When the first College Football Playoff championship game was played at AT&T Stadium in January 2015, fans from Ohio State and Oregon came to town ready to party.
The 85,689 fans showed up early, tailgating and proudly declaring their teams No. 1.
Ohio State, behind the running of now-Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott, won the game and went home national champions.
But a handful of fans spent the night in jail. Nine people were arrested for public intoxication at the game, according to monthly arrest logs on drinking while driving and public intoxication obtained by the Star-Telegram through public information requests.
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AT&T Stadium, where Ohio State will face USC at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, is well-documented as a popular place to drink. A recent Star-Telegram story noted that the stadium was the state’s leader in alcohol sales, bringing in $1.9 million alone in June. Globe Life Park, the home of the Texas Rangers, was No. 8, with $945,447 in sales.
The number of public intoxication arrests at AT&T Stadium held steady with 65 in 2015 and 69 in 2016, before dropping this year to 32 through Nov. 20.
DWI arrests remained about the same each year with five in 2015, four in 2016 and four in 2017 through Nov. 20.
The public intoxication and DWI arrests at the stadium are just a fraction of those made citywide. DWI arrests in Arlington totaled 1,218 in 2015; 1,334 in 2016 and 1,135 in 2017 (through Nov. 20.)
The number of arrests may appear low, considering how many people attend events — from football games to concerts to rodeos — but law enforcement officials point to a number of contributing factors.
‘It’s really dumb luck’
Richard Alpert, the former chief of the misdemeanor section at the Tarrant County district attorney’s office who was known as one of the toughest DWI prosecutors in the state, said catching a drunken driver isn’t easy.
Alpert, the author of DWI Investigation and Prosecution and Intoxication Manslaughter Investigation and Prosecution, said it becomes even more of a challenge for police when thousands of fans are departing a game at the same time.
“It’s really dumb luck with the number of people they’re watching,” Alpert said. “Even the most intoxicated person can probably find their car in the parking lot.”
Sobriety checkpoints would be the best way to catch more intoxicated drivers, Alpert said, but Texas is one of 13 states where they are illegal.
Lt. Christopher Cook, Arlington police spokesman, said the goal remains to prevent anyone who is intoxicated from getting behind the wheel.
“Officers do a great job in sorting through the crowds when someone appears to be impaired,” Cook said. “We work with stadium officials, including security officers, so that we can be alerted if someone appears to be intoxicated. Our DWI enforcement unit works regular patrols in and near the entertainment district during large-scale events. Patrol officers also respond to calls for service in areas outside of the stadium footprint, including impaired-driving calls. Our goal is to ensure no one drives drunk and unnecessarily endangers others or themselves.”
Cook said police also try to find a safe ride home for drunken fans, either with a sober driver or with a paid ride home via Uber or a taxi.
Cook said police can’t pinpoint a specific reason for the decline this year in public intoxication arrests, both at AT&T and citywide.
Overall, the number of public intoxication arrests at AT&T Stadium is a fraction of the overall cases in Arlington, where arrests totaled 1,365 in 2015, 1,075 in 2016 and 763 in 2017 (through Nov. 20.)
“We are not sure why the numbers dropped, but we are hopeful that citizens are making good choices and preplanning on how to get home safely,” Cook said.
As serving sizes continue to get larger — including at AT&T Stadium — it’s easier for someone to get intoxicated, Alpert said.
At AT&T Stadium, prices range from $9 for a beer to $11 for mixed drinks, with frozen margaritas, called “Cowboyritas,” selling for $17.
Cowboys officials declined to discuss the number of DWIs and public intoxication arrests at the stadium.
But according to Star-Telegram research on alcohol sales at A&T:
▪ No alcohol will be sold to people who appear to be intoxicated.
▪ There’s a two-beer-at-a-time limit at concession stands as well as from workers walking around selling the drinks.
▪ Sales of alcohol stop at the end of the third quarter in most areas of the stadium.
▪ Management also reserves “the right to cut off alcohol sales at its discretion,” according to stadium policy. AT&T Stadium uses more than 1,500 part-time workers on game days to help with parking and security — and they also help keep an eye on the crowd, monitoring for alcohol issues.
It’s similar at Globe Life Park, where all servers are required to be certified by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission every two years. Servers take a one-hour refresher course in the years that recertification is not required, according to the Rangers concessionaire Delaware North Sportservice.
The stadium pays off-duty officers to work at the stadium and partners with about 60 agencies to provide security, Cook said.
Blake Miller, the Rangers vice president for security, said that in addition to the team’s own security personnel, it hires off-duty police officers from Arlington and the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office to patrol the stadium and parking lots.
If someone is intoxicated, personnel try to find “a sober third-party friend to take them home. If they are a danger to themselves or others, then our police officers get involved. The idea is not to let it get to that point,” Miller said.
‘We’re not stupid’
On Nov. 30, it was a late-arriving crowd for a Thursday night Cowboys-Redskins game.
Fighting rush-hour traffic led to far less tailgating before the game and a far more subdued mood in the standing-room-only party-pass section at the start of the game.
But once Ryan Switzer had an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the second quarter, the party was on.
Several fans ran through the entire throng high-fiving the crowd while others hugged and good-naturedly trash-talked the Redskins fans interspersed through the crowd.
By halftime, there were long lines at the beer and mixed-drink stands. The small tables in the standing-room-only area were crammed with empty beer cans.
Fans in the party-pass section said they were having a good time but were taking precautions. If any were driving home after a hard night of drinking, they weren’t going to admit it.
Sherry Hines, a hairdresser from Dallas, was having a margarita and offering pointers for Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
“If they would just let me talk to him, I could work everything out with his throwing motion,” said Hines, laughing as Prescott made an errant throw.
Hines didn’t have to worry about having too much to drink; she had a designated driver: Her father was drinking a bottled water.
On the other side of the party-pass zone, Esteben Garcia of Dallas was boisterously cheering on the Cowboys as he traded rounds of Miller Lite with his friends.
“I come out here several times a year,” Garcia said. “It’s a blast.”
Garcia said neither he nor his friends would be driving home.
“We’re taking Uber,” Garcia said. “We’re not stupid.”
Arlington public intoxication arrests
65 AT&T Stadium
19 Globe Life Park
69 AT&T Stadium
11 Globe Life Park
32 AT&T Stadium
12 Globe Life Park
Drunken driving arrests
5 AT&T Stadium
0 Globe Life Park
4 AT&T Stadium
1 Globe Life Park
4 AT&T Stadium
2 Globe Life Park
*Through Nov. 20
Source: Arlington Police Department