One of the documentaries at this year’s Dallas International Film Festival will be of particular interest to local moviegoers. Specifically, Cowboys fans:
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In the days of Texas Stadium, there was a group of Cowboys fans – the Gate 6 Tailgaters – that would meet hours before kickoff to hang out, barbecue and get riled up for the game.
So what happened when these super fans had their meeting spot ripped out from under them? That’s the subject of America’s Parking Lot, a documentary that follows the group during Texas Stadium’s final season as the fans come to terms with the new reality of home at the billion dollar Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Johnny Mars directed America’s Parking Lot. He admits he didn’t quite get all the hoopla behind tailgating – Mars always preferred to watch football games on TV. But that’s before a friend convinced him to go to a Cowboys game early to see what all the fuss was about.
“So I go to this thing [and] at the end of the day it blew my mind,” Mars says. “All the hair on my body stood up. I’d never seen anything like it.”
Before the game was over, Mars was already asking the fans if they would mind if he brought a camera crew to film their experience. They asked Mars if they had to change anything. He told them “Absolutely not.”
One of those fans was Stan Shults, who goes by the nickname Tiger in the film. The Decatur resident has had Cowboys season tickets since the early ‘80s and proudly offers that he was born in 1960, the same year the Cowboys were. Before each game, he gives a rousing pep talk to the fans gathered around elaborate trailers, barbecue pits and coolers of beer.
Just how devoted is Shults? In America’s Parking Lot, he says: “If somebody had a projector of my brain, I think I probably think about the Cowboys more than I think about my kids and my wife.”
In a recent interview, Shults says that, while, yes, he certainly is dedicated to his family, the Cowboys provide a release.
“Especially men really need some outlet for all their energy and aggressiveness. … This gives me an outlet – I know I can set my schedule with their schedule, and I know on this day, this day, this day, I’m going out there, I’m getting together with my friends .. It gives us an opportunity just to go out and be kids again.”
And when he says “be kids again” he means it.
“When I’m putting on my jersey and I’m putting on my Cowboys socks, and my Cowboy underwear and my Cowboy shoes, I feel like I’m Roger Staubach. I’m getting dressed for the big game and I’m ready to go! My brother and I tease each other. We say, ‘You got your ankles taped yet?’ We just do it, and if you’re not passionate about at least something in life, I think you’re missing out on life.”
Mock if you will. But as America’s Parking Lot demonstrates, this passion has a spill-over effect. Many of the Gate 6 tailgaters have now been friends for more than 25 years. Shults says they often meet to commemorate weddings and divorces, births and deaths.
Mars says even though he witnessed this devotion first hand, he was unprepared for the viewers’ reactions when America’s Parking Lot debuted at South by Southwest last month in Austin.
“Literally, this guy came up to me, and he had his sunglasses in his hand and he’s decked out head-to-toe in Cowboy gear and he’s crying. And he says, ‘Thanks man, I was there for that.’ And I just looked at him – I didn’t know what to do! And he put his glasses on and he said, ‘I gotta go.’ And he walked out. I never expected that reaction, I really didn’t. But it makes a certain demographic of males cry.”
The film explores whether exorbitant ticket prices and personal seat licenses are pricing the common man out of professional football games. Plenty of rabid Cowboys fans gave up their tickets when the team moved to its new stadium.
But if you’re worried about the Gate 6 crew, you shouldn’t be. At America’s Parking Lot’s premiere, the Gate 6 tailgaters who made the trip to Austin for the screening got there way early. And they tailgated.
Shults says a similar scene could break out in Dallas.
America’s Parking Lot screens Saturday at 1:45 p.m. and Monday at 5 p.m., both at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.