IRVING, Texas - Everything, they say, is bigger in Texas.
Certainly that applies to the Dallas Cowboys' massive stadium in Arlington. And in a roundabout way, it applies to its effect on the home team.
Welcome to AT&T Stadium, site of what Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw called the NFL's "biggest home-field disadvantage."
In the Cowboys' most recent home game, fans of the visiting Houston Texans took over almost half the building. When Dallas had the ball, they were so loud that quarterback Tony Romo was forced to use the silent snap count usually reserved for the most raucous road venues. The Cowboys pulled out an overtime win, but after the game, a frustrated Romo said, "Today, we played on the road."
This isn't a completely new phenomenon. The Cowboys have dealt with visiting fans making their presence felt since their days at Texas Stadium. But it's been magnified since they moved into their $1.2-billion showplace in 2009. It's been especially noticeable this season, beginning with the large and rowdy group that cheered the San Francisco 49ers to victory in the opener.
All of that has made for a bizarre situation for the franchise that likes to call itself "America's Team." At times, it seems the Cowboys get better fan support on the road than at home. Last week, Dallas fans were quite conspicuous in Seattle, a notoriously tough place to play, but when discussing the environment at home, the players talk about overcoming adversity as it if were an away game.
"Hopefully our fans show up and we don't have to use the silent count in our own home," running back DeMarco Murray said. "But whatever the case may be, we'll be prepared to do whatever we need to do in the game. You've just got to be mentally tough and deal with it, no matter what the circumstances."
The reasons for the shaky home-crowd support have become a hot topic in North Texas. It starts with the cost. According to Team Marketing Report, AT&T Stadium is the NFL's second-most-expensive place to watch a game, having been passed for the top spot this season by the 49ers' new Levi's Stadium. That prompts many season-ticket holders to dump their tickets to a few of the games through easily accessible ticket exchanges such as StubHub in order to defray some of the cost.
The stadium itself is part of the problem, having become a must-see destination for football fans from all over the country. When you factor in the local fans' low preseason expectations for a team that had been mired in mediocrity, it adds up to home crowds consisting of fewer Dallas fans and more visiting fans than ever.
The Giants, who are 4-1 at the new stadium, hope the road-team advantage is at play again Sunday. About 250 people purchased game-day packages from Big Blue Travel, the Giants' official travel provider, which president Michael Martocci said is typical. But Martocci said Friday that Giants fans were set to "blow up" the secondary ticket market and he expected a big turnout.
The Cowboys, though, have introduced a wild card into that dynamic with their stunning 5-1 start, raising fans' interest, their enthusiasm and, most important, their hopes.
"I think a lot of people are going to jump back on the bandwagon here soon," defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "That'll be good. We need all the support we can get, man. We've been working hard and we just want everybody to have the energy and be excited like we are. So come on out and support the Dallas Cowboys. Please."