Hockey, Football in the Heart of Texas

By HOWARD BERGER

DALLAS (Nov. 25) – Generally speaking, I do not equate this city with fondness of memory, for it was here – on Jan. 1, 1996 – that I received a phone-call saying my mother had died of cancer. The call from my wife, Susan, came as no surprise, as mom had taken an irreversible turn soon after I’d left on a Leafs trip to St. Louis, that continued here on New Year’s Day. While the Leafs and Stars were playing a matinee at old Reunion Arena, I was heading home on a profoundly sad, gut-wrenching flight.

To suggest, however, that Dallas makes me cringe would also be inaccurate. A hockey game here on Nov. 30, 1996 preceded – by five nights – the greatest moment and period of my life, as Susan gave birth to our first child, Shane, in the early-morning hours of Dec. 6. Of course, I had no inkling of the blessed event, as Shane’s due date was Jan. 9, 1997. He arrived five weeks early… I’ve often believed as some form of spiritual gift from my mother that erased the pall surrounding the one-year anniversary of her death.

Walking about Dealey Plaza, as I’ve done on almost every trip here, is eternally powerful nearly half-a-century after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in that tiny annex of Dallas. The grassy knoll… the triple-underpass… the old Texas Schoolbook Depository building (from where Lee Harvey Oswald was said to have shot Kennedy)… the cement pedestal upon which Abraham Zapruder stood while legendarily filming the assassination – they all look virtually the same as on that fateful afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. Touring the site is a must for any visitor.

Fast-forwarding to my current trip for tonight’s game at the American Airlines Center between the Leafs and Dallas Stars, I enjoyed one of the great afternoons here on Thursday. After covering Leafs practice, and writing a story for the National Post, I drove out to suburban Arlington with my long-time colleague at The Fan-590 – Dan Dunleavy – now sharing the Leafs radio play-by-play chores with Joe Bowen. Dan and I attended the Dallas Cowboys annual Thanksgiving Day NFL game – this year, against Miami – at the gargantuan stadium that opened last season (and hosted the Green Bay-Pittsburgh Super Bowl in January). We had terrific seats – between the 40 and 45-yard line in the second row of the upper deck, behind the Cowboys bench – and watched a superb, back-and-forth encounter that Dallas pulled out, 20-19, on a last-play field goal.

As per usual, my photos do most of the talking in this blog. Enjoy these images of Dallas; the Leafs off-day practice, and the Cowboys-Dolphins football game:

IT WAS BRILLIANTLY SUNNY WHEN WE APPROACHED DALLAS-FORT WORTH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT ON WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON (ABOVE) – FLYING HERE FROM TAMPA WITH A CONNECTION IN CHARLOTTE.

DRIVING DOWNTOWN FROM THE AIRPORT IS NO CHALLENGE WHATSOEVER. THE HARD PART IS FINDING YOUR WAY OUT OF MASSIVE D-F-W, WHICH HAS NORTH AND SOUTH EXITS THAT ARE DIFFICULT TO NAVIGATE.

SIGN FOR THE MUNICIPAL AIRPORT (ABOVE) THAT WILL FOREVER BE LINKED TO THE DAY PRESIDENT KENNEDY WAS ASSASSINATED IN THIS CITY. TRAFFIC INTO TOWN ON THE STEMMONS FREEWAY (BELOW) LIKELY WASN’T AS HEAVY IN 1963.

THOUGH I’M NOT STAYING AT THE RENAISSANCE DALLAS HOTEL (ABOVE) ON THIS TRIP, I’VE INCLUDED A PHOTO SIMPLY BECAUSE I THINK IT’S ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BUILDINGS IN THE CITY – WITH A UNIQUE MARBLED EXTERIOR.

DOWNTOWN DALLAS (ABOVE) FROM THE 26th FLOOR OF MY HOTEL. THE AMERICAN AIRLINES CENTER – HOME OF THE DALLAS STARS AND NBA-CHAMPION DALLAS MAVERICKS – IS THE RED-BRICK BUILDING AT FAR LEFT.

THIS DOWNTOWN BUILDING APPEARS TO BE ENGULFED IN A DESTRUCTIVE FIRE, DOESN’T IT? ACTUALLY, IT’S A PHOTO OF THE LATE-AFTERNOON SUN REFLECTING OFF ITS WINDOWS.

