Punters change channel on Jones’ $40 million TV

By JIM LITKE, AP Sports Columnist

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had 75,000 paying guests and a few dozen freeloaders over to his new house the other night to watch football. Punters for the visiting Tennessee Titans immediately showed their gratitude by using his $40 million TV set for target practice.

"I hit it probably a dozen times in pregame," veteran kicker Craig Hentrich(notes) said.

"I guess," he added a moment later, "they should have tested things out before they put that thing in place."

"That thing" is the 1.2-million pound, four-sided video board hanging from the rafters exactly 90 feet above the field in the new Cowboys Stadium, the centerpiece of Jones' $1.15-billion shrine to himself.

The big screens along either sideline are 160 feet wide-stretching from one 20-yard line to the other-and 72 feet tall. Throw in the "smaller" screens above the end zones and you'd need almost 5,000 52-inch flat screens to cover the same surface.

So it's not like Jones can ring up the "Geek Squad" at the local Best Buy and ask them to raise it. Nor would he.

Jones said the league had approved its location, even though his own punter, Mat McBrier, sent at least one kick more than 100 feet high when the Cowboys conducted tests at the Alamodome in San Antonio two years ago. The owner decided 90 feet was plenty, reasoning that most punters angle kicks toward the sidelines rather than straight up. He insisted the Titans punters went out of their way to hit it, both before and during Dallas' preseason home opener.

"I'm very comfortable that our height on our scoreboard is OK," he said.

It's been almost 15 years since Jones' last serious run-in with his NFL brethren, so maybe he needs a reminder: The problem with building an empire is that sooner or later, you run into someone else's.

The last time, Jones was upset that Cowboys merchandise accounted for one-quarter of the league's $3 billion annual licensing sales-divided equally among the teams-and cut his own side deals with Pepsi and Nike. One measure of how peeved his colleagues were at the time was apparent when legal papers for their $300 million damage suit were served on Jones while he was midway through a bowl of clam chowder.

The matter was resolved without any legal bloodletting, and judging by the league's measured response-"We are reviewing the situation," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail Sunday-this one will be, too. But not simply by Jones waving it off.

"It is an issue," said Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, who also serves as co-chair of the league's competition committee, which could order Jones to raise the video board. "Something has to get worked out."

Fisher was unhappy because he had to throw a challenge flag after backup Titan punter A.J. Trapasso hit the scoreboard with 8:07 left in the third quarter, and the refs missed it.

"Now, it's not necessarily their responsibility," Fisher continued. "Once a fair catch signal is given, then there are no eyes on the ball anymore. So they don't see it. ... It can become a problem."

Even though the video board will have to be raised when U2 plays in Cowboys Stadium on Oct. 12-the band's stage gimmickry includes something called "The Claw," which is 164 feet high-Jones insisted he won't budge when it comes to football.

"You don't need to move it. You gotta be trying to do it," he said about punters hitting the TVs. "The rule is very clear. You just kick it over."

Yet the clock wasn't reset after Trapasso clanked a punt off the underside in the game; unless the NFL changes the rule, and fast, a team could run plenty of time off the clock simply by banging the ball off the video board as often it likes. And even a team that wasn't intentionally wasting time could do it, which is one more delay the games don't need.

"It does not matter where you kick it from, it is just right there in the middle of the field," Trapasso said. "It's always something that you're going to be thinking about."

Jones is deservedly proud of his new emporium, which opened to rave reviews. Some fans will find $60 pizzas hard to swallow. And those sitting in the last row might not be thrilled that after shelling out $20,000 or more for seat licenses-plus $170 for each game-that the people looking on just over their shoulders paid $30 for standing-room tickets. But in terms of griping, that was about it.

Jones called his opening night for football "an event we will remember for a long time."

And if he wants to keep it that way, he'll change his mind in a hurry and move the TV. He should know better than most that in a league built on one-upmanship, the last thing you do is tempt guys with strong legs to see if they can change the channel with their feet.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org