GLENDALE, AZ (AP) A franchise long labeled a wasteland among the otherwise fertile fields of the NFL finally has a home of its own.
And this is no one-bedroom fixer-upper. This is a $465 million palace.
“Man, it’s sweet,” running back Edgerrin James said. “It’s everything you’d want in a stadium. I’m happy I came at the perfect time.”
Cardinals Stadium, already voted one of the top 10 sports facilities in the world by Business Week magazine, made its debut on Aug. 12 when the Arizona Cardinals hosed the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers in a preseason game.
Formed as a football club in 1898 and a charter member of the NFL in 1920, the Cardinals never had a stadium of its own until now.
The silver monolith in suburban west Phoenix was designed by Peter Eisenman, the first stadium for an architect whose works include the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and the City of Culture in Galicia, Spain.
A team that toiled in front of meager crowds at Sun Devil Stadium on the Arizona State University campus is suddenly the talk of the town. The Cardinals, who last played in front of a capacity crowd at home in 2000, are sold out for all eight regular-season games in the 63,000-seat facility.
“We’ve been telling the rookies that they need to go play a couple of games in Sun Devil Stadium so they can appreciate the difference,” wide receiver Anquan Boldin joked.
The fans will bask in air conditioned comfort under a retractable roof made of a translucent fabric that — along with a series of glass columns around the structure — fill the stadium with natural light.
The field of natural grass rests on a tray in the desert sun outside the stadium, and is rolled in and locked into place for the games. It is the first field of its kind in North America.
James, who in the offseason became the biggest free agent acquisition in the franchise’s history, said the field is what makes the stadium special to him.
“All the other stuff looks good and it’s fascinating, but I think that’s for the fans,” he said. “For us it’s the surface. The surface is unreal, it’s unbelievable. It’s low cut and it’s a fast track.”
Eisenman designed the stadium to resemble the barrel cactus that grows wild in the area, although most would say it resembles some giant UFO that settled in among the farmland, tract houses and burgeoning strip malls. The goal, he said, was a landmark for the fast-growing Phoenix area.
“We were determined to take what would be a symmetrical bowl and turn it into a distinctive shape,” he said at a news conference. “Not only is it a landmark a distinctive shape, it also is an icon, that is the general public can relate that shape to something they know of local character. This distinctive shape has two iconic relationships — one to the Native American mandala form, which you can see in the stadium, and two to the barrel cactus form that is indigenous to the area.”
Pentagram Design of New York — whose clients include Citibank, Coca Cola, Tiffany & Co. and Harley Davidson — did the graphics work, chosen because it had never worked on a sports project before and therefore would come up with more unusual designs.
Hunt Construction Group was the lead contractor, completing its 12th NFL stadium. Unlike the others, though, Hunt was involved in the design work as well.
“This is clearly our best effort,” said Robert Aylesworth Jr., Hunt executive vice president.
The stadium is adjacent to Glendale Arena, home of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, and Westgate Center, an entertainment mall still under construction. The facility also will be home to the Fiesta Bowl, and in January, will host the first of the new national college championship games.
The stadium has been awarded the 2008 Super Bowl.
Michael Bidwill, a former federal prosecutor and son of team owner Bill Bidwill, came to work for his father 10 years ago with the assignment of getting the franchise a stadium. The elder Bidwill had moved the team to Arizona in 1998 with what he thought was a handshake agreement for a stadium.
Finally, in 2000, voters approved a measure for a tourism tax on hotels and rental cars to help fund a new building. The public is supplying approximately $300 million, the Cardinals the remaining $165 million. Much of the team’s contribution will be recouped because the Cardinals hold naming rights to the stadium.
The Bidwill family long has been reviled in the community as the franchise failed to build a winning team. The Cardinals have one playoff victory in the last half-century and one winning record since coming to Arizona.
“They’ve been hit left, right and center,” Eisenman said, “and I think this stadium, especially if we can put a team on the field — which I think they can, will change that perception, but it will take time.”
Michael Bidwill said the stadium will create revenue that can be used to bring in higher-paid players. James, he said, is an example of that.
“This,” the younger Bidwill said, “is a fresh start for us.”