HEARTENING NEWS FOR LEAF FANS WAS THE APPEARANCE OF GOALIE JAMES REIMER (ABOVE) IN A FULL TEAM-PRACTICE ON THURSDAY FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE NOV. 1. COACH RON WILSON LATER CLAIMED REIMER WILL NOT PLAY FOR AT LEAST 10 DAYS, BUT THE GOALIE WOULD LIKE HIS RETURN TO COME SOONER.

THE AMERICAN AIRLINES CENTER (ABOVE) IS A HANDSOME BUILDING WITH LOWER-LEVEL SEATS THAT REFLECT THE SILVER COLOR OF PLANES FLOWN BY THE SPONSOR.

IF RON WILSON WEREN’T RAISING TWO GLOVED FINGERS (ABOVE), I’D HAVE SWORN HE WAS SALUTING ME FROM ACROSS THE ICE.

AFTER PRACTICING FOR 75 MINUTES, THE LEAF PLAYERS STRETCHED AT CENTER-ICE (ABOVE). LATER, I SAT IN THE EMPTY, DARKENED ARENA (BELOW) WHILE BANGING OUT A NATIONAL POST STORY ON MY LAP-TOP.

COWBOYS–DOLPHINS…

APPEARING LIKE A HUGE SPACE-SHIP IN THE DISTANCE IS COWBOYS STADIUM (ABOVE) IN ARLINGTON – 15 MILES WEST OF DOWNTOWN DALLAS.

ADJACENT TO THE FOOTBALL STADIUM (ABOVE AND BELOW) IS THE BALLPARK IN ARLINGTON – HOME OF THE AMERICAN LEAGUE-CHAMPION TEXAS RANGERS.

WITH THE RANGERS BALLPARK IN THE BACKGROUND, FOOTBALL FANS ENGAGE IN THE AMERICAN TRADITION OF PRE-GAME TAIL-GATE PARTIES (ABOVE).

NO MATTER WHICH ANGLE YOU VIEW IT FROM, THE 90,000-SEAT COWBOYS STADIUM (ABOVE) IS A SIGHT TO BEHOLD.

THE MOST TALKED-ABOUT FEATURE OF COWBOYS STADIUM IS THE ENORMOUS VIDEO-BOARD SUSPENDED ABOVE THE FIELD; THE MOST TALKED-ABOUT IMAGES ON THE VIDEO-BOARD ARE SIMILAR TO THE ONE FEATURED BELOW.

DALLAS QUARTERBACK TONY ROMO (ABOVE) HAD A ROUGH START, THROWING A PAIR OF INTERCEPTIONS IN THE FIRST QUARTER. AFTER THE LATTER PICK, HE CONVERSED ON THE SIDELINES (BELOW) WITH RECEIVER LAURENT ROBINSON.

ROBINSON CAME THROUGH FOR THE COWBOYS LATER IN THE GAME, CELEBRATING A TOUCHDOWN RECEPTION (ABOVE) FROM ROMO.

DOLPHINS QUARTERBACK MATT MOORE (ABOVE) THREW FOR 288 YARDS BUT WAS HARASSED ALL AFTERNOON BY THE COWBOYS FRONT FOUR.

FANS AT THE STADIUM COULD EITHER WATCH THE ACTION DOWN BELOW, OR AN INTENSE CLOSE-UP ON THE MAMMOTH VIDEO-BOARD.

SPANISH POP STAR ENRIQUE IGLESIAS (“TONIGHT I’M LOVING YOU”) PERFORMED LIVE ON THE FIELD AT HALF-TIME (ABOVE). PICTURED BELOW ARE THREE VIEWS OF THE ENORMOUS STADIUM AND ITS MULTI SEATING LEVELS. ATTENDANCE ON THURSDAY WAS 87,418.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MALE WASHROOM BREAK DURING TIME-OUTS AT COWBOYS STADIUM.

TONY ROMO COOLLY LED THE COWBOYS DOWN-FIELD IN THE DYING MOMENTS OF THURSDAY’S GAME (ABOVE AND BELOW).

THE 54-YARD DRIVE CULMINATED WITH DAN BAILEY’S 28-YARD FIELD GOAL ON THE FINAL PLAY (ABOVE) TO GIVE DALLAS A 20-19 VICTORY.

HAPPY FANS LEAVE THE STADIUM (ABOVE) AFTER THE COWBOYS FOURTH CONSECUTIVE WIN.

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