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Arlington officials warned Cowboys about seats days before Super Bowl

ARLINGTON -- Just three days before Super Bowl Sunday, Arlington fire officials and building inspectors had no assurances that the 13,000 temporary seats at Cowboys Stadium were structurally sound and warned the Dallas Cowboys that the city was prepared to shut them down.

Confirmation from engineers that temporary stadium stands were safe didn't come until game day, an example of the many frustrations local leaders had with the Cowboys and their contractor, Seating Solutions, in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLV.

"I think that the Cowboys are not going to correct certain items and assume the risk. This is not a good situation!" wrote City Building Official Ed Dryden in one of several e-mails that highlighted the frenzied efforts on game day to complete the temporary seating.

On Friday, the city released hundreds of pages of e-mails and building inspection documents to the media that detailed Arlington's role in certifying the safety of temporary bleachers constructed in the end zone plazas and the concourse.

It is clear from the e-mails that the Cowboys were directing the construction of that seating, not the NFL, but both the Cowboys and NFL say they share responsibility for the seating fiasco.

Despite assurances from Cowboys Stadium General Manager Jack Hill that extra workers were on the job, city officials were clearly concerned for weeks that the contractor-built seats wouldn't be completed and that all code violations wouldn't be addressed in time, the e-mails show.

Numerous minor code violations, such as missing handrails and guardrails, ultimately kept 1,250 seats from being used that day. Most fans were accommodated, but at least 400 fans didn't get a seat at all. Thousands were left out in the cold -- some chanting "Jerry sucks" -- for hours after the gates opened while the NFL and Cowboys looked for a solution.

"Our biggest frustration was, whether it was the Cowboys, the stadium or the NFL, the people who had to deal with this had no idea what was going on," said Tom Pingel, a Packers fan who had seats in the one of the sections that was deemed unsafe.

'We don't build seats'

For weeks, Arlington fire and building officials had warned the Cowboys that Seating Solutions was behind schedule and had not provided documents, such as a structural engineering report and final seating plans, needed for inspection.

"I'm also concerned about the effective completion of this project," Fire Chief Don Crowson wrote to Hill with three days left before the Super Bowl. "There have been multiple meetings with your contractor where agreed upon goals and timelines were established and, subsequently, not met nor completed to standard."

The Cowboys and Seating Solutions officials declined to comment Friday, although Seating Solutions owner Scott Suprina did speak to New York Newsday and blamed the weather, "nitpicking" stadium officials and "overzealous" fire inspectors for his company's failure to finish the seats.

. Earlier this week, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a prepared statement that "manpower and timing issues caused inconveniences to some fans" and that the Cowboys and NFL shared responsibility.

The e-mails show that the NFL was being briefed about the situation by the Cowboys several days before the game. The league, however, chose not to inform ticket holders until they had cleared security and their tickets were scanned at the stadium.

"We believed that the seats would be completed and certified for use in time," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Friday. "We were wrong."

Deputy City Manager Trey Yelverton said Friday that the city had given the Cowboys "consistent feedback regarding the lack of progress" and "threw everything we could at" the project to help Seating Solutions.

"We don't build seats. We did our job," Yelverton said during a news conference at City Hall. "We are in the role of supervising and inspecting the work that is being done. We can't get out there and build the seats ourselves."

Even though Seating Solution had built temporary seats for previous events at the stadium, including the NBA All-Star Game last February, this was the first time the Cowboys applied for a building permit from the city. Permits were not previously required because the city and Cowboys had already worked out approved floor seating layouts, but not bleacher-style seats elsewhere in the stadium.

City inspectors were at the stadium 24 hours a day.

"We were being told that additional resources were coming to the project, and we had some belief that this was going to occur," Crowson said.

It didn't. Hours before kickoff, Seating Solutions workers walked off the job, leaving stadium workers, including Hill, scrambling to install handrails and guardrails and fix other problems, documents show.

But they ran out of time. Around 2 p.m., Crowson deemed 1,250 seats unsafe.

'Treated horribly'

Disgruntled Super Bowl ticket holders have been e-mailing Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck, complaining about their experience.

"Everyone knew a seat problem might occur all week, but then we were treated horribly," said ticket holder Herman Smith, who told Cluck on Wednesday that he walked around for three or four hours before being allowed inside stadium just an hour before kickoff.

This week, the NFL has offered compensation to fans affected by the seating problems, including cash refunds or free tickets to future Super Bowls. However that hasn't stopped some fans from filing lawsuits against the league, the Cowboys and Jones.

The Pingels, attending their first Super Bowl, ended up being escorted to a suite behind the Steelers' bench to watch the game. That sounds good, except that "you couldn't see over the top of the Steelers," Tom Pingel said. "My wife stood on a chair to watch the halftime show, but otherwise, we and everyone else in there watched the game on TV," he said.

Though the seating fiasco has garnered national attention, city officials defended their inspection process and their efforts to make the Super Bowl a safe experience for fans.

"I'm not going to assess blame. I think there is enough blame to go around for most people," Cluck said Friday. "I believe [Seating Solutions] should have pulled in more resources to finish the seats that they agreed upon."

Cluck said he also didn't believe the seating situation, or the regional ice storm, would affect North Texas' chance for a future Super Bowl.

"We feel very confident the Super Bowl will be back here in five or six years," Cluck said.

Staff writer Chris Vaughn contributed to this report.

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639

Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631

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