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The 35 Biggest Pop Culture Moments in Modern Dallas History

In fighting over what deserved inclusion in the 35 Biggest Moments in Modern Dallas History, we kept coming up with events that seemed noteworthy—if not necessarily important. So we endeavored to identify the 35 biggest pop culture moments, too. Because, after all, “Debbie Does Dallas” couldn’t be ignored.
Selecting the biggest moments in modern Dallas history was a difficult task made nearly impossible by the clutter in our brains created by too much time spent in front of a screen—television, movies, the Internet. DFW Airport, yes! But what about Vanilla Ice? So we gave pop culture its own chapter. While the preceding essays were about events that shaped modern Dallas, the following ditties (in no particular order) are about those more trivial moments. They didn’t change the city, but they did change the way people think of us.

1. Stevie Ray Vaughan Dies in a Helicopter Crash

What: Based on albums like Texas Flood and Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Stevie Ray Vaughan was already a hero among guitar slingers when, on August 27, 1990, the helicopter his tour manager had hired to beat highway traffic, crashed into a hill not far from the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. Vaughan’s death in the accident trapped his legend in amber.

Why: Though he was more closely associated with Austin throughout his career, his funeral at Laurel Land Memorial Park in Oak Cliff—along with the release of Family Style, his first and only collaboration with brother Jimmie, a month later—reminded fans of his Dallas roots.

2. Dixie Chicks VS. George W. Bush

What: With the impending invasion of Iraq on her mind, always-outspoken Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines told the audience at the band’s March 10, 2003, gig at Shepherds Bush Empire theater in England, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side, with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” Once word of her comments reached the States, the backlash was intense. Radio stations refused to play Dixie Chicks songs, their CDs were bulldozed, other country stars spoke out against them, and there were death threats, including one in Dallas before the band’s American Airlines Center concert on July 6.

Why: Ultimately, the attention stemming from what the band referred to as “The Incident,” as well as the freedom that resulted from being shunned by the country community, pushed the Dixie Chicks to new levels of critical and commercial success. Their next album, the personal Taking the Long Way, debuted at No. 1 on the charts to stellar reviews.

3. The Von Erichs Define Tragedy

What: They were the first family of Texas wrestling, the unquestioned good-guy stars of the World Class Championship Wrestling promotion run by the patriarch of the family, Fritz. And then tragedy struck—and kept striking, as four of Fritz’s sons died within a nine-year stretch. David was first, in 1984, dying under mysterious circumstances while on a tour with All Japan Pro Wrestling. (The family has always insisted it was a heart attack brought on by ruptured intestines; several of his fellow wrestlers have claimed it was actually an accidental drug overdose.) Then, Mike—who never fully recovered from a bout with toxic shock syndrome—committed suicide in 1987 by overdosing on tranquilizers. Chris was next, depressed over the loss of his older brothers and his inability to live up to the family’s success in the ring, he shot himself in 1991. Finally, Kerry, the biggest star in the family and perhaps the most troubled, shot himself in the heart at his father’s ranch in 1993. Only Kevin remained. He retired from wrestling in 1995 and started a career in real estate.

Why: Even now, Von Erich is the first name anyone thinks of when the subject turns to Texas wrestling. The family got its due in 2009 when they were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

4. Robert Tilton Scandal Hits Primetime Live

Illustration by Michael Witte
What: People already knew something was up with televangelist Robert Tilton’s ministry. But it wasn’t until November 21, 1991—when ABC’s Primetime Live aired the results of its investigation into his operation (with help from the Trinity Foundation’s Ole Anthony)—that the story took off. Primetime Live followed up with another episode the next week, and Tilton became the poster boy for crooked televangelists.

Why: At its peak, Tilton’s show, Success-N-Life, aired in 235 markets across the country. Two years after the Primetime Live story broke, it was airing in none. That’s what happens when it is discovered that you routinely throw away prayer requests without reading them, keeping only whatever money was sent in with them. Tilton may not be the ne plus ultra of unscrupulous Christian evangelists, but he is definitely in the conversation.

5. Who Shot J.R.?

Talk about your magic bullets. When a mystery assailant pumped two shots into the solar plexus of J.R. Ewing on March 21, 1980, the CBS nighttime soap opera Dallas went from top-10 show to worldwide pop-culture phenomenon. And Dallas, the city, became synonymous with violent gunplay. Again.

