Touring Dallas Cowboys Stadium during Super Bowl XLV Media Day

cowboys stadium

Super Bowl XLV. It was most certainly one for the record books. Well over 100,000 people flowed into Cowboys Stadium in the heart of North Texas to watch two of the NFL’s most storied teams do battle. The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers put on an amazing spectacle, and I was able to take part in one small way. I made my way into Arlington for Super Bowl Media Day — a frenzied event that saw over 1,000 credentialed media crowd the field for their chance to interview their favorite players and coaches. Two of the league’s most historic teams, both on the field of the newest, most awe-inspiring stadium in the NFL. It was a spectacular scene, and a journey I won’t ever forget. The good news for you is that even though the Super Bowl is over, Cowboys Stadium remains open for business.

How so, you ask? The team has set up a program for tourists, locals and curious fans alike to actually take a tour of the new Cowboys Stadium. Tours are given seven days a week, with two primary options for entry. Of course, a general tour won’t involve speaking to players of the Packers or Steelers, but it will involve a thorough walkthrough of the NFL’s most astounding and technologically advanced venue. Read on to catch a glimpse of what you’ll see should you make the trip down (or up!).

%Gallery-116470%Aside from the fact that players were on the field and more willing than ever to sign an autograph rather than answer yet another question directly related to sports, a normal Cowboys Stadium tour isn’t too different than a Super Bowl Media Day tour. I was granted access to a special side entrance as well as a rear conference room, a look at the technology that powers the stadium (more on that angle here and here) and field-level access to the players, but other than that, my experience would pretty much mimic yours.

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My first suggestion would be to splurge on the VIP Tour. If you make the trip over to Arlington, it’s worth the $10 per person upcharge to get a legitimate VIP experience. This runs $27.50 for adults (or $20 per person with a group of 20+ people), or $22.50 for children and seniors. The cheaper self-guided tour lacks the insider knowledge that the VIP Tour provides, giving you full access to the Pro Shop, field, locker rooms, Miller Lite Club and the post-game interview room. There are Tour Guides stations in each area to answer your questions, but the VIP Tour goes above and beyond. With that, you’ll begin at the Main club and then tour a private suite, the radio / print media press boxes, the Cotton Bowl offices, the Dr. Pepper Star Bar and the Ford Motor Company Fountain.

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Following those stops, a guide will take you down to the event level where you’ll see all of the stops on the Self-Guided Tours. Afterwards, you’ll end the tour in the Pro Shop where you’ll get a complimentary 6- x 8-inch photo to remember the experience. Like I said, the $10 upcharge seems justified.

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As for my experience? It was outstanding. The 72- x 160-foot Mitsubishi Electric HD display hanging from the roof is truly a sight that has to be seen to be believed. It’s an expansive place — the roof can be opened up if the weather is nice, and it’s very obvious just how new this place is. Being able to get on the field holds even more meaning now that the Packers and Steelers have christened it with a Super Bowl, and for fans of the NFL (or sports in general), it’s a breathtaking experience. You really can’t judge just how huge the place is until you’re there. I kept wishing that I could actually return for a game after being on the field with legendary players, and there’s no doubt that this tour will get you hooked and hoping to come back for more. There looks to be hardly a bad seat in the house, and from a tech perspective, there’s plenty to appreciate. Over 800 wireless routers are there to provide reliable internet access through games (for those who like to tweet or upload images / videos of the action), and there have been improvements made in wireless cellphone coverage for similar reasons.

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During my tour, I also learned of things to come from Cowboys CIO Pete Walsh and systems architects from CDW. The organization is hoping to tie a good deal of technology into future events. Things like iPhone apps for ordering food (and potentially having it delivered to your seat based on GPS), real-time statistics and on-demand replays on your phone or tablet. These guys are gunning for “the ultimate fan experience,” and it shows. They’ve got the perfect venue to provide that, and if you’re halfway through a cross-country road trip, why not make a day to tour the NFL’s most technologically advanced stadium? Have a look at my tour in the images throughout to get a feel for what you’d get to see, and then head here to book a time and day that fits your schedule.

