There’s Friday night football, and then there’s Friday night football in Allen, Texas: a state-of-the-art stadium packed with 18,000 fans, a halftime marching-band army of 800, and, yes, skydivers.
Last weekend, the stadium was finally ready. So was Nolan Srader, who’s lived in Allen for almost 20 years.
Hours before kick-off, he stands on a patch of grass outside Eagle Stadium, underneath a set of tents emblazoned with banners that shout “Balding Eagles.” That’s the name of the small booster club he and five other friends formed. They’re all in their mid 40s and 50s, with kids who are in the Allen school system or have graduated from there. (If you’re thinking of a certain hit TV drama about a Texas town that revolves around football, you’re not the only one -- the Balding Eagles say their lives are like Friday Night Lights. Minus the salacious drama.)
“We’re proud,” Srader says. “We’ll spend the money, and we’ll do [anything], to make this town proud our kids. We’ll do anything we can for our kids.”
They’ve been tailgating since 8 a.m. And, along with the town of 92,000, they’ve been waiting for nearly a year and a half for football to return to Eagle Stadium.
The structure was funded as part of a $119 million bond package. PBK Architects and Pogue Construction, who built the stadium, picked up the $10 million bill for repairs, paying another $2.5 million to Allen for lost revenue and expenses.
Town pride or not, some worried the temporary closure might hurt the chances of the football team, which has now won three straight state championships. Others, mostly outsiders, scoffed at the stadium’s hefty price tag.
Dallas Jackson, a national high school sports analyst based in Nashville, Tenn., says Allen’s football program has been on his radar for years. From his perspective, the moneyed stadium -- and program -- reflects the town’s dedication to the game.
“The football stadium gets a lot of attention, and a lot of it because of the money. But the voters voted on it -- they wanted it,” Jackson says. “It speaks to, maybe it’s the culture of football in Texas, or maybe it’s supporting the kids and giving them the best chance for them to succeed.”
Two Allen High seniors, Tasha Weathersbee and Serena McArthur, are waiting in line to pick up their tickets. They’re decked out in face paint and shirts they bought earlier today that say “Straight Outta Allen,” a nod to the summer movie hit Straight Outta Compton.
The girls say, last year, they felt obligated to go to all the games to support the Eagles. Some other teams were making jokes about the infamous, expensive stadium cracks. Turns out, no big deal.
“It’s OK, because we still won every single game. The crackhouse did win the championship ladies and gentlemen,” McArthur says, referring to one of the team’s nicknames. (The parental crowd, by the way, prefers a more regal nickname -- the Road Warriors.)
And when they say open for business, they mean it. All through Friday night, the Eagles score touchdown after touchdown against the Guyer Wildcats from Denton. They breezed to a 48-16 win, the first in their home stadium for the first time in two years. It’s an especially good night for their super fans. Cue the the Balding Eagles.
“We’re glad it’s football season. Back home, we’re back home. We were the road warriors last year… sixteen straight games, all the way to state championship,” Srader says. “Welcome to Texas.”
Welcome to Texas, indeed.
Kat Chow writes for NPR’s Code Switch team in Washington, D.C. She’s spending the next two months in North Texas working as a reporter with KERA.