The scoreboard stays?except when U2 arrive at Cowboys Stadium. After a week of threats and much gnashing of teeth, the Dallas Cowboys' owner, Jerry Jones, has got his way. As usual. His 71-foot high, 60-yard wide HD videoboard suspended over the centre of the pitch will not have to be lifted at the new Cowboys Stadium even though a rookie punter from the Tennessee Titans drilled it with a punt last week that caused the referees to be dumbfounded, Titans' coach Jeff Fisher to throw out a challenge flag and the NFL competition committee to come up with a first-ever "scoreboard ground rule".
Initially, the league said it would demand Jones lift the videoboard, which Jones had ordered placed at 90 feet above the field so it would be easily visible for his highest paying customers in luxury boxes. Jones claimed it would cost US$2 million (Dh7.3m) to permanently move it and that he had no intention of doing so, especially because he had asked the league for height clearance before it was installed and then had the board installed five feet higher than their recommendation of 85 feet above the field.
The league vice-president, Ray Anderson, initially said: "Competitive issues and integrity of the games is the primary focus". Then Jones reminded him that the $2m was coming out of the league's hide and not his if they demanded he move it. Jones also reminded the NFL he had legal clearance to put the videoboard at that height from them and was not paying to move it except on October 12, when he had already agreed to have it hydraulically lifted to make room for the rock band's U2's 100-foot high stage.
Other than that, he said, the videoboard stays and punters had better get used to it because the 60-yard wide monstrosity was a selling point to some of his highest paying suite holders. Move it and how long would it be before someone's lawyers were moving to sue the Cowboys? "How high is high if somebody just wants to sit there and kick straight up," Jones said after the initial flap, insinuating AJ Trapasso had purposely hit the bottom of the scoreboard by launching a punt at the videoboard instead of downfield in a pre-season game after he and first-string punter Craig Hentrich both hit it in pre-game warm-ups.
"I must have hit it 14 times," Hentrich later claimed. "In a competitive game situation it's not a factor," Jones argued, suggesting the idea is to punt the ball down the field not into the bottom of the videoboard. The NFL finally ruled on Friday it would not have to be moved "for now" and that if a punt hit the scoreboard the down would be replayed and the time put back on the clock. The league also said if the game officials missed it because they are not charged with following the flight of a punt once it is kicked, a coach could challenge and it would be checked by replay.
"Replay was not intended for these types of things," Fisher complained. "I don't want to be forced to use a challenge opportunity for that." So the season will begin with inquiring minds anxiously awaiting December 13, when the San Diego Chargers come to Dallas to play a game that could easily have play-off implications. With them will come Mike Scifres, a man who lofts his punts so high it is emphasised in his biography in the team's media guide.
Might he hit it time after time, turning the game into a mockery? Nobody knows but if he does, it won't just be for Bono that Jerry Jones uses those hydraulics to lift his prize possession. It will be to save face for the NFL. firstname.lastname@example.org