ARLINGTON — In their zeal to set a Super Bowl attendance record, the NFL and Jerry Jones overlooked one important detail: Making sure all the temporary seats inside mammoth Cowboys Stadium had been inspected and were ready for the fans.
A week plagued by poor weather took an embarrassing turn Sunday when the league had to find replacement seats for 850 fans. The NFL also scrambled to find a place for another 400 people to sit inside Jones’ $1.2 billion palace and couldn’t find any with a view of the field.
“This is absolutely ridiculous,” said Glen Long, a Pittsburgh Steelers season-ticket holder who flew in for the game from Baltimore. “That would be fraud anywhere in the world if you sold tickets to an event that you knew you didn’t have. That’s just wrong.”
Actually, the seats had been installed in six temporary sections, but they went up so late that the fire marshal didn’t have time to inspect them, according to a police officer standing near an affected area who wouldn’t give his name and an explanation of the situation provided to several fans.
The officer said the winter storms that struck Dallas earlier had set back work on the temporary seats.
That didn’t matter to fans who felt they had been deceived by the league and Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner who had hoped some 105,000 people would watch the game inside and outside the stadium. To bolster the crowd, there were $200 tickets that provided nothing more than a chance to watch the game on video screens set up in outdoor plazas.
That didn’t work out either: Attendance was announced at 103,219, just short of the record 103,985 who turned out at the Rose Bowl for the 1980 Super Bowl.
As for those 400 fans, not even a hefty refund offer from the NFL was enough to satisfy them for losing their seats. The league said it would pay back triple the face value — $2,400 for the $800 tickets.
“We don’t want that,” said Odett Karam, a Green Bay Packers fan who flew in from California. “We just want to get into the game. We just want to see the game.”
The NFL said 850 fans were put in “similar or better seats.” As for the rest, the NFL first offered to let the fans watch the game in the outdoor plazas. Then, shortly after kickoff, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said they had been allowed into the field-level club behind the Pittsburgh Steelers bench, where they could watch the game on monitors.
If they wanted to see the game in person, they had to use standing-room platforms in each corner of Cowboys Stadium.
Fans complained that wasn’t nearly enough, especially given what they had doled out for travel and hotel costs.
“They took us to a bar,” said Paul Colavecchi, a displaced fan from Clearfield, Pa., who came to Texas with his sister.
“That’s terrific,” he added sarcastically. “That’s why we fronted five grand for this trip — so we could watch the game in a bar. I didn’t have to take a plane trip to Texas to watch the game on TV, and I certainly didn’t buy a ticket so I could watch the game in a bar.”
Compounding the unhappiness, fans in the affected areas were at first put into a fenced-off area while officials tried to sort things out. They became increasingly unruly, alternating chants of “Jerry Sucks!” and “NFL Sucks!”
One man shouted, “They’re treating us like prisoners.” Another said, “We came a long way for this.”
Gerry Grillo, from New Jersey, said he paid $3,000 for a ticket on the secondary market, so he would lose money even if he got a refund.
“We’ve been in a holding area for two hours,” he said after finally being let in the stadium. “Two hours!”
Seating woes are only the latest frustration for the first Super Bowl in the Dallas area.
A rare winter storm swept across the area Tuesday, ripping holes in tents on the property and hampering travel and celebrations across the region. On Friday, six people at the stadium were injured by melting snow falling from the roof one day after 5 inches of unwelcome snow fell on the area.
Organizers were hoping flawless game-day logistics would wipe out some of the complaints, but the seating problem could be an issue in the area’s plans to bid for the 50th Super Bowl in 2016.
The affected areas were four entryways and two portions of the upper deck on the west end.
In the upper deck, there were off-limits seats in the same rows as seats that were deemed safe. Yellow police tape was used as a dividing line, with uniformed personnel also keeping folks away.
“The safety of fans attending the Super Bowl was paramount in making the decision and the NFL, Dallas Cowboys and City of Arlington officials are in agreement with the resolution,” the NFL said in a statement. “We regret the situation and inconvenience that it may have caused. We will conduct a full review of this matter.”
About 15,000 temporary seats were added to the stadium in a bid to set the record for the largest crowd in Super Bowl history. The temporary seats filled open platforms that are usually standing-room only “party pass” areas for Cowboys games. The entryways were on the third level, while the upper deck is on the fifth level.
Rich McCandless of Butler, Pa., was at the game with his son, Rich Jr. The younger McCandless is in the Navy and got leave from submarine duty to come to Texas from Guam.
They were unable to sit in the seats they purchased and watched the game in a standing room-only section.
“They had no solution. Looked like a run around,” the father said. “I’d be more furious if I had any more energy. I’ve been standing since noon and I’m just tired.”