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Cowboys’ stadium offers little home field advantage

The first time Donnie Jones stepped onto the field for warm-ups at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, he did the same thing as every other NFL punter. He kicked the ball at the gigantic video board that hangs over the middle of the field.

“I wanted to see if I could hit it,” Jones said.

The thing cost $40 million, which might be petty cash compared to the $1.15 billion construction cost for the entire stadium, but it’s still a $40 million set of TV screens and every time the Dallas Cowboys have a home game the opposing punter takes a few whacks at it. Just to see.

“James Casey actually threw a ball and hit it,” Jones said. “He’s got a great arm.”

Casey, who converted to football after a three-year stint as a pitcher in the White Sox minor league system, wasn’t owning up to that. It’s one thing for punters to know what it takes to bonk the board. That’s valuable information for them. It doesn’t come into play that often for tight ends.

“Uh, I don’t know. I might have come close,” Casey said.

Blame it on the stadium. It does that kind of thing to people. The Jerry Jones Pleasure Dome and Pole-Dancing Emporium is like no other football stadium. It isn’t supposed to be. When the Eagles play the Cowboys today during America’s annual overdose on football and tryptophan, the setting is going to be a part of the story. Weather-related issues aside, there isn’t another NFL stadium you can really say that about.

“It’s just a big circus,” linebacker Trent Cole said. “You know you’re in a circus when you’ve got to walk through a bar to get to the field.”

The tunnel leading to the field is lined with glass walls and, yes, there are high-rollers standing behind those walls drinking, laughing, banging on the glass to get the attention of the players or to rattle them or whatever. The most infamous moment in Eagles history in the stadium may have been when Donovan McNabb came down the tunnel headed for a playoff game after the 2009 season and, after playing some doofy air guitar, turned and beat on the glass from the other side. It’s infamous because McNabb didn’t exactly back up that nonsense and the Eagles lost by 20 points.

That was a good day for the Cowboys. In fact, it was the best day ever for the Cowboys in AT&T Stadium. The wild-card win is their only postseason victory since the 1996 season and their only playoff appearance in AT&T since it opened in 2009. If part of the organization’s motive in building the monstrosity was for it to serve as a symbol that the team should set itself a notch above others as well, then it has been a failure.

“Going into the game almost feels like you’re not going to be playing a football game because the stadium is almost like an entertainment facility,” Kelce said. “That kind of fits in with the Cowboys mantra. It’s not like a football organization. It’s more like an entertainment business.”

Since the stadium opened, the Cowboys have essentially the same record home and away. They have been 25-21 in AT&T (which was renamed from Cowboys Stadium in 2013) and 24-21 in road games. The stadium is interesting enough and even the players catch themselves watching the video boards from the sideline, but there’s nothing even vaguely intimidating about the place.

“It’s nice there. You feel like you’re at a party,” linebacker Brandon Graham said. “This one is going to be big and when you see the people in there banging on the walls and all that type of stuff, you can get jacked up for that kind of game. Like I said, it’s a party and you want to be the ones still partying at the end of the day.”

The Eagles are 3-2 in the regular season in AT&T, with the most recent win a 24-22 game at the end of last season that decided which team would win the division and make the playoffs. In that game, the Cowboys were playing with a backup quarterback. This time, it’s the Eagles in that situation.

“That place is unlike any other football stadium you’re ever going to play in, but once you’re on the field, you don’t think about it,” Kelce said.

It is still 100 yards by 53.5 yards, just like back in Hickory, and what matters aren’t the go-go girls dancing in the cages or the people behind the glass or even the video board. Maybe the stadium is special, but the field itself certainly hasn’t been for the Cowboys.

“The field is the same. That’s all that matters,” said Jones, who doesn’t even think about that space station hanging 90 feet above the field. “You have to intentionally try to hit a ball straight up to hit it. Last year, I crushed my last punt of the game (56 yards) and that didn’t hit it. I don’t worry about it.”

If the punter doesn’t worry, no one should. Pretty much, no one does. AT&T Stadium is many things. It is a circus and it is an entertainment complex and it is a party. It is special, but, check the record, it’s nothing special for the home team.

Members of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders walk onto the field to perform during a pre-Halloween halftime show in Arlington, Texas. AP PHOTO