Six Flags’ Texas Giant to reopen after a $10 million upgrade

One of largest wooden roller coasters in the U.S. is getting a massive $10 million dollar makeover. Aging wooden roller coasters often undergo rehab projects where the ride’s rickety, old track is replaced with new lumber to create a more comfortable and enjoyable experience. Texas Giant’s transformation goes way beyond a standard rehab project. It will be reborn as the first wooden roller coaster to have its wooden rails completely replaced with steel rails.

When Texas Giant reopens during Six Flags Over Texas‘ 50th season next year, it will be as a steel coaster with a wooden support structure. It should offer a pretty unique experience thanks to a transformation almost akin to switching genders. While there have been steel roller coasters built with wooden supports, to my knowledge there haven’t been any that were first built as wooden coasters.


Texas Giant will return in 2011 with some exciting new elements. The first drop has been extended 10 feet higher and its angle of descent will set a record. The 79-degree drop will be the steepest of any wooden coaster in the World. The ride’s layout will also include a record-breaking bank of 95-degrees. The other most notable upgrade will be the new trains themed after 1961 Cadillac Devilles. To top off the ride with some Texas flavor, the trains will be adorned with custom made cattle horns.

Hopefully, Texas Giant’s “Six Million Dollar Man”-like renovation pays off for Six Flags. The company has transitioned from building lots of big new rides to renovating and updating older rides with new themes and special effects. If Texas Giant’s upgrade proves successful, I’d hope to see other aging, rough wooden roller coasters get a steel track overhaul as well. I’m looking forward to getting down to Arlington, Texas next year and taking the all new Texas Giant for a spin. It looks to be one of the most exciting stories in the theme park industry in 2011.%Poll-56849%

Top five cities for travel spending … and the bottom of the barrel, too

Hey, Arlington, Virginia residents, why are you spending so much on travel? Do you really want to get out that badly? According to a report by Bundle.com, the folks who live in Arlington spent twice the national average on travel last year: a whopping $3,534 per household. Nationwide, the norm came in at $1,571 for 2009. Meanwhile, Detroit residents spent a meager $1,158 per household on travel last year due largely to the dismal economic conditions there.

The top five cities for travel spending last year (i.e., people who live there paid to go elsewhere) aren’t terribly surprising, in that they tend to be affluent and close to major airports.

1. Arlington, VA – $3,534
2. San Francisco, CA – $3,460
3. Washington, DC – $3,409
4. Scottsdale, AZ – $3,372
5. New York, NY – $3,274
And if there’s a top five list, there must be one for the bottom, right? Garland, Texas residents either love the place so much they don’t like to leave or simply have little appreciation for the outside world: they spent an average of $647 per household on travel last year.

5. Greensboro, NC – $820
4. Lexington, KY – $809
3. Memphis, TN – $683
2. Chula Vista, CA – $676
1. Garland, TX – $647

[photo by Beverly & Pack via Flickr]

Five essential Memorial Day destinations

Memorial Day marks the cultural beginning of summer, the start of the warm months. The picnics and the parties and the celebration of the impending summer have sort of become the point of Memorial Day for many, a kind of superimposition of recreation over the intention of the holiday.

We love beer and hot dogs as much as the next guy, but for those interested in the history and meaning (or, in destination 5 below, the traditional pageantry) of Memorial Day, here are five destinations for Monday that might prompt greater reflection on the holiday itself.

1. Charleston, South Carolina. Hampton Park in Charleston was once the site of the Washington Race Course, which served as prison camp for Union soldiers in the last year of the Civil War. Here, in 1865, former slaves provided a proper burial and commemoration of fallen Union soldiers, followed by sermons, prayer, and picnics, under the name of Decoration Day. Yale history professor David W. Blight has championed this event as the first ever Memorial Day celebration.

2. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. About five miles from State College, Boalsburg is one of a number of other locations claiming to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Tiny Boalsburg is also home to the Pennsylvania Military Museum.

3. Waterloo, New York. Waterloo, in the Finger Lakes region, hosts the National Memorial Day Museum. Waterloo was recognized by the federal government as the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966, one hundred years after the city first celebrated the event.

