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Posted: Monday September 7, 2009 2:25AM; Updated: Monday September 7, 2009 12:04PM
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Cutdown weekend highlights, the Seymour fallout, 10 Things & more

Story Highlights

Controversies aside, the new Cowboys stadium is the jewel of professional sports

The Raiders are taking a 'win-now' approach by dealing for Richard Seymour

Michael Vick's two-game suspension was a workable resolution for all parties

The Cowboys' $1 billion stadium, featuring the controversial video board, has been a hot topic all summer in NFL circles, no doubt pleasing owner Jerry Jones (left).
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Cutdown weekend had its moments. Actually only one big one -- the Richard Seymour trade. But David Tyree, Jeff Garcia and a cast of hundreds packed to leave, and we'll get to their stories in a few paragraphs. But first, the story of the video board that will not go quietly into the night.


IRVING, Texas -- The Most Persuasive Man in Sports sits across from me, in a new air-conditioned viewing room overlooking the Dallas Cowboys practice fields. "Are you coming in for the ballgame against the Giants?'' Jerry Jones asked, referring to the season-opener Sept. 20 at the Cowboys' new $1.21-billion stadium, a half-hour away in Arlington. "I cannot wait for that day.''

Jones motioned to the two coaches' towers on either side of the fields, with spiral white staircases leading up to windowed booths. "Coach Landry had those built,'' Jones said. "That was good for then.'' The implication, of course, is that this place -- air-conditioned, with padded chairs, a huge picture window, cold drinks -- is good for now.

I excused myself for 15 minutes when director of college and pro scouting Tom Ciskowski entered and the two went into salary-cap-and-roster mode. When I returned, Jones and I talked about the team for a few minutes, and about what a quiet spring and summer, post-T.O., that it's been. Jones was excited about Felix Jones, about a free-agent wideout named Kevin Ogletree, about the Deion-like athleticism of tight end Martellus Bennett, and about the all-business Wade Phillips.

Now, about that video board ...

You all know the story. Seventeen days ago, then-Titans punter A.J. Trapasso nicked the board (actually, the MITSUBISHI sign hanging from the board, about 88 feet up from the field), and the debate was on. The video board, stretching from nearly one 20-yard-line to the other, 90 feet above the turf, was on trial for screwing with the integrity of the game. If one punt hit it in the first NFL game ever played there, wouldn't it stand to reason that many punts would hit it? Should the board be raised now? Should it be raised later? Should it be raised, period?

The NFL came out several days later and said the board would not be raised now, but rather it would be monitored to see what effect it would have on the games, and if the board got hit again, the down would be replayed with the time of the original punt put back on the clock. You knew all that.

Jones has been quiet about the issue, mostly, until now. In my conversation with him, he made a couple of things clear: He has no intention of raising the video board, nor does he think he should have to do it under any circumstances. And he thinks it's important for the aesthetics of the $1.21-billion stadium, and for the commitment that Jones himself made to build the place, that the video board stay exactly where it is.

"I once heard [former commissioner] Paul Tagliabue make a speech,'' said Jones. "He said at a new stadium, you should be blending the technology with the game and with the stadium experience. That's what I've tried to do here. I've had one league official tell me when he went through the stadium that it's the most dramatic fan experience and use of technology he's seen in 15 years. I spent millions of dollars to do exactly what we're supposed to be doing as owners -- create a fan experience that will keep the fans coming back, because you just can't duplicate this anywhere else. I'm maximizing the stadium experience for fans. And I think I have helped advance the ball for the NFL. Once you accept the concept of this stadium, and you've seen it and really experienced, then I think we won't have this discussion anymore.''

The discussion of jacking the video board up, he meant.

"When [NFL vice president] Ray Anderson was in the stadium, we talked about it," Jones said, "and he said, 'No one should pass judgment on the stadium 'til they see it.'"

(I asked Anderson if that was accurate, and he said it was.)

"We designed our stadium knowing exactly the right place to put the videoboard, and we knew what the league rules were, about it having to be at least 85 feet above the field." Jones continued. "We put it 90. And so of course you would be sensitive to any alterations. You make a $1.2-billion investment, and it's ... it's ...''

I interrupted him and asked if it really would be a big deal to raise the videoboard from 90 to, say, 105 feet above the field.

"You want the proper aesthetics, but aesthetics is really not the proper word here. It'd work fine. But 'fine' is the operative word.''

In other words, of course the board could be raised. But the gut part of the argument was left unsaid: If Jones complied with the NFL policy, and if Jones spent more money than any single person has ever spent to build an American stadium, and if Jones built the kind of stadium that will get fans out of their mancaves on a nasty Sunday to go watch a 4-8 Cowboy team in some future year, why would he allow the league to raise the video board after one of 25 punts this preseason hit it?

I buy that. What I'm troubled about, though, is the specter of some of the best legs in the league -- Shane Lechler of the Raiders [on a nationally televised Thanksgiving game] and Mike Scifres of the Chargers -- coming to Arlington this fall and taking aim at the 165-foot-wide target. And this is where Jones will lose some people. He grabbed my pen and paper and drew a primitive diagram of the board, and then drew lines of prospective punts fading to either side of the board.

"Logic tells you if they punt the way they're supposed to -- '' meaning, off to the sides " -- the ball won't hit the board. It won't be a problem. The board creates something unique. In Green Bay, punters have to account for the snow and the wind. We don't have that.''

But you can't equate something God-made with something Jones-made. I see the point, and I've gone from someone who thinks the board has to be raised to a more open position of seeing what impact it has on the eight games there this season. But if eight or 10 or 12 punts hit the board this fall, no matter who pays for it, the board has to go up. If the folks in the upper deck have to adjust their sightlines up 5 degrees, so be it.

Jones loves football. He also loves a good show. "I served on the Competition Committee,'' he said, just before I left. "I have tremendous regard for this game. It's my life and my business. But I also know how important it is for us to grow the pie.''

And that's the crux of this entire argument. Jones has built a monument to live sports. I know lots of Giants fans who, on a crummy day, would much rather eat their tickets to Giants Stadium and stay home and watch on TV. Jones has done everything in his power to make sure pro football doesn't become studio sport. He has invented the world biggest high-def TV, so that up to 100,000 people can look up and see a vivid picture -- a picture so clear it stunned Tony Romo a week ago. "I looked up at one point, and there I was,'' he said. "I said, 'Whoa! I should have shaved today.' ''

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