Rangers, World Series take over football territory

Posted Oct. 29, 2010, at 2:25 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 29, 2010, at 6:29 p.m.

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — With the home team struggling, the crowd began to chant, “Let’s go Rangers! Let’s go Rangers!”

Down on the field, the Dallas Cowboys weren’t inspired. But that rallying cry heard during their game Monday night sent a clear message: the Dallas-Fort Worth area is no longer dominated by football.

Not this fall, at least.

And certainly not this week.

The Texas Rangers may not be “America’s Team,” but they are American League champions, and right now that’s more important.

They’ve brought the World Series to Arlington this weekend, a first in the franchise’s 39 years here. Fans are so giddy that not even opening the series with a pair of crushing losses in San Francisco can dampen the mood.

“I think it’s fantastic,” former Cowboys great Roger Staubach said. “It would be phenomenal if they won it.”

How’s this for a sign of the times: At a luncheon Thursday marking the 100-day countdown to the upcoming Super Bowl being played in Arlington, former Cowboys greats Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Daryl Johnston and Drew Pearson, plus team owner Jerry Jones, all slapped on red Rangers hats.

“When you’ve got the World Series in town, this should be a baseball town,” Jones said.

It’s pretty wild to think the World Series is beating the Super Bowl to town, especially considering the pedigree of both teams and the popularity of both sports in the Lone Star State.

The Rangers moseyed into Arlington in 1972, just a few months after the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl title. While the Cowboys have won four more Super Bowls, the Rangers never even won a postseason series until this month.

They’ve been so bad for so long that it seemed like there was a secret clause when they moved from Washington — the Rangers were allowed to borrow the sports spotlight from April to August, then had to get out of the way for pro, college and high school football. After all, the joke in Texas is that there are only two seasons: football and spring football.

Now the Rangers are messing with Texas traditions in a big way. They’re playing meaningful games later in the calendar than the Cowboys, Longhorns and Aggies.

“If you would have looked at the season and said the Rangers are going to be in the World Series and the Cowboys are 1-5, you would think somebody was smoking something,” Staubach said.

Aikman said the Rangers being up while the Cowboys are down has helped the baseball team’s rise in prominence.

“And, good for them,” Aikman said. “They’ve embodied, really, what team is all about. It’s been a good story. I’ve certainly been proud to watch them and the way that they’ve played. I hope they can pull it around and win a World Series.”

Aikman has lived in the area for 21 years, so he’s not too surprised by the shift in loyalty among local fans.

“I’ve always said Dallas is a winner’s town,” he said. “It might be a Mavs town next week.”

Give it two weeks, at least.

Rangers merchandise is selling so quickly that stores are replenishing their inventory daily. Interest was rising throughout the playoffs, then became overwhelming the minute the Rangers beat the Yankees for the AL pennant.

“The line was wrapped around the store — in fact, behind the parking lot,” said Robert Desimone, promotions coordinator for Academy Sports & Outdoors, who was at his chain’s store about 25 miles from the stadium in the Mesquite suburb. “We had fans just going nuts, screaming, doing the wave. People were driving by honking horns. You can tell everybody has Rangers Fever.”

Jamey Newberg has been a Rangers fan since 1976, when he went to his first game at age 7. He was one of those kids who sneaked a radio under the covers to follow games that ran past his bedtime. Now he’s a lawyer who finds time to maintain a website devoted to the hard-core Rangers fan. His newbergreport.com is no rah-rah chat room, either. It’s aimed at the connoisseur fan, crammed with respected analysis and detailed reports on minor leaguers.

“I was going at a rate of 500-800 subscribers every year; this year, I have 3,000 new subscribers,” Newberg said. “The site is now getting 1 million hits per week. Those are pretty good indications the casual sports fan in town is jumping on the Rangers’ bandwagon.”

Another indicator is all the claw and antler displays.

For the uninitiated, that is the team’s shtick for celebrating key plays. A powerful hit or throw is acknowledged with a hand held up like a claw. Hustling plays are recognized with fingers splayed alongside the head like antlers, an homage to running like a deer.

Folks are gluing sticks to batting helmets for homemade antlers and holding up mannequin arms (even prosthetics) with the fingers bent into claws. T-shirts featuring claws on front, antlers on back are among the top sellers. That’s what the people who started the Rangers chant at the Cowboys game were wearing.

Expect even more Rangers gear at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday.

Dallas plays at noon, then a few hours later the Rangers play Game 4 at their ballpark right next door. Staubach is among those planning to make it a doubleheader and he can’t wait. He was a baseball player years before becoming a quarterback and this will be his first World Series game.

As popular as he is, Staubach isn’t throwing out the first pitch.

For game 4, it’ll be a pair of former U.S. presidents: George W. Bush, whose last job before politics was as managing partner of the Rangers, and his dad, George H.W. Bush.

Nolan Ryan has the honor for Game 3 and hopefully the radar gun will be on. He sure cranked up the ol’ Ryan Express before Game 1 of the ALCS.

Ryan has been the club’s president since 2008 and a part-owner since the summer. His role in the club’s turnaround can’t be understated, which also is part of the charm of it all. (Oh, if you hear a roar before the game starts, check the video board. They’ll probably be showing his pummeling of Robin Ventura, which remains a wildly popular clip.)

A few nights ago, Ryan was surprised to hear Jay Leno mention the Rangers. Then he realized how often he sees people wearing team merchandise, even in a New York airport or on the streets of San Francisco.

“Our fans didn’t even wear it to the ballpark when I came in 2008,” he said.

They sure didn’t wear it to a football game back then. Probably not even last season.

What a difference a World Series makes.

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