To the rest of the United States, and the world, Dallas was already known for exactly that—thanks to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 17 years before “Who Shot J.R.?” became a global sensation. (An aside: Although it is rarely discussed—a coverup, perhaps?—J.R.’s assailant somehow hit him from an impossibly narrow firing angle. Since the shooter was no marksman, perhaps curving bullets were at work here, too? Conspiracy theorists, discuss.)

“The lasting image of this city had been of the Kennedy assassination,” says Darwin Payne, a professor emeritus at SMU and the author of Dallas, a historical account of the city, not the TV show. “For years, you would tell people that you were from Dallas, and they’d talk about the assassination. But when Dallas started airing overseas, they started talking about the show instead.”

They did more than just talk. Time magazine reported that South African cabinet ministers shunned public appearances on Tuesday nights—when Dallas aired in that country—so they could watch the show. These were, remember, the days before TiVo. In the U.K., where half the population watched as J.R.’s shooter was revealed, the BBC ran a contest around the “Who Done It?” episode of Dallas, sending the winner to Dallas.

Even in the States, Dallas and Dallas became linked. President Jimmy Carter quipped at a Dallas event prior to the 1980 presidential election that he hoped someone in the audience might know who shot J.R. Except, how could they? J.R. was not shot in a downtown Dallas high-rise. He was shot—or, more accurately, “shot”—in Hollywood on a soundstage. Also, Miss Ellie did not buy her groceries at the Kroger in Parker, Texas, down the street from Southfork. And there was no such place as The Store, where Pamela Ewing worked, even though the high-end department store that employed her sure seemed like it was Neiman Marcus.

Still, it is easy to understand why, after 41 million Americans made “Who Done It?” the second-most-watched TV show of all time, so many people associated the fictitious goings-on of a trashy clan of nouveau riche with the real lives of Dallasites. Who among us, after all, doesn’t think that most housewives in Orange County have breast implants? Also, consider that at the time of “Who Shot J.R.?” Dallas was a mystery to most people in the world. For one thing, DFW Airport was just 6 years old and not nearly the megahub it has become. For another, oil was surging, and Dallas’ economy was booming in 1980, even though the rest of the country was gripped by a deep recession. Construction cranes were at work putting together the now-distinctive skyline. The Cowboys were America’s Team. And people here were buying fancy cars and swimming pools and, sure, ranch land, while people elsewhere were collecting unemployment. So, if Dallas was a work of fiction, Dallas, too, must have seemed somewhat fictional to the rest of the nation.

Today, 30 years later, Jimmy Carter and everyone else know who shot J.R. (If you’ve forgotten, it was Kristin Shepard, the oilionaire’s sister-in-law and spurned lover.) And the world should know now that Dallas isn’t Dallas. But if people still insist on associating this city with rich rabble-rousers, at least be thankful that it’s the Ewings they’re thinking of and not those brainless bleach blondes from Orange County.  —Joseph Guinto

6. Joey Greco is Stabbed During an Episode of Cheaters

What: In the May 24, 2003, episode of Cheaters, host Joey Greco was stabbed by a man angry at being found out by the show (we should point out that many think the incident was staged). What’s amazing is not that it happened then, but that it hadn’t happened before and hasn’t happened since.

Why: The newsworthiness of the incident finally gave a nation of undercover Cheaters watchers a reason to come out of hiding. And now, everyone can name at least one episode of the show.

7. Tom Joyner: Fly Jock

What: When Tom Joyner was offered two jobs—a morning show in Dallas on KKDA-FM and an afternoon slot on Chicago’s WGCI-FM—he accepted them both, and, in 1985, the “Fly Jock” was born. Every weekday, after finishing his morning-drive program on KKDA, he hustled to the airport and caught a flight to Chicago. And he continued that routine for almost a decade.

Why: Joyner became the most famous airline passenger in the country, racking up, by his tally, more than 7 million frequent flier miles during the course of his dual employment.

8. The Starck Club Parties

Photo courtesy of The Dallas Morning News
What: The Starck Club was the celebrity hangout in Dallas in the 1980s, and the stories of what took place there are legion. (And juicy enough to fill two separate documentaries and a scripted full-length as well, all of which are in various stages of production.) It’s not surprising the nightclub attracted bold-faced names, since it was designed by one (Philippe Starck) and had several among its investors (Stevie Nicks, for one). Nicks and Grace Jones both performed at the club’s opening, a drawn-out affair that stretched across Memorial Day weekend in 1984. Through the years, it attracted the likes of Robert Plant, Prince, and Rob Lowe, back when he was at his Brat Pack best. Also, it was one of the first locations where the drug MDMA became popular. Back then, it was known as Adam. You know it as ecstasy.

Why: See everything we just typed.

9. A Blond Cowboys Cheerleader Dominates Monday Night Football

Illustration by Michael Witte
On the week leading up to the events of November 10, 1975, ABC sports producer Roone Arledge temporarily assigned Andy Sidaris, a former Channel 8 director who had gone on to great fame as the genius behind Wide World of Sports, to fill in for the regular director of Monday Night Football. The opponent was Kansas City. The game at Texas Stadium was close and high scoring—and long.

Sidaris—a brash, funny, frequently profane Greek from Shreveport—was known for his love of pretty ladies. As the main college football director at ABC, he was the inventor of what came to be called “the honey shot,” which had already made many a college babe famous on campus. He’d even discovered a particularly fabulous University of Alabama cheerleader who became the wife of his sideline reporter, Jim Lampley. So when Sidaris took his swivel-chair seat in the remote transmission truck for the Dallas-Kansas City game, it was no surprise to anyone when he barked to his cameramen, “Okay, find the honeys!”

As the cameras panned across the sidelines, lingering on each Cowboys Cheerleader, Sidaris said, “That’s the one! The blonde! She’s having sex with the camera!” Then, throughout the evening, Sidaris would return to this particular babe, who winked, flirted, and posed in one of those defining moments that some claim launched the whole Cowboys Cheerleaders franchise. In fact, that moment may be single-handedly responsible for rescuing the fashion statement of hot pants and Daisy Mae halter tops from what should have been early-’70s oblivion so that, long after every Southwest Airlines flight attendant had burned her orange shorts, the tradition lived on in beer commercials, Maxim magazine, and Hooters restaurants everywhere.

On Tuesday, November 11, 1975, at office water coolers across America, the conversation was not about the 34-31 final score (the Cowboys lost), but rather: “Did you see that girl? Who was she?”

And here’s the best part: to this day we’re not sure whom she was. If you ask people who worked in Tex Schramm’s office at the time, they’ll tell you that the girl was Tami Barber, a pert blond beauty who was indeed one of the most popular cheerleaders and had a brief acting career of the Love Boat guest-star variety. But the dates don’t match up: Tami Barber didn’t arrive on the scene until two seasons later, after the cheerleaders were already an international phenomenon, and Andy Sidaris went to his grave claiming it was a girl at this particular game in 1975. The official history of the cheerleaders disagrees with Sidaris and ascribes the sea change in the squad’s fortunes to a winking beauty at Super Bowl X. Indeed there was a winking beauty at Super Bowl X—held in Miami in January 1976—but she was a brunette, and that would just be wrong! And, once again, Sidaris disputed this.

But I actually kind of like the fact that we’re not sure which blond cheerleader launched the myth. Just as the causes of the Trojan War are shrouded in mystery, and the founders of Rome come from a time before history, so the origins of the Dallas Blonde are a fit subject for endless metaphysical speculation, and it will no doubt consume the energies of several generations of the city’s theologians to parse out the best available evidence.
What we can say for sure is this: she came, she conquered, and she was blond.  —John Bloom

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

10. Vanilla Ice Hits No. 1 with “Ice Ice Baby”

What: Vanilla Ice, born and raised Robert Van Winkle in the Dallas suburbs, recorded the first hip-hop single to top the Billboard charts, when his “Ice Ice Baby” landed there on November 3, 1990. It’s fun to laugh about now, but come on: when it came out, you liked it. Yeah, you did.

Why: If you are of the opinion that any press is good press, well, at least Dallas hip-hop got some press. Plus, if you are a fan of schadenfreude, “Ice Ice Baby” set up Vanilla Ice for a fall that never seems to hit bottom.

