get to see the action in person.

Banks Dishmon is publisher of the Pauls Valley Democrat and remains an avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys.