Give Dallas a sporting chance


POSTED: Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's not that I hate the Dallas Cowboys, but I can't recall ever once pulling for them to win a game. Still, they are the Dallas Cowboys, and Texas Stadium, with that rectangular puka in the roof, is one of America's most recognizable sports arenas. So it was a thrill to attend a game there for the first time, and the last.

The stadium opened in 1971, and is showing its age, the underside of the roof as rusty as Aloha Stadium. And it seats just 60,000. A few miles away out in Arlington, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is building a $1.1 billion stadium that will seat 100,000—so big it will be the first football stadium with a Jumbotron hanging over the center of the field, with the screen stretching from one 20-yard line to the other—60 yards of high-def glory. They do things big in Texas.

As for the game, I went down to field level to watch the teams warm up and was impressed with how big and fast they are. You know they are, sure, but seeing it close up is a wow reminder.

The Cowboys, playing without star quarterback Tony Romo and several other starters, managed to win by stopping Tampa Bay on fourth down with less than a minute to play, and it was great fun watching a game with such knowledgeable and passionate fans. I can just imagine what the sound will be like with another 40,000 of them—95 percent wearing Cowboys gear.

I'm told that fans taking taxis or hotel shuttles to the new stadium will not be dropped off, literally, on freeways, as they are by the score (yers truly included) at Texas Stadium. For more information, including a video tour of the new stadium, go to

There's more to a guy's weekend in Dallas than sports, and the other draw is the grub, starting with that good, slow-smoked Texas barbecue served with a rich, vinegar-based red-brown sauce.

I was already a fan of the Spring Creek chain of barbecue houses from a previous Dallas visit, and highly recommend it as well as the Dickey's and Cousin's BBQ outlets at the Dallas Forth Worth airport. This time, Art Stricklin, the Sports Illustrated golf writer, introduced me to Sonny Bryan's on Lemon Street, which has been doing Texas barbecue to raves since 1910. You have to like a place that sells smoked meats by the pound.

I loaded up with a quarter-pound of brisket, quarter-pound of sausage and quarter-pound of pork ribs, with sides of cole slaw, baked beans and mashed potatoes, washed down with Shiner Bock beer, made in the Texas town of Shiner (pop. 2,000, “;Cleanest Little City in Texas”;), all of which (along with peach cobbler a la mode) set me back, with tip, about $20. Other meats include turkey, pulled pork, ham and beef ribs. Dang, this stuff is good. You can order sauces at

At Papacita's Mexican restaurant the following evening, the Shiner Bock was served on tap, and upon further review it rates among the best beers I've ever enjoyed. As for Mexican food, I've never had bad Mexican food in Texas over the years. And it's all authentic.

Thus well fortified, I was ready for some golf. Which is easy to do in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, which boasts more than 50 courses, from expensive country clubs to goat-track publics. Thanks to old friend Greg Nichols, head pro at Ko Olina, I was able to play Royal Oaks Country Club. Warming up beforehand on the driving range, I looked over and there was ... Justin Leonard, PGA Tour star and Ryder Cup hero! His teacher, Randy Smith, is Royal Oaks head pro.

At least a dozen PGA, LPGA and Champions tour players are members here, and it's easy to see why. Royal Oaks plays 7,100 yards from the tips, and with lightning-quick greens is among the top 10 best courses I've ever played, a list that includes Pebble Beach, Olympic Club, the Old Course and Turnberry.

“;Because of all the trees, it's a very strategic course,”; Art had said. “;You have to be on the correct side of the fairway if you're going to score. ... It's my favorite course in Dallas.”; ROCC is located about 10 minutes from the SMU football stadium, and I'm told June Jones is a regular. For a course tour, go to

If you can't get on at a private course, I'd recommend Tour 18. Located in the suburb of Flower Mound not far from the DFW airport, it's a series of replica holes from famous American championship courses. Knockoffs include the island green at TPC Sawgrass (I hit a 9-iron to the green and made a memorable par), and the final three holes replicate Amen Corner at Augusta National (holes 11-13). Play here and watching the Masters, as well other majors, on TV will never be the same. For more information and a course tour, go to

HOCKEY, AS YOU may have noticed, is not a huge game in Hawaii. But to me, having grown up watching the Portland Buckaroos of the old Western Hockey League and later the NHL St. Louis Blues when I was in grad school, hockey is the single best sport to watch in person. Big guys swinging sticks and running into each other at 25 mph really is something to behold.

One of the great sporting experiences I've ever had came about 30 minutes before the Stars' game at AAC, when ushers encourage fans to go down to ice level to watch the teams warm up. I took a seat in the first row behind the Washington Capitals' goal—the better to check out Russian “;Wunderkind”; Alexander Ovechkin—and immediately felt as if I were at the business end of a gun range. Pucks fired at 100 mph hit the plexiglass wall and resounded like gunfire. And with at least 20 pucks on the ice, and all of the players firing away, it began to resemble 10,000 firecrackers on New Year's Eve. The force of one puck that hit the boards knocked my leather notebook up and onto the ground. With all of the violent pop-pop-bang-bang, my heart was literally racing as if I were on a roller coaster or something.

The game itself was a thriller, Dallas tying the score at 5 with less than a minute left, and the Caps winning in overtime. Oh, and there was a fight. Perfect.

By the way, dress warm. Temperature in the arena hovered near 50. So your beer will stay cold. Ticket cost ranges from $15 for standing room only to $150. And you don't have to be a hard-core hockey fan to enjoy the show. At least twice during each of the three 20-minute periods, the Ice Girls—hotties dressed in hip-hugger pants and bare midriffs—skate out with snow shovels and scoop up all of the loose ice in front of the nets. Yes, the city that gave us the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders now boasts the Dallas Stars Ice Girls. Cards handed out before the game advertise “;the official tanning salon of the Ice Girls.”; For more information, go to

Back at the Crowne Plaza Dallas Market Center, working on another pint of Shiner Bock at the hotel bar and watching the World Series on TV, I was ready to head home to Honolulu the next day a contented man. But I'd have been just as happy to stay and enjoy a few more sporty days in Dallas.


Don Chapman is editor of Midweek.