11. Logan’s Run Runs

What: In the 1970s, Dallas and its environs inspired movie producers to think of the 23rd century. Sounds like a good thing, right? Except the producers were working on 1976’s Logan’s Run, which depicted a dystopian world where “the survivors of war, overpopulation, and pollution are living in a great domed city, sealed away from the forgotten world outside, [and] … mankind lives only for pleasure.” Suddenly Dallas doesn’t sound like such a great place to party. (Or does it?)

Why:  With its recognizable locations—the Fort Worth Water Gardens and Dallas Market Center, among them—the cult classic remains one of the first titles mentioned when talk turns to locally made films.

12. The Thin Blue Line

Photo courtesy of Getty
The film was originally going to be an interview with Dr. James Grigson, known as “Dr. Death.” It was only at his instigation that I started interviewing people who had been sentenced to death in Texas—Randall Dale Adams being one of them. I had no reason to believe he was innocent. I was not looking for miscarriages of justice, nothing of the sort. I just stumbled on one. And it was an appalling story.

I came down, and I interviewed Dr. Grigson on film, and one of the lines that Grigson repeated again and again and again was, “You have to meet these people. They’re different than you and me.”

And so I said, “Well, I’d like to interview some of the people who have been put on death row in part because of your testimony.” And I was given a laundry list of names at different prisons in Texas—Coffield Unit, Wall Unit, Easthman Unit, Barrington Unit. In many instances, these are people who had been taken off death row because of some constitutional infirmity with their case: jury selection, the use of Grigson in the courtroom, etc.

Randall Dale Adams was one of them. He had been convicted of a 1976 murder of a Dallas police officer, Robert W. Wood, during a traffic stop. And I interviewed so many different murderers, but in the end this is the story that grabbed hold of me. I went down to Austin, to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Texas statutes provide for an automatic appeal on a death sentence. So you can go to the Court of Criminal Appeals (that’s where all the appeals go), and in the basement you can sit down and read through transcript after transcript after transcript.

So all these people who I met in prison, I read their transcripts or part of their transcripts, and Randall Dale Adams was one of them. I read it, and it made me uneasy. There was something wrong. The line I’m always fond of citing is a line from a film noir: “I could see the frame, but I couldn’t see the picture.”

Then I started to investigate. And much of my investigation was done without a camera, but much of it was done with a camera as well. Interview after interview with Dallas police officers, with witnesses at the trial, and with friends of David Ray Harris. Before he fingered Randall Dale Adams for the crime, Harris had told his friends he was responsible. But David Ray Harris was a juvenile and couldn’t be given the death penalty, which is why some people think Randall Dale Adams was convicted instead.

I’m trying to think of the moment when I became absolutely convinced that Randall Dale Adams was innocent and there had been a terrible miscarriage of justice. There are so many steps along the way. I’m often fond of pointing out that most documentaries are not investigative; they’re illustrative. They take a story that someone already knows, and they illustrate it—whereas The Thin Blue Line was really an investigation.

I had no idea where I was going and where I was going to end up. My last interview was with David Ray Harris. My camera broke, and I had to do the interview on a tape recorder. But he essentially confessed to the murder. And he was executed. Not for that murder but for a completely different murder that he had committed after I started talking to him in connection with this case.

When I interviewed the people, I had no idea what I was going to hear. It was those interviews, both copies of the interviews and transcripts of the interviews, that were introduced into court, both into federal and state court in Dallas. That led to the conviction being overturned. In the film, people without even knowing what they’re saying are admitting to perjury. Maybe they had just forgotten to lie.

The Thin Blue Line, which came out in 1988, is considered the only movie that actually led to overturning a capital murder conviction. It’s something that I am immensely proud of doing. And I often tell people that I’m not sure I’m a good filmmaker, but I do believe I’m a good investigator. I’m glad I did what I did. —Errol Morris

Errol Morris is an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker and regular contributor to the New York Times.

13. Jessica Simpson Goes Rogue

Photo courtesy of Newscom
What: Before that game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys fans could pretend the relationship between Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson was all a creation of the tabloids. A figment of Papa Joe Simpson and TMZ’s fever dreams. It wouldn’t have been the first time. But, no, there she was, and the FOX cameras kept finding her. Not that they had to work very hard. Standing in her seat, she posed and preened and popped her white jersey with the pink No. 9, all while her new boyfriend played one of the worst games of his career. If anyone doubted Simpson was a distraction, the events of December 16, 2007, removed all possibility of that theory being proved false. As much as we’d like it to be, nothing is ever quite so literal as that.

