By Linc Leifeste | April 12, 2012
Director: Jonny Mars
Like many boys growing up in Texas in the 70’s, I was raised a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. As the 80’s progressed, America’s Team fell on harder times but my love for Tom Landry and Tex Schramm and Danny White still burned strong. As the 80’s came to a close, the wheels fell off and Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989. Most Cowboys fans were initially incensed by Jones’ ignominious dismissal of Landry and weren’t too happy with the perceived smugness of both Jones and new head coach Jimmy Johnson but nothing soothes ruffled feathers in the world of sports like winning. And it wasn’t long after Jones took over the reins that there was a lot of winning. And of course, it didn’t hurt fan loyalty to have players like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Jay Novacek and Darryl Johnston on the team. But as the old saying goes, pride comes before a fall. And it wasn’t long until Jerry Jones fired Jimmy Johnson, declaring even he could have coached that talent to a Super Bowl win. To prove his point that it didn’t require much intelligence to coach that team, he hired Barry Switzer and two years later another championship was secured. But sure enough, once the organization that Jimmy Johnson had helped to build began to age and splinter, wins became ever harder to buy and the Cowboys haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since the 1995 season came to a close. But here I am going on and on about the Cowboys instead of talking about America’s Parking Lot. Maybe I’m just trying to establish my Cowboy fan street cred before revealing that I now consider myself a recovering Dallas Cowboys fan…
What America’s Parking Lot does is tell the story of the Dallas Cowboys’ transition from Texas Stadium to the new Cowboys Stadium and how the Cowboys organization and the NFL in general are changing. It does this by focusing on Cy Ditmore and “Tiger” Shults, two members of the long-running “Gate 6” tailgaters that had long been a part of the old Texas Stadium pre-game festivities. If you’re like me, you probably weren’t aware of the “Gate 6” crew but the documentary gives you a good sense of what they were about, basically tailgaters and Cowboy fans on steroids. Every square inch of Tiger’s house is filled with every imaginable Cowboys product, he named his daughter Meredith Landry after two Cowboys legends, and he claims his first marriage ended when his wife said he had to choose between her and the Dallas Cowboys. While Cy initially comes across as slightly less fanatical, it soon becomes clear that he’s just as crazed. He estimates that he spends about $1,000 per game on meat for his gigantic grilling trailer (which he estimates to have invested about $10,000 on). And in what might one-up Tiger and his wife’s early induction of their daughter’s birth so as not to miss a game, Cy conducts one interview at a game the day after his mother has died, telling how his mom used to joke that she hoped she didn’t die during a Cowboys game so her funeral plans wouldn’t be delayed.
The long-established history and camaraderie of the “Gate 6” crew is threatened when Jerry Jones announces plans to demolish Texas Stadium and move to the new $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium nearby. To cover the cost of building such an expensive stadium, already skyrocketing ticket costs are going to have to shoot up even higher but that won’t provide nearly the needed revenue. So the new plan is for teams like the Cowboys to sell “personal seat licenses” (PSL’s) to season ticket holders, a product that gives you the right to then pay for a ticket for each home game and have a seat to sit in. These PSL’s range in cost from $5,000 up to $150,000 and buyers also have to sign a 30-year contract. If this sounds kind of like investing in a house, it is. In fact, Cy decides to proceed but can’t afford to pay that kind of money up front so takes advantage of the Cowboys’ generous 30-year financing offer and decides to hold off on his plans to renovate his house. Tiger also decides to sign up but evidently at a lower cost than Cy and they wind up being in different assigned parking areas, far apart. Most of the old school “Gate 6” folks realize right away they can’t play ball in this new rich boys’ league and decide to just watch games from home.
What America’s Parking Lot does extremely well is to subtly make it clear that the NFL and owners like Jerry Jones could care less about the long-time working class fans who have supported his organization for so long (the film does present a contrasting portrait of the Green Bay Packer organization). The NFL is quickly becoming a rich person’s club, with ticket costs being prohibitively high for working class families.
Along with its brilliantly structured narrative arc, the strength of the film lies in its lack of condemnation. The obvious insanity of uber-fans like Tiger and Cy is simply presented to the viewer, never mocked or commented upon. And personally, my response went back and forth between minor loathing (when Tiger talks about how the Cowboys mean more to him than his wife and daughter, for example) and sympathy (when considering these poor schmucks in comparison to the Cowboys organization). The saddest thing to listen to is to hear them say things along the line of “I sure hate to have to spend this money, but it’s what you’ve got to do to be part of America’s Team.” I guess it’s “ask not what Jerry Jones can do for you but what you can do for Jerry Jones.” I’m hopeful that as time goes on more people will realize that there are other options, one of which is to completely stop investing time, money and energy in a perpetually irrelevant and mediocre organization that is getting filthy rich while living entirely on past glories. Heck, just across the parking lot from Cowboys Stadium lies the Rangers Ballpark, which houses a team that’s much more dynamic and competitive and where a family can still afford to go watch a game.
(Check out our DIFF 2012 interview with Jonny Mars.)