Touring Dallas Cowboys Stadium during Super Bowl XLV Media Day

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tips for Steelers fans going to the Super Bowl

Here We Go Steelers fans! It’s time to get games faces on for your 7th (SEVENTH!) Super Bowl victory! Whether you have secured tickets or you’re just planning to descend on Dallas for the party, let’s get ready for a Super Bowl like no other.

First of all, Super Bowl or not, you couldn’t be blamed for packing your towels and heading south. With temperatures in Dallas expected in the low to mid sixties next week, we all could use a good excuse to defrost our toes and boast our black and gold in a few less layers. This is no Detroit or Minneapolis Super Bowl, friends. This is TEXAS, where the February weather is balmy and the BBQs fire up year round.

Get There
Naturally, the fastest – and most expensive – route to Dallas is by air. As of today you can catch a perhaps inconvenient but definitely do-able round trip from nearby Chess Lamberton (FKL) to Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Friday to Monday for less than $800. Flights from Pittsburgh proper (PIT) are creeping closer to $900 round trip and will only climb higher the closer we get to game day.If you can afford the vacation days and take some time to see Dallas and/or recover from the victory party, flights back to Dallas on Friday and back to Pittsburgh on Monday and Tuesday are running roughly $500 and $430 respectively.

A more affordable option if you’re traveling with fellow fans is to drive. It’s a hefty 1200 mile, 20 hour drive to Dallas, which we can fairly say will be a two day trek. But for an SUV full of friends, it could be the road trip of a lifetime. And for $300-400 in gas plus the cost of a cheap hotel en route, it can be downright reasonable.

Eat There
The obvious culinary attraction of Texas has to be the BBQ, and the area around Arlington has plenty to offer.

For classic, homey fare check out the popular Bodacious Bar-B-Q, but not on game day, they’re closed on Sundays.

Bone Daddy’s House of Smoke is another local favorite, for both the delectable ribs and the “friendly” (hot) staff. With outdoor seating (in February!) and affordable dinners, you can’t go wrong.

To sample the best Mexican in town, check out one of Arlington’s – in fact Texas’ – top restaurants, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, open late on Fridays and Saturdays for that late night nacho craving.

If you have the time, take a jaunt over to Fort Worth to see how a Texan beer can stand up to Iron City Brewing. Rahr Brewery is showcasing a scotch ale this month, and offers tours every Saturday 1-3, no reservation required.

Stay There
Arlington and Dallas hotels are filling up as we speak, so best jump on accommodations as soon as you can. For budget travelers, the Quality Inn, Comfort Suites, and Best Western in Arlington all have current availability, with prices ranging from $200-300 a night, but be warned that many hotels require a four-night minimum stay during the Super Bowl.

As Cowboy Stadium is between Fort Worth and Dallas, you might also consider hotels in the Fort Worth region. The Hotel Trinity Fort Worth is 12 miles from the stadium and still has double rooms available for the weekend, running around $165/night.

If you’ve got a crew, consider renting a house or apartment in the area. With the price split between buddies and the comfort of a home to lounge in, it could be your most comfortable option.

All of these options will undoubtedly book fast, so round up your posse and start planning. Let’s go west on a wave of steel and take out those cheeseheads! Go Steelers!

[Flickr image via AndyeMcee]