Saturday, December 5, 2009

Boys Trip Destination: Texas

Boys Trip Destination: Texas

By Mike C. DeNero

Our new feature, Mike DeNero's Storytime, will be kicked off by Mike C. DeNero, my business partner (I am Mike DeNero -- no middle initial). Actually, neither of us is "named" Mike DeNero, but since we've adopted that name for our card business, we figured it would be best to use the Mike DeNero moniker for our pen names as well, especially since Benjamin Franklin already used "Silence Dogood," which I wanted, but I deferred to ol' Ben! Anyway, enjoy the story!


Each year, two of my groomsmen and I say adieu to our families for a weekend to attend a Dallas Cowboys road game. Like our hero, Bob Lilly, we still bleed silver and blue. And unlike our beloved team, we have terrorized opponents’ stadiums for the last several years and forged solid-gold memories along the way. Making an exception this year to our traditional road game selection, we decided to attend the inaugural game at the new $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium, where the Cowboys hosted the New York Giants on September 20th.

Most of us in the group now have children, and our hall passes are limited. Our wives characterize these weekend getaways as “boondoggles,” and when we return they exact punitive comeuppance. Our road trips, then, don’t just include Cowboys games. We build in other sporting events to maximize our opportunity. In 2007, for example, we scheduled the following lineup: Pirates vs. Cubs (Wrigley Field); Michigan State vs. Notre Dame (South Bend); and Cowboys vs. Bears (Soldier Field). This year we had a comparable theme: Angels vs. Rangers (Ballpark at Arlington); Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. Texas Longhorns (Memorial Stadium, or whatever they call it these days); and Giants vs. Cowboys (Cowboys Stadium).

In the eyes of Texas, football ranks close to the Alamo in importance. It starts in Pee-Wee league and the intensity grows at each stage. Football even played a tactical role in George W. Bush’s ascension to the presidency of the U.S. In 1998, incumbent Texas governor Bush and Karl Rove needed a big re-election victory to propel Bush into the national spotlight before the 2000 Presidential election. Bush was polling well ahead of his challenger, Gary Mauro, and didn’t want to debate. Rove ensured that Bush debated Mauro one time. The venue was the sleepy West Texas town of El Paso. National media were not allowed. The debate occurred on a Friday night.

By most accounts, neither candidate did well at the debate. But it didn’t matter: no one was watching. As Rove knew well, on Friday nights Texas voters are at the local high school football game. Bush went on to blow away Mauro for the Texas governorship. Riding the tide of success, he became the top Republican candidate for President. The rest is history.

As fate would have it, my road trip to Texas started with the governor. On my way to my departure gate at Reagan National Airport in D.C., I ran into Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, whom I had met years ago. The consummate politician, he walked over to me, security detail in tow, and asked if I was going home (to Texas, where I was born and raised). I said yes, and informed him of my schedule (outlined above). He replied that he would miss the Texas Longhorns game, but would attend the Cowboys game on Sunday. After that exchange, I immediately sat down and emailed my boys: “Guess who I just spoke to at the airport?” Republican or Democrat, that’s good karma. Or so I thought.

After arriving in Dallas, our team assembled at Mustard’s house. (Mustard obtained his nickname in the Yankee Stadium bleachers after eating a bloated pretzel with mustard.) Mustard got married in August, and we were pleasantly surprised to learn that he now had a cat named Austin. We all hate cats and know that he once shared our sentiment. “The cat came with the package,” he said despondently. The unbridled hazing then commenced, and as expected Austin the cat would be a continued theme throughout the trip.

As Mustard defended his masculinity, we hopped in the King Ranch Edition F-150 and headed for the Ballpark at Arlington, which is adjacent to Cowboys Stadium. On the way, we tuned-in to Cowboys radio and joined the decade’s long debate over whether Jerry Jones should have fired Tom Landry. (Yes, it’s still raging.) The debate within the truck lasted until we saw what looked to be a mushroom cloud on the horizon. (“That’s not a planet. That’s a space station.”) Upon closer examination, it turned out to be – you guessed it – our final destination in two days.

For now, Cowboys Stadium would have to wait. The Texas Rangers were still in the playoff hunt, and could have made up significant ground against the division-leading Angels. But the ballpark wasn’t even full (Friday night = high school football), and those who cared to show up were listless. So were the Rangers. They lost the game (and the season). Not to worry. We really didn’t care much for the Rangers, and this game was just a primer for a weekend of football.

We woke up early Saturday morning, attached the Freedom Grill to the rear bumper of the truck, and left one Austin (the cat) for another (the Texas capital). Before leaving town, we patronized a Mexican michoacana and stocked up on fresh tortillas and a bunch of marinated meat of different species. It took us three hours to reach Austin, and on the way we passed Troy, Texas, which the city council renamed Troy Aikman, Texas during the glory years. (It has since been renamed Troy.)

Outside Memorial Stadium, we claimed a good piece of real estate, and set up our oversized Texas Longhorns tent. We then hooked up the flat-screen television to the DirecTv satellite dish and – voila! – started watching the noon college football games. We then fired up the grill, tossed the pigskin around, and prepared for the 7pm kickoff. When the food was ready, Mustard asked: “Does anyone want vegetables?” The perplexed reply was: “You mean, like, onions?”

The Longhorns disposed of the Red Raiders in front of 101,297 people, the largest audience in the history of Texas football. When they announced the record, Mustard turned to me and said, “That record will stand for one day.”

On Sunday, we returned to Dallas in time to tailgate again. Same set up. Same food. Coolers still heavy. After we sat down, we noticed that a few Rangers fan were sulking back to their vehicles after another demoralizing loss. Many of them stopped in their tracks at the site of the satellite dish and Freedom Grill. I learned that day that people are more intrigued by professional tailgating than the White House.

As I reach the end of my word limit, my business partner, the other Mike DeNero (the one without the “C.” middle initial) is anxiously awaiting the part where I describe how his New York Giants pulled out a lucky victory over my Cowboys. But I will give him no such satisfaction. So I’ll end with this. The stadium reminded me of Thunder Dome. It was gigantic; so big that when you think you’re about to enter, you still have fifteen minutes of walking remaining. The inside is cavernous, immaculate, and intimidating (at least for the fans). Really, you have to see it to believe it.

And yes, we broke the Texas football record for largest audience, set the previous night in Austin. The record now stands at 105,121.

Now that’s the cat’s meow. Right, Mustard?

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