TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama football team has played in big games.
It has played in big venues.
But Crimson Tide players have never seen anything like what they are going to see Saturday when the play the Michigan Wolverines in Cowboys Stadium.
In particular, Alabama players have never seen anything like what they will see when they look up and realize they are standing under the largest big-screen video board in the world - 160 feet wide and 72 feet tall on all four sides, suspended above them in high definition.
"Your first impression when you walk in there, your eyes go immediately to the Jumbotron," said Curtis Clay, a former Texas Christian wide receiver who played in the stadium in college and again in a couple of exhibition games with the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League.
And while the video board - suspended by a 72-foot steel structure with 10 levels of catwalks - is actually a Mitsubishi brand rather than Sony's Jumbotron, it is impossible to ignore.
"It definitely gets your attention," Clay said. "It's unlike anything you've ever seen."
That was the whole idea behind Cowboys Stadium, which opened in 2009.
"I think one of the unique things about it as it was built was it was meant to be more than a football stadium," said Brett Daniels, director of corporate communications for the stadium. "It's more of a sports and entertainment venue and an architectural icon."
One of the stadium's striking features - apart from its retractable roof, it's immense size and a video board that's just a little smaller than New Hampshire - is that all of its inside signage is digital. For the Alabama-Michigan game, that signage will reflect the logos and colors of the two schools.
"The atmosphere at these kind of events is just fantastic," Daniels said. "Being able to split the crowd with the bands and our (school-themed) signage, it feels like a college football game and not just a college game in an NFL stadium."
The stadium will be configured for about 80,000 fans for this game, and is already sold out. It can hold up to 100,000 for football, with designated standing-room areas that won't be in use for this contest.
In addition to hosting the Cotton Bowl for the past three seasons and the Big 12 Championship Game for a couple of years, Cowboys Stadium has also hosted neutral-site games like this one between Alabama and Michigan. In 2009, BYU upset Oklahoma. A year later, TCU defeated Oregon State, and last year LSU beat Oregon.
Clay knows a big-time venue when he sees one.
"The only one that I can compare it to was the actual Rose Bowl in Pasadena (Calif.), not just the architecture but its history and tradition," Clay said. "I got to play in University of Phoenix Stadium (for the Fiesta Bowl) and Qualcomm in San Diego and Clemson in Death Valley, but this stadium - it may have something to do with the newness of it, but it feels like prime time any time you step on that field.
"Even when I was at practice with the Cowboys, it was like the event. When they show you on the big screen with the camera, it's something."
From the outside, the stadium also captures the imagination.
"You can see it from a ways away," Clay said. "My sister always says it looks like a spaceship, and it really does. It's so state-of-the-art and new, it just looks like something you haven't seen.
"Anyone who hasn't been there, television does not do it justice. You always see the broadcast of the game showing that (video board), but when you see it in person, it's a whole different deal."
What will Alabama fans who make the trip to Dallas think? Daniels has seen the reaction of newcomers many times.
"Once they pick their jaws up off the floor, they're just amazed," he said. "It's just an amazing experience."
On the field, once the game starts, Clay believes Alabama and Michigan will get over the venue and play football.
"For someone like these players at Alabama, they're going to be used to playing in a huge stadium," he said. "It's going to be one of the newer stadiums that any of them have ever played in before. It looks the part, it's a first-class venue, but it's just another big-stadium experience for them. Those guys are used to playing football in a big stadium.
"Everybody is going to be ready to play, and I'm sure that the players will have a chance to walk through the stadium and get some of that out of their system."
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.
Here are some of the biggest events that have taken place at or are scheduled for Cowboys Stadium:
Concerts headlined by George Strait, the Jonas Brothers, Paul McCartney and U2
2010 NBA All-Star Game
Super Bowl XLV in 2011
Cotton Bowl since 2010
Big 12 Championship Game in 2009 and '10
Manny Pacquiao welterweight and junior middleweight championship boxing victories over Antonio Margarito and Joshua Clottey in 2010
2013 Notre Dame vs. Arizona State football
2014 Final Four
- Sources: stadium.dallascowboys.com, other websites
Cowboys Stadium Facts
Location: Arlington, Texas
Cost: $1.1 billion
Acreage: 73 acres for stadium, with 140 total acres for the overall site (including parking)
Square feet: 3 million
Length: 900 feet from one end zone retractable wall to the one on the opposite end
Video board: Each side is 72 feet high by 160 feet wide, with 1,080-pixel high definition
Weight of video board: 1.2 million pounds
Capacity: 80,000, expandable to 100,000 with standing room
Number of luxury boxes: 300
Exterior facade: 800-foot glass wall exterior, which slopes at a 14-degree angle
Roof: 292 feet above the playing field, with two arches to support a retractable roof (touted as the world's largest single-span roof structure)
Retractable roof opening: 410 feet long by 256 feet wide
Gallons of primer paint: 2,000
Gallons of finish paint: 2,000
- Source: stadium.dallascowboys.com