Twilight at TDECU came upon us beautifully, but nightfall and things on the field landed hard upon UH in their new venue opener.
As a proud and usually happy UH alumnus, this editor of The Pecan Park Eagle doesn’t want to go all “Jerome Soloman” on my Cougars this morning, but the clearly visible facts of our 2014 season opener against UTSA in our new TDECU Stadium merit some criticism.
By the time I arrived home after the game and finally went to sleep after two o’clock this morning, I was conscious of the whole long day’s journey into night was like walking through a daylight-into-darkness pure nightmare.
My good friend and Cougar brother, Sam Quintero, and I arrived on campus about five o’clock Friday afternoon, a full three hours before the scheduled eight o’clock kickoff before a national TV audience. That fact alone should have been our first admonition that a dish of the worst was about to be served in the land of ferocious felines. – The Cougars have a reputation for not doing squat on high profile TV – and laying eggs in these circumstances that smelled bad for years or forever. The 1979 Cotton Bowl loss to Notre Dame and Joe Montana is a prime example. UH led 34-12 with 7:30 left to play in that icy bowl game, but ended up losing 35-34 on the last play of the game. In the 1983 NCAA basketball championship game, the Cougar bunch known as Phi Slamma Jama with (then known as) Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler fell on the last shot of the legendary loss to North Carolina State.
UTSA, however, was no Notre Dame or North Carolin State. UTSA is just another member of the college “have-not” crowd that fills the UH football schedule, Unlike forty years ago, when UH was getting ready to join the old Southwest Conference, there are no names like George, Ole Miss, LSU, Miami, Florida State, UCLA, Penn State, or Michigan State in our sites. UH is in the Georgia State, Grambling State, Southern, UTSA, and American Conference league crowd of not-so-biggie foes these days. We are hoping that our new $120 million dollar stadium will help us as a step back into the big time, but that’s a long shot. None of the “have” clubs like UT or A&M want to see UH ever rebuild to “Tier One” status in athletics. – Why would they? – The Houston area is one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the country. The big schools want to feast upon the present situation without competition from another “have” school again based in the region. – As a purely competitive matter, who could blame them? – But that’s a much longer story than this one.
Let’s tab this one as a bizarre comedy of errors. Sam and I expected as much on some level. After all, it was the stadium’s grand opening and there were bound to be some kinks. And some of the things we experienced were just that – simple errors to be straightened out later. – Other discoveries appear to be more serious – and these have to do with the architectural construction of the stadium itself. We shall see.
TDECU is s a major style lean into modernity from “The Rob,” but there’s more to a stadium than hoW it looks. – How it works ultimately IS what really metters.
Early Going. Sam and I spent our early time on campus walking around the tailgating area, just soaking up the campus culture, watching the Cougar footballers and Coach Tony Levine arrive to dress out for the first time in their new hoe clubhouse, taking in the Cougar Band concert, and even grabbing some free turkey sandwiches that a student group was handing out to visitors prior to the game. We had to buy our own drinks and, as things turned out, a $4.00 Coke turned out to be the front half of a first game kink to be resolved internally by UH after we notified the stadium security chief. – The Coke I bought to carry into the game had to be surrendered at our entry gate on the other side of the field because, as we only learned upon attempting to enter the stadium, the people who sell the outside drinks are actually competitors of the stadium concession people and their products are banned from entry. I took a few swigs of Coke Zero and gave it up to the stadium attendant. They need to increase their warning signage. Just a kink. Enough said.
Listening to the Cougar Band fired the blood at pre-game festivities.
Once Inside the Stadium. Once inside, we ran into two major issues that go way beyond kinks. They speak to problems with the functionality of TDECU Stadium itself and will need to be addressed:
Watching the happy pre-game Cougars streaming into their new digs for the first time was also fun too, while the pre-game joy lasted.
(1) Handicap Unfriendliness. As a cardiovascular disease patient, I purchased two season tickets for what I thought would be two aisle seats on the front row of Level Four in Section 304. I was also told that an elevator would be available to take me to these seats. That’s not how it worked out. We spent a long time looking for the elevator that would take us where to go and asked countless stadium employees for help along the way. No one we approached had good information (kink) and we then proceeded on a wild goose chase pursuit of the Holy Grail elevator that would take us where we needed to go. Some employees didn’t seem get the handicap aspect of the problem and invariably fell back on “you can always take the stairs.” (kink) “No, I cannot,” I kept telling these folks.
