Roland’s Cotton Bowl | Heart of Dallas

Roland’s Cotton Bowl

By Phil Collin,

They’re ready for everything at the Cotton Bowl for Saturday’s Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Well, almost everything.

“Something always changes,” Cotton Bowl general manager Roland Rainey said about 24 hours before kickoff. “We’ve had major problems maybe four or five times and most of those were weather related. One was a snowstorm, two were ice storms.”

Rainey, who has been at his post since 1971, has been in charge of a stadium that was built in 1932 and has expanded from a 46,000-seat stadium to the 92,100-seat venue it is today. He has seen his share of crazy events, enough to know that yearlong planning might not be enough.

On the eve of a game, does he still get nervous? 

“Yes,” he said with a laugh. “Because of the unpredictability.”

You have the weather, which is expected to turn from a week of sunny skies and 75 degrees to thunderstorms with a cold front moving in Saturday. Rainey has seen that before, such as when the legend of Joe Montana developing on the frozen turf in the 1979 Cotton Bowl.

Recovering from near frostbite in the first half, Montana had chicken soup at halftime and rallied Notre Dame from a 22-point deficit in the fourth quarter to taking a 35-34 win over Houston

But weather is a been-there, done-that proposition for Rainey, whose venue hosted 44 events in 2015. 

Don’t forget plumbing, heating or air conditioning, medical contingencies, parking, staffing, field maintenance, signage, dealing with the whims of fans and now the modern dilemma of security.

“Most of the time we’ve prepared for most of them,” Rainey said. “We meet individually all year long with security, with police, we do sniper training in here on three of four occasions during the year, we do bomb sweeps, we have the canine division that comes through.

“Security, parking lots, the unpredictability of what can happen. There’s always a parking issue with someone, always a problem with medical. In today’s times with Homeland Security, that’s a very volatile situation.”

Remarkably, Rainey does it with a staff of seven. Over at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, where the Dallas Cowboys call home, owner Jerry Jones can turn to staff 10 times as large. Heck, Rainey didn’t get a full-time custodian for the Cotton Bowl until this year.

Somehow, they manage to leave no stone unturned. Maybe they might be nervous about the preparations but Rainey and Co. have experience on their side.

“Any kind of common sense, you kind of see (problems) coming,” Rainey said. “But then there’s your non-predictable things. What if you have a live shooter? But we have rehearsed all of them. What’s going to happen in real life? Right now we’re in a period of uncertainty, with the (Texas) open-carry law starting Jan. 1, and the terrorism across the country.

“It can happen anywhere and if we don’t do the practice, if we don’t do the homework, we’ve got a real problem.”

The security details and medical staff have been a consistent partner at the stadium, so the run-throughs have a familiarity about them. Then the event occurs, and admittedly there’s more than a few people holding their breath.

“We have a lot of people with radios and our good sign is if nobody is talking,” Rainey said with a smile. “That means nothing is happening.”

Silence, indeed, is golden. Sure, there are complaints, but Rainey shakes them off with smiles these days.

“Most of the times when we get complaints about the stadium after the game, we can normally see that it’s coming from the fans of the losing team,” he said. 

At the end of the day, Rainey can turn off the radio, turn out the lights, lock the door and reflect. What makes him smile at that point?

“That we had a good game, it was an entertaining event to the customer, we had no medical issues or anything of that nature, that we had performed at a good rate, that my electrical staff, plumbing staff and all that, we had been in good shape and our planning was good,” Rainey said. “It is a good feeling that we performed well, the customer paid his money and got his money’s worth, everybody left safely, those are good feelings.”