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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sports fans getting last tours of Texas Stadium

Jon Henderson stood in a suite at Texas Stadium, spouting off player statistics in a rhythmic staccato.

A father and his son listened as their tour guide's fast facts turned to the stadium itself. Among other things, Mr. Henderson explained that the mammoth scoreboard and video screens weigh 20 tons and are held up by four large bolts.

"I try to make a point of never sitting under them," Mr. Henderson quipped before ushering tourgoers through the hall, down an elevator and into the Dallas Cowboys' locker room.

For Jerry and Ben Brown, this tour was a last chance to catch firsthand glimpses of the legendary structure before the Cowboys vacate it for a new stadium next year. For Mr. Henderson, it was among the last times he'll guide sports fans on an inside look at Irving's most well-known landmark.

Tours are set to end Dec. 22, and the city plans to tear down the stadium after the team moves to Arlington.

"I never thought I'd see this place go," said Mr. Henderson, 41, the stadium's main tour guide, who once played on the famed field as an Irving MacArthur High School football player. "I caught myself choking up about it the other day."

Dallas Cowboys officials said they've seen a spike in the number of people touring the structure this season as fans clamor for final looks at the home of America's Team.

On Wednesday, Ben Brown drove from Edmond, Okla., to pick up his father in Sherman and head to Irving for one last look at their favorite team's home for more than 37 years.

"Just being big fans, we wanted to see parts of it before it was gone," Jerry Brown said.

One of the best moments? Walking down the tunnel and onto the field.

"It's a special feeling if you've always been a fan," said Ben Brown, who was a kid the last time he set foot on Texas Stadium's field during an open practice in the early 1970s.

And what did they think of their tour guide?

"He was full of information," Ben Brown said. "Of course, I'm a big fan, so most of the stats he rattled off I'm familiar with."

It took Mr. Henderson two weeks to learn many of those stats. A longtime Cowboys fan, he knew plenty about the team's most renowned players. But the stadium facts took more time to memorize.

Mr. Henderson estimates he's given more than 10,000 stadium tours since his first in 2003. These days, he effortlessly walks backward through curved hallways and around corners as he guides Cowboys fans throughout the stadium. Unnoticeable tricks such as tracking the lights in the center of the ceiling keep him from backing into anything.

It's a job that's given him access to some of his favorite football players. And introduced him to countless kids named Dallas, Troy and Emmitt.

Mr. Henderson has witnessed plenty of proposals from men who bent down on one knee on the star in the center of the field. He even saw one woman flash her husband from the star.

"You try to remember this is somebody else's vacation, and it puts a smile on your face," he said.

He admits he's going to have trouble walking backward when he first starts tours at the new stadium next year. And there's going to be a bevy of new statistics to learn about the new place. Still, he said, he's landed a pretty good gig for a kid who grew up in Irving loving the Dallas Cowboys.

He said: "I bleed blue and silver."

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