Ride on! A first look at Cowboys Stadium

Some think Cowboys Stadium is out of this world. "It looks like a flying saucer," said visiting Titans fan Zach Allen. "I think it'll take off before the game, and we'll be floating into orbit during the game." AP Photo/Brandon Wade

Photo gallery: Cowboys Stadium | Cowboys Stadium Guide

Editor's note: This is an updated reprise of a feature that originally appeared in August 2009.

The night before the Dallas Cowboys' inaugural game in their new stadium, Mother Nature had a coming-out party of her own. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed, sheets of rain poured down, car and house alarms sounded and tree limbs broke down, all culminating in what felt like a possible tornado that might have postponed the game.

But this is Texas football, where apparently even the severest of storms can't stop the Cowboys.

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Video Click here for video of the new stadium that we call the "Jerry Jones All-Access Tour."

By noon the next day, the sun appeared, warming the air to a sweltering 101 degrees. As kickoff for the preseason contest against the Titans drew near, the clouds returned, reminiscent of the sky before an impending attack in the movie "Ghostbusters." Somewhat fitting, as many have likened the Cowboys' new home to another science fiction classic: the Death Star ship of the "Star Wars" series.

And so it was that Mother Nature ushered in a new era of the overhyped, overpriced, oversized football stadium in Arlington, Texas. Or so I assumed from what I'd read before arriving in Dallas. Numerous articles pointed out the $1.2 billion price tag, which was surpassed as the "most expensive stadium" this year by the Giants and Jets' $1.6 billion new home. Still, the $150,000 down payment required of season-ticket holders for 30 years of seats -- which didn't include ticket prices -- and the rumored $60 pizza once inside meant a visit to the Cowboys' new home wouldn't be cheap.

Still, Cowboys fans, players, opponents and haters alike agreed: The unique stadium is worth the trip. Here are four good reasons why (though the first one will be a bit tough to swing this week, as tailgates aren't allowed before the Super Bowl):

The tailgates

Kickoff that day was set for 7 p.m. I arrived at the venue at 1:45 p.m. to a maze of signs and construction cones. My first attempt at parking was inside the lots next to the stadium labeled "permit only." Denied. When I asked where a paying customer might park, the guard directed me toward the adjacent, and rather distant, Rangers Ballpark lots.

At the Rangers' "A" lot, the friendly staff informed me it would be $60 to park. Fortunately, the "D" lot was a mere $20. The only problem: "D" is situated behind Rangers Ballpark, far enough away that Cowboys Stadium isn't even visible. After a brief wrong turn into the $40 "C" lot, I parked in "D." That's where I found Alex Caudill and Andrew Lowe, a pair of 23-year-olds from nearby Irving and the first of many tailgaters I would talk to.

These two had bought their tickets off StubHub from a season-ticket holder who'd forgotten to share his parking pass. No matter; they appreciated the time to drink their 12-packs. Lowe likened the stadium to another famous architectural relic, saying, "I've had a few goose bumps in my life looking at stadiums, and this rivals the colosseum -- the one in Rome." They didn't mind shelling out a Jackson to park, nor the mile-and-a-half walk to the game.

Along my circuitous path, I encountered numerous tailgaters entertaining themselves more than five hours before the preseason game. Most had the full setup: tents, chairs, food and drinks for days, flat-screen TVs, helium-inflated Tony Romos and the occasional personal port-a-potty.

Decade-long season-ticket holder John Casarez was one of the few fans not drooling over the new digs.

"The stadium is too big," said Casarez, 58. "We came for the open house and sat in our fourth-level seats. As much money as we paid for them, it's just too high up."

Casarez said that for his two tickets, he paid a $5,000 licensing fee per seat and $100 per game (eight in the regular season and two preseason tilts). That means for the 2009 season of Cowboys football, he spent $12,000, with another $600 tacked on for parking.

"I didn't like paying more, but it's the Cowboys," Casarez said.

(Note to Super Bowl XLV attendees: A Jan. 27 article in the Fort-Worth Star Telegram reported that parking for the Super Bowl will be handled differently, since thousands of spaces around the Stadium will be unavailable. Fans are encouraged to buy their official NFL parking passes beforehand and follow the driving directions included. The article also noted that fans will have to park "farther east at Rangers Ballpark and Six Flags," which are the areas I trekked during my 2009 visit.)

Some fans, like Mark Self of the parting-lot revelers group Talking Trash Tailgate Bash, found creative ways to take part in Cowboys mania. Self bought a season parking pass ($600 for the "A" lot) and two season tickets. His dozen or so friends who tailgate at each game trade off on who pays to actually go inside the stadium, while the rest of the crew remains in the parking lot with a 52-inch HDTV, eats and drinks spread far and wide, and even a portable john decorated with thematic signage deriding each opponent.

I asked Self whether he thought Cowboys Stadium would sell out.

"I'm kind of skeptical," said Self, 27, of Flower Mound, Texas. "When they built the American Airlines Center, Mavs fans were everywhere, and then it was kind of a ghost town for a while. But this is Jerry World. He's got so much stuff in there, there's no telling what will happen."

(Self checked in again last week and reported that for the 2010 season, he and his group parked in the same lot, which still fetches $60 per game. But he found an online deal for a discounted price of $300, saving them 50 percent on the cost. They also added a new tailgate logo and a banner encouraging fellow tailgate guests, who traveled from as far away as Quebec, to sign their John Hancocks and chronicle their Cowboys Stadium experience. Self also said that because tailgating isn't allowed before the Super Bowl, he and his crew will watch the big game from his house in Richardson, Texas ... and cheer on the Packers.)

Adria Martinez, 24 and seven months pregnant, talked about a recurring dream in which she's worried that the Cowboys fans in her family (especially her husband) might be too absorbed in football to accompany her to the hospital if she goes into labor on a Sunday. She and her husband bought four season tickets and are using two while selling the other two seats to each game at a higher price to make up for costs. The local Arlington resident said they'd had no trouble getting rid of them for the price they wanted.

Cy Ditmore scored a prime tailgate spot adjacent to the stadium. His tailgate prowess precedes him, as a PBS documentary team was filming him when I stopped by. Ditmore, 53, of Marble Falls, Texas, has been a season-ticket holder for more than 20 years but says some of his fellow tailgaters didn't switch over to the new digs.

"We know people we've tailgated with for years that didn't make the move, but I have a feeling they'll be back," Ditmore said. "That was strictly financial. They said, 'Hey, we can't afford it.'"

Before entering the stadium I finally found four Titans fans, beers in hand. They seemed quite impressed upon first glance at the stadium, while also joking about its appearance.

"It looks like a flying saucer," said Zach Allen of Nashville, Tenn. "I think it'll take off before the game, and we'll be floating into orbit during the game."

Greg Salisbury agreed.

"Nothing's too good for the Titans to play in," said a grinning Salisbury, who hails from Olive Branch, Miss.

Finally, at 4:50 p.m., media credential in hand, I walked through the palace gates. That first peek inside made the wait worthwhile. That brings us to the second reason. ...