The Chief of Security finally told us to look for two elevators. “Don’t take tbe first one, that elevator will only connect you to level 3, where you are not eligible for admission among the suite holders. Take the second elevator, which only connect levels 2 and 4.” As the instructions turned closer and closer into something resembling an Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” routine, the frustrated, ut patient and friendly security chief finally invited us into inner sanctum of the suite level suites and put us on the elevator. Our 30 second ride up was highlighted by the opportunity for shaking hands with a very famous UH alumnus, Joel Osteen and his wife Victoria Osteen of the internationally famous Lakewood Church in Houston. Both the Osteens were patient and friendly, even after I said to Mr. Quintero, “Hey, Sam, turn around and take a look at whose on this elevator with us.” – Joel was wearing a red Cougar tee shirt, but his famous smiling preacher good looks and manner were with him full glow. And, of course, Mrs. Osteen was also her normally beautiful self.
If Joel Osteen could both recruit and coach football, the Cougars might have entered this season as the ten consecutive times defending national champions!
After about a forty minute search, we finally reached Section 304, with no clear memory of how we got there. The only thing clear was the fact that the construction of TDECU Stadium did not cure the handicap access problems that existed in the now demolished Robertson Stadium. If anything, the lack of clear and easy to us elevators has only made the problem worse.
Cougar hopes were high until shortly after the game started.
(2) My Season Seats Were Not What I Paid to Get. When I purchased my season tickets over the phone this past off-season, I thought, and was led to believe, that I was buying two front row aisle seats with an unobstructed view of the field on the south stands, east goal line. – What we learned I got was far less. It was not front row, but on an elevated section of the stands above the true row that hung below, but did not show on the seating chart. We still had to climb a short steep staircase to find the assigned seats – which were located directly behind the pipe rails on the landing e had just ascended to get there. The structure mess of the pipes totally obliterated any clear site of the field. The architectural planning of this structure also assured that we would watch the game through a constantly moving flow of people up and down the landing in front of us, some of whom stopped to simply stare at the field from the landing while we stared at their backs.
What a mistake on the tickets (kink – I plan to insist upon a change or refund. They weren’t even the two aisle seats I was promised. We had seats 28 and 29. An unused seat # 30 existed to my left as the aisle place.) Here’s the serious part. – No buyer in their right mind would purchase these “behind the landing” seats a second time, once they knew what they were getting – and there are at least eight landings on the upper deck that have the same kind of sight-line blockages.
To the best of my memory, this landing sight-line blockage does not exist at Rice Stadium, NRG Stadium, or Minute Maid Park – nor did it even exist at dear Old Robertson. but it is a definite design flaw at the new TDECU Stadium that works along with access problems for the handicapped in reaching this third level as a serious coupling of design flaws.
This the view that I thought we would have from my new seats. – It wasn’t even close.
Summary. We Houston Cougars are a resilient bunch. Sometimes on the athletic field we fail when the odds seem to be in our favor, but the reverse is true too, and, I think, in even greater everyday proportions. As Cougars, we are dedicated to overcoming and accomplishing the really important goals – in the right ways. – and that’s what becoming a Tier One level university is all about. We also have the ability sometimes to succeed in spite of ourselves.
Hat’s off to life and the limitations of our human failings.
Hat’s off also to Coach Larry Coker and his UTSA Roadrunners! – They gave our UH Cougars a 27-7 lesson in much deserved humility last night, but count on us coming back too is some way – and, hopefully, sooner than later. And let’s get started on accepting and resolving the design problems that we all thought were going to be addressed with the construction of the new campus-based football venue. The lack of adequate elevator carriage, the problems it creates for the handicapped, and the botched sight-lines created by the landings design are far greater problems of functionality than mere kinks to be ironed out. They should have been seen and addressed during the stadium architectural design phase of this important university project.
“EAT ‘EM UP, COUGARS!”
It was August 29 – and “29” has been considered an unlucky number, at least, since the Wall Street Crash that dropped the world into the famous era we now remember as the Great Depression.
Good Night, Houston!