4. Arlington, Virginia. Arlington National Cemetery is the arguably the best-known cemetery in the US. Administered by the Department of the Army, the cemetery hosts a National Memorial Day Observance open to the general public on a first-come first-seated basis. Admission is free.

5. Speedway, Indiana or Concord, North Carolina. While stock car racing can’t be tied to the history of Memorial Day, these two iconic races (the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway) have coincided with the holiday for decades, and have in turn become Memorial Day tradition. The Indianapolis 500 was first held on Memorial Day in 1911, and the Coca Cola 600 dates back to 1960.

Cambridge, England honors fallen American soldiers

Arlington National Cemetery has no parallel, yet for some families, it’s not enough. If yours is not resting in Arlington, then the national treasure takes a back seat to the bit of earth that matters more to you. As many people as Arlington serves, there are large U.S. cemeteries elsewhere that are profound in the numbers they protect. This becomes clear when the enormity of the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial assaults your senses. Taking their final rest in Cambridge, England, you’ll find 3,812 U.S. service members – veterans of World War II. Etched in stone are another 5,127 names – their remains have not yet been located. Standing alone above this touching display is an American flag to honor the fallen men and women who never made it home.

This isn’t what you’d expect in Great Britain. The nation sacrificed much of its own – service members, civilians, personal property, historic landmarks. The U.S. lives lost were many and traffic, but for Britain, the war was on its doorstep. Nonetheless, the nation is proud to recognize the help it received from the United States. And, to call Britain’s show of appreciation substantial would be an understatement.

Despite lying in Cambridge, the American Cemetery and Memorial is on U.S. soil. The employees, though locals, draw their checks from the U.S. government. Their hard work – it’s evident from the beginning of your first conversation with the staff – has little to do with compensation. As curator Arthur Brookes put it, “It’s not hard work at all, really.” Sweeping his hand across the endless rows of cross-marked graves, he emphasized, “They did the hard work.” He means it, as demonstrated by the piercing intensity of his eyes.

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More than 70,000 people come to the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial every year, according to Brookes, including approximately 300 families of the fallen, though age is causing direct next of kin visitorship to shrink. On site, family members and other guests can learn about the U.S. service members buried and listed on the wall. Some names have near-universal recognition, such as Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., older brother to President John F. Kennedy. Leon R. Vance, Jr., whose name stands out in gold, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Of course, the most important name is the one you’re looking for – a fact driven home for me when I saw an older gentleman run his fingers through the grooves of a specific name.

High-profile or known only to family, there is only one organizing principle to the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial: family. Every attempt is made to bury brothers side-by-side. The very existence of this policy proves its necessity, unfortunately.

Brookes understands that it’s easy to be consumed by the gravity of the environment, which is why he tries to make it as uplifting as possible. While the loss of life is to be lamented, the courage and broader sense of purpose should be celebrated. These are soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines committed to defending freedom – and they succeeded, even if they did not make it home. Nonetheless, the nature of the cemetery centers on sacrifice, weighing down the positive messages conveyed.

The closest thing to good news on the wall is a bronze button affixed to the left of a name. It means that a service member’s remains have been recovered and positively identified. The last update came in 2003, when the remains of nine B-24 crew members were discovered in France. They were sent to Arlington National Cemetery but continue to be honored in England, as well.

Tying the cemetery together is the chapel, which sits at the far end of a reflecting pool that begins near the flag pole. Inside, you can see how the air, sea and land wars progressed in Europe. An altar sits beneath American flags, catching your eye as soon as you walk in the door.

Obviously, there is no bad time to visit the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, though some are designed to be more powerful. Major holidays are marked with special treatment, and nothing is allowed to get in the way. A series of Memorial Day ceremonies, this year, was met with driving rain. To Brookes, it wasn’t a problem. He’d lost track of how many pairs of pants and shoes he used. “It’s nothing compared to what they went through.”

Disclosure: Visit Britain picked up the tab for this, and British Airways paid for the flights. I’m glad they did: more Americans need to know about the Cambridge American Ceremony and Memorial.