Is Bigger Better?

Does the fact that a team is in a big market give it a competitive edge? Do better and bigger facilities win the day? Those are a couple of the questions I’ve been contemplating this week while I’ve been in Dallas at a training conference for work.

Generally speaking, the people in Dallas are like people anywhere else: some are nice, some are not, some are rich, some are not and so on. I’ve been treated with great warmth here, but I came upon a group of three twenty-somethings last night when I ventured out to the local gas station for a pop and they asked me, “Where are you from, Pittsburgh?” I chuckled slightly, since I was wearing a Steeler shirt. Hardly took a genius to figure that one out, but I acknowledged that I was and followed it up by saying, “So, what gave it away, the shirt?” One of them shook his head and said, “No, you’re the first person we’ve seen who doesn’t have a scowl on his face.” Turns out they were all from California, so I pointed out that they would scowl too if they lived in a place this big, flat and hot. I’m not sure if that’s a legitimate observation or not, really; I’ve been around Big D enough in my lifetime to where nothing seems out of place with the people or their attitudes, but what I personally observe when you begin to engage them in a sports discussion is a general hubris that their teams cannot always back up, and there remains a rivalry between the Steelers and the Cowboys that began in the 70’s and remains to this day which I think is fueled on the Dallas side by the fact that it galls them anyone out paces them, particularly Pittsburgh’s little market team.

I think of it as a David v. Goliath kind of thing. The mantra down there is that “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” Based on the airport terminal I’m sitting in currently, I would have to say that’s got some validity, but it’s not just the size of the major cities and their structures, there always did seem to be a sense that everything had to be done on a grander scale: the hairstyles of the socialites, the egos of the business tycoons, and the sports arenas. When I was in Dallas last, it was hockey season and the Pens were in town, so I went to American Airlines Center to see them. Wow. I love Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, but I really have to say that it pales in comparison to where the Dallas Stars and Mavericks call home in both size and panache. Yet, the place was filled with what I swear was mostly Penguins fans and we won the game in OT. The Penguins went on to under-perform in the playoffs, but at least they got their shot (if you will). The Stars were watching from the comfort of their living rooms. All that glitz and glamour haven’t bought them any more Stanley Cups, and I dare you to name me the front line of the Stars without having to look it up.

Which brings me to Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys. Just examining the stadium alone is daunting. Cowboys Stadium opened in 2009 and at the time held the largest seating capacity of any NFL stadium at 80,000 (it was overtaken in 2010 by MetLife Stadium, home to the Jets and the Giants, with about 2,500 more seats). However, it can hold up to 110,000 with full standing capacity and has recorded over 105,000 for a game. It boasts the second largest high-def video screen, and is the largest domed stadium in the world. It’s address: 1 Legends Way.

One has to wonder if the address refers to the number of marquis players who have donned Cowboy uniforms or if the owner thought of himself when arranging the name. He is famously successful and highly visible, and did helm the Cowboys on a phenomenal run in the 90’s, culminating with their last Super Bowl win in 1996. That’s the one that Steeler fans love to hate, since it was not only against the Steelers, but elevated the Cowboys to more overall Super Bowls than we had at the time. But things dried up not long after and the Cowboys went through 13 seasons with no playoff wins. The Steelers in the meantime managed to erase the Lombardi Trophy deficit and added one more for good measure. To salt the wound, the Super Bowl Jerry Jones so dreamed about having in his glittering behemoth stadium, often referred to as Jerry’s World, was between none other than the Steelers and that other small market team, the Green Bay Packers.

So, as I yearn to get on the plane and come home to my little city with its modestly sized 65,000 seat stadium, I have concluded that bigger is not always better.

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