Football fans watch pregame ceremonies take place on the field as a large screen over the field reflects the image of a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader before the start of a preseason NFL game against the Tennessee Titans on Friday in Arlington, Texas.AP photo
ARLINGTON, Texas — The video boards at the new Cowboys Stadium were the center of attention at the building’s first football game, and that wasn’t always a good thing.
While fans were in awe of the world’s largest high-definition screens — roughly 60 yards wide, 25 yards high and as clear as any 52-incher — punters for the Tennessee Titans used it for target practice before and during the preseason home opener Friday night and had little trouble hitting it.
Tennessee backup A.J. Trapasso conked it during the third quarter, forcing a do-over once the officials realized what happened. Then Trapasso nearly hit it again, prompting questions about whether the team needs to make the first major change to its $1.15 billion building.
“It is an issue,” said Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, who happens to be the co-chair of the NFL’s competition committee, a group that could force the Cowboys to take action if they don’t do it on their own. “Something has to get worked out.”
The league is already on the case.
“We are aware of it and will continue to monitor it,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Saturday.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones helped set the height at 90 feet above the field — 5 feet above the league minimum — even though tests using the team’s punter, Mat McBriar, showed he could clear 100 feet. The reasoning behind cutting it close was that during the tests, McBriar was trying to boot it that high, but a regular punt has a lower arc and is usually kicked toward a sideline, not right down the middle.
“I’m not worried about it,” Jones said. “I’m very comfortable that our height on our scoreboard is OK.”
The board has to go up to fit the stage for a U2 concert on Oct. 12. The Cowboys could leave it at that new height or they could use that opportunity to put in a system that would let them raise and lower it whenever they want. However, that would add to the price tag of a stadium that’s already nearly double its originally projected cost of $650 million.
They also might not want to make any changes based on one preseason game.
Dallas will practice at the stadium Thursday night, then play the San Francisco 49ers there Saturday night. Three weeks will pass before the regular-season home opener Sept. 20 against the New York Giants, which might be enough time to make a change.
The Cowboys play at home again the following week, but then won’t use the stadium until Oct. 25. So that’s another time when a change could be made — and will have to be anyway for U2.
Trapasso acknowledged it takes a really good kick to nail the underside of the boards, then noted that most NFL punters have the leg strength to do it. He hit it for the first time on his third warm-up kick, when he wasn’t completely loose.
“It’s nothing that is going to happen every time, but it’s there,” Trapasso said. “I don’t know how much farther up it can go, but it’s in the way. ... It does not matter where you kick it from, it is just right there in the middle of the field. It’s always something that you’re going to be thinking about.”
Officials were slow to react to Trapasso’s ricocheted kick because they were watching the action on the field. Fisher immediately threw his challenge flag, but it was worked out without needing to check a monitor.
The teams then went through all the hitting and running one more time, which Trapasso said can take a toll. He added that a punter wanting to avoid that might take a little something off his kick or angle it differently; either way, it’s a compromise he doesn’t like.
“I’d consider it a big issue if I had to kick here every week,” he said.
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said after the game he thought the Titans were trying to hit the video boards — certainly during warmups and probably during the game. He essentially said to let them keep trying because it might throw them out of whack.