ARLINGTON — We used to call him Jethro Jones.He fired Tom Landry. He chased away Tex Schramm. He dressed the Dallas Cowboys in Nikes, made them drink only Pepsi and turned a proud NFL franchise into his personal money machine.But somehow, in his quest for eternal reimbursement, Jerry Jones landed on the receiving end of three Vince Lombardi trophies. It was the goodwill from those Super Bowls, plus Jones’ timely hiring of Bill Parcells, that led Arlington voters to approve the $325 million in funding that led to the construction of AT&T Stadium, where the NCAA Final Four will begin Saturday.He built a palace, as some of you will see firsthand this weekend.Concerts, football, soccer, title fights, dirt bikes and now the college basketball national championship. The naming rights holder probably cringes at the nickname, but JerryWorld it is in more ways than we ever imagined.On Saturday, the setting will co-star Florida and UConn, Kentucky and Wisconsin, but for the next nine months Arlington and Jerry Jones’ stadium will be the capital of college sports. The first College Football Playoff national championship game will be played here next Jan. 12.One thing makes events like this possible. And as Super Bowl XLV reminded us, it isn’t the weather.“This happens only because of this building,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff. “And this building is awesome.”The original budget for the Cowboys’ new stadium was a relatively pedestrian $650 million. But Jones’ finishing touches, least of which is the 160-foot center video board, pushed the final cost beyond a reported $1.2 billion.It was the largest in the nation at the time, but Jones wasn’t satisfied with the big board. As football fans on either side of the building have noticed, he employs separate camera crews so that customers watching the video screen will see the action moving in exactly the same direction from where they are sitting.During the construction phase, admittedly, some of us weren’t convinced. We thought Jones would confuse classy with tacky.But instead, he dazzled us. Even the press box is world-class.As basketball venues go, AT&T Stadium passed its trial run last year with notable praise. Even the NCAA’s pre-fab temporary seats seem to fit neatly into the JerryWorld floor plan.Distant seating is nothing new at a Final Four. The 1982 Final Four in the Louisiana Superdome, with the Michael Jordan over Georgetown finale, added a realistic dimension to the term “nosebleed” seats.But as the event has evolved and moved from arenas to stadiums, the larger venues have allowed the Final Four to save room for the students and common fans — a touch that has been lost on the corporate Super Bowl.“AT&T Stadium was built to host events like this,” said Michael Konradi, external affairs vice president of the Cotton Bowl. “I think this is exactly what the Jones family had in mind when this place was built.”Since its move to Arlington four years ago, the Cotton Bowl has thrived and regained its place on the college football map.Welcome to the palace.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton