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Cotton Bowl Media Day: Memphis players embrace unique atmosphere at AT&T Stadium

Tigers players discuss opportunity of playing in the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and experience the Dallas Cowboys’ facilities in Arlington, TX.

Memphis WR Damonte Coxie speaks inside AT&T Stadium at Cotton Bowl media day.
Steve Helwick

Sometimes pegged the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” AT&T Stadium is one of the most iconic multipurpose venues in sports. It serves its primary status as the home stadium of the Dallas Cowboys, but the playground colloquially known as “Jerry World” has also hosted iconic Cotton Bowls, the College Football Playoff title game, NBA All-Star Weekend, Super Bowl XLV, March Madness, and a myriad of concerts.

AT&T Stadium protrudes out of the Arlington, TX sky, noticeable by its 300-foot tall arches which span on either side of the structure from northeast to southwest. It holds a maximum capacity of 105,000 spectators, all of which have locked eye contact with the 218 x 95 foot video board that embraces the role of the house’s elaborate chandelier.

While bussing into the stadium through the underground tunnels, several Memphis players were impressed by the bells and whistles that embellish the venue which will be their workplace come Saturday morning.

“AT&T Stadium is a fantastic venue for all types of sporting events and all types of entertainment. But at the end of the day, we talk to them about it,” newly hired Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield said. “Prepared them before we even left for Dallas on this trip to have the understanding... look, there’s going to be a lot of outside distractions and I think that goes along with any bowl trip. And when we walked in, I wanted them to look up and see the big video board, see all the seats, and see everything that was surrounding them. I wanted them to be grateful and appreciative of that.”

For nearly every player on the Memphis roster, this is the largest stadium they have set foot inside. The Tigers set an American Conference record this season by packing 59,506 spectators into their ranked matchup with SMU on November 2, which was served with an appetizer of a College GameDay visit. Although sights of a crowded Liberty Bowl impressed Tiger players and fans at the time, there was no shortage of “wow” moments heading into Arlington.

“To be able to practice every day in Cowboys Stadium, tour the facility and stuff, it’s just a dream come true,” wide receiver Calvin Austin III said. “I’m looking forward to running out that tunnel and getting to play with my brothers. It’s Memphis vs. Everybody, and to be able to play there besides your brothers, you can’t beat that.”

When the entire band of players gathered into the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room for media day, the entire Memphis offense was in a scramble, peaking behind curtains to find a certain player’s locker. The individual in question was Tony Pollard, the Tigers’ two-time All-AAC running back from 2016-18, who is enjoying a rookie season in the NFL with nearly 500 yards from scrimmage. Once members of the Tigers offense discovered the whereabouts of Pollard’s locker, they began taking pictures with the space reserved for their former teammate.

“I talk to Tony, and he told me it’s a special place to be at AT&T Stadium, so he told me to take it all in,” running back Patrick Taylor Jr. said.

Memphis players O’Bryan Goodson and Austin Hall take pictures in front of Tony Pollard’s professional locker.
Steve Helwick

For left tackle Obinna Eze, walking into the locker room was a breathtaking moment as he sat in close proximity to the locker of the player that inspires him to play this game.

“I’m a Cowboy fan, and Tyron Smith’s my favorite player, so this is a surreal experience for me,” Eze said. “I would pay money to come see this place, but just because of what Memphis football has achieved, it’s given me the opportunity to do great things.”

Eze, who shares jersey number 77 with Cowboys’ left tackle Tyron Smith, elaborated on the personal meaning of sitting in the spot where his favorite player puts on the pads every Sunday.

“I like his composure, his structure. I like that he’s always settled — he never looks rattled,” Eze said of Smith. “No matter what happens, he looks at peace with what he does. He plays a good technique, really strong hands, really good hips. He’s very long too, very athletic, and I think I’m a long person too. I fell in love watching Tyron Smith and he’s the reason I’m a Cowboy fan. I looked at him and said, ‘I want to be like this guy.’”

While the experience with the stadium itself, the locker room, and the practice facilities has captivated several eyeballs this week, Memphis still faces a great task at hand. The Tigers’ most important game in program history kicks off in Arlington at 11 a.m. CT Saturday morning, and Coach Silverfield is hoping to prepare his team in a place where it’s easy to give into distractions.

“Come 11:00 on Saturday, we’re there when that kickoff goes, and what happens between the white lines, it’s going to be a darn battle,” Silverfield said. “There’s going to be distractions, but we’ve got to be locked in our task at hand. And regardless of where we play — whether we play in beautiful AT&T Stadium in front of thousands upon thousands of fans or out in the parking lot outside the hotel, we know we got to bring it and be locked in on what we got to do.”