FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers will really know they’re in Texas when they get to their hotels and see the handmade saddles waiting for them, made especially to mark their visit.
“They can go to Miami, they can go to New Orleans and have Super Bowls,” said Mark Dunlap, general manager of M.L. Leddy’s, the saddle maker. “What, if any, object speaks about those communities any better than a saddle that represents Fort Worth and Texas? I can’t think of a better thing to put up.”
The two saddles — an AFC one and another for the NFC — will be just one of the Texas touches evident when the teams, fans and media arrive for the NFL championship game being played in the Dallas Cowboys’ new $1.3 billion home next Sunday.
There also will be the annual World’s Original Indoor Rodeo, the twice daily cattle drives and a rental car lot the size of Rhode Island. Well, not really, but it seems like it.
The leading attribute in Texas? How about hospitality? From the beginning, the North Texas Super Bowl Host Committee emphasized a regional effort that envisioned more volunteers than previous host cities and key events spread across 30 miles separating Dallas and Fort Worth.
And don’t forget about Arlington, halfway in between. That’s where the game will be played at the home of “America’s Team,” regardless of what everyone heard when the Packers and Steelers whooped and hollered about “going to Dallas!”
“You have a western goal post where the AFC team is going to be,” said Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief. “You have an eastern goal post where the NFC team is going to be. And then the 50-yard line is Arlington.”
The site also has another Texas pastime covered: driving. Arlington remains the largest city in the country without mass transportation, and the Dallas area’s light rail still hasn’t quite made it out to the area’s massive airport. Instead, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport has a huge car rental center.
The Super Bowl effort has been described as the most cooperative in the region since the airport that covers 30 square miles went up nearly 40 years ago, and organizers are perfectly comfortable with the idea that visitors will land, pick up their rental and drive who knows how many miles a day to find the action.
Maybe it’s downtown Dallas, where the NFL Experience and media center aren’t far from the site of JFK’s assassination and a slew of Super Bowl parties. Maybe it’s downtown Fort Worth, where Sundance Square sits under a huge longhorn cattle mural and figures to be one of the heartbeats of Super Bowl week.
Just west of downtown Fort Worth, rodeo cowboys will be riding bulls and young boys and girls will be showing sheep, goats and other livestock. A few miles north, cowboys on horseback lead real-life longhorns on a cattle drive down Exchange Street twice a day in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Custom-order cowboy boots, hats, belts and buckles are plentiful.
“For people that haven’t experienced Texas, I think it leaves a lot to the imagination,” said Shanna Weaver, spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. “I think it makes them curious and anxious to come see what Texas is all about.”
North Texas waited nearly 50 years for a Super Bowl in part because no one ever came up with a plan to put a dome on the Cotton Bowl, which was once home to the expansion Dallas Cowboys.
The weather is likely to remind these Super Bowl visitors why the game never came.
Sure, Dallas-Fort Worth can warm you with Florida-like winter weather, but it’s not Florida. Early arrivals likely will learn that first hand, with a forecast for Super Bowl week calling for plummeting temperatures Tuesday and highs barely above freezing Wednesday. There’s a chance for icy precipitation, too.
Organizers say they’re prepared for all weather contingencies. And they’re counting on the warmth of more than 10,000 friendly faces — mostly Texans — greeting guests with a smile.
“That’s what we’re known for in Texas,” said Tara Green, vice president of the host committee. “We don’t have a beach. We have warm, friendly people, so we want to roll out the Texas red carpet.”