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Dr. Saturday

Cotton Bowl stadium sits silent on day of the game that bears its name

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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DALLAS, Texas - A few hours before the Cotton Bowl, the scene at the Cotton Bowl was as quiet as could be.

The stadium that once bore the name of one of college football's most famous bowl games was silent. The game has moved on to bigger and better things. It has been at Cowboys Stadium since 2010.

Not long before Texas A&M and Oklahoma played in the 77th Cotton Bowl Classic, the old stadium was a ghost town. In the ring around the old ballpark there was one person, and he was getting exercise walking up and down the steps to a chained up Gate A. Two workers inside a tunnel to one of the end zones sat down on their break during a quiet day. A bottled water truck and a car were the only traffic at an adjacent parking lot. The car stopped and asked a stranger for directions.

Nobody is asking that the Cotton Bowl stadium resume hosting the Cotton Bowl game. Cowboys Stadium, a little more than 20 miles away in Arlington, is the height of opulence. The Cotton Bowl was opened in 1930 and looks its age. Instead of playing outside on a relatively cold day in Texas with fans cramped into seats that were fine 80 years ago, the Sooners and Aggies will play under a dome under the bright lights on prime time television. That's a no-brainer.

Still, it's a bit sad to see such a building that has hosted some of the game's legends become mostly obsolete.

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Doak Walker, Roger Staubach, Jim Brown, Doug Flutie, Eric Dickerson and John Hannah played in the Cotton Bowl game here. Joe Montana's legend started to grow with his comeback at the 1979 Cotton Bowl. Ara Parseghian and Bear Bryant coached here. There's dozens of other legends that came through this stadium.

The Dallas Texans bumbled around here in 1952 when the NFL came to Texas for the first time. The Dallas Cowboys spent 12 seasons here. The 1966 NFL Championship was held here, with Vince Lombardi's Packers holding on to win 34-27 when Don Meredith threw a late interception. The Packers advanced to play in Super Bowl I.

But the Cotton Bowl venue is probably a reason the game dropped behind the big four BCS bowls. The new venue, instantly one of the most famous in sports, was a huge boost to the game.

"At the end of the day, people looked at the move and some may have been sad to see us leave, but it allows us to elevate the game to where it used to be," Cotton Bowl Classic vice president of external affairs Michael Konradi said.

Konradi understands the history of the old place. He grew up not far from the stadium. He remembers the annual tradition of the Cotton Bowl game at the venerable stadium on CBS every Jan. 1. He said he loves the old stadium, and recalled with a sense of honor that he was the one that went up to the roof after the last Cotton Bowl game at the stadium and turned off the lights for the last time.

"It made the hair of the back of my neck stand up," Konradi said.

It was just time to move on. Now the game and stadium are two separate entities, although Konradi says his office gets calls all the time asking about the stadium when he deals with issues with the game. The Cotton Bowl Classic just outgrew the venue.

Fair Park, where the Cotton Bowl stadium is located, and the south Dallas neighborhood that surrounds it isn't very vibrant right now. Not that one game a year would change that, but it wouldn't hurt either. There is a bowl game there - but did you watch the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Jan. 1? Didn't think so. The annual highlight for the stadium is the annual Oklahoma-Texas game that coincides with the State Fair, but there's not a ton going on during the rest of the year.

So the Cotton Bowl stadium, once the home of legends for a titan among bowl games, sits alone on the day of the Cotton Bowl Classic. This is the price of progress. Some of the game's history gets lost with it.

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