Why: It actually went downhill from there. Romo and Simpson (who had, by then, been dubbed “Yoko Romo”) took a trip to Mexico during the team’s off week before its divisional playoff game against the New York Giants, which it lost. The controversy continued until the couple called it quits in July 2009. But the damage had been done. Cowboys fans will always remember Jessica Simpson, and they will always remember her in that white jersey with the pink No. 9, mugging for the cameras.

14. Mark Cuban Works at Dairy Queen

Photo courtesy of Newscom
What: After Mark Cuban said the NBA’s head of officiating, Ed T. Rush, “wouldn’t be able to manage a Dairy Queen,” the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks received an invitation from the company to do just that. Or, at least, work at one for a day, which he did—amid much media coverage—at the DQ outpost in Coppell on January 16, 2002.

Why: It continued branding Cuban as the up-for-anything face of the franchise, while further distancing the team from its no-hope days in the 1990s. Say what you will about Cuban: he knows how to boost his, and his team’s, national profile.

15. Nirvana Rocks Trees

What: The band played Trees, in Deep Ellum, on October 19, 1991. Things got ugly after Kurt Cobain, fueled by the spirit of rock ’n’ roll and perhaps a few controlled substances, smashed a soundboard. “This was right after we had bought Trees,” Brady Wood recalls, “and we were thinking, ‘Who is this punk band from Seattle who came into our club and smashed our soundboard?’” Cobain later dived into the crowd and kicked some speakers at the front of the stage. A bouncer named Turner Scott Van Blarcum put his hand in Cobain’s face, and Cobain responded by smashing him over the head with his guitar. Van Blarcum, bloodied, nailed Cobain with a right hook, then kicked him for good measure. Chaos ensued. In no time, Nirvana would be the most famous band in the world.

Why: If you counted every person who claimed he was at that show, you’d wind up with a crowd that, roughly, would fill the AAC.

16. Barney & Friends Kills Us Dead

Illustration by Michael Witte
What: When Barney & Friends debuted on April 6, 1992, it instantly became the bane of parents and babysitters everywhere. The title character, a talking, purple dinosaur, was created by Sheryl Leach in 1987 and became a regional success through a series of videos. But it wasn’t until PBS retooled the concept for air as a series that Barney (and Baby Bop, BJ, and everyone else) turned into an inescapable cultural phenomenon.

Why: TV Guide ranked it No. 50 on its 2002 list of the Worst TV Shows Ever, but Barney & Friends is still a major player among knee-biters. And its producer, HIT Entertainment (headquartered in Allen), is a dominant force in children’s programming.

17. LeAnn Rimes Debuts with Blue

Photo by Bode Helm
What: LeAnn Rimes was just 13 years old on July 9, 1996, when she released her first national CD, Blue. It entered the country charts at No. 1 and set sales records, moving 123,000 its first week, the most SoundScan had recorded at that point. The fact that the CD’s title song, “Blue,” had not only a story but a legend attached to it didn’t hurt sales any. Venerable WBAP-AM 820 disc jockey and songwriter Bill Mack first pitched the song to Patsy Cline in 1960, but she never recorded it before her death in a plane crash in 1963.

Why: Between the publicist’s-dream back story of “Blue” and her age, Rimes received an inordinate amount of attention and acclaim. In 1997, she became both the youngest person to win a Grammy and the first country singer to win Best New Artist. Though she later branched out into country-pop (and then just pop) and film and television projects, many people will always remember her as the teenager from Garland who sounded just like Patsy Cline. With a tabloid-friendly personal life as of late, Rimes probably doesn’t mind that at all.

18. Bambi Woods Does Dallas

What: Though 1978’s Debbie Does Dallas wasn’t filmed here and, for legal reasons, wasn’t technically about a woman trying to make the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders squad, who really cares? Most assume it was shot in Dallas (which doesn’t really matter) and does center on the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (which is more or less true, since even a child could see who the fictional Texas Cowgirls were standing in for). Also, in a case of art imitating life, star Bambi Woods did actually try out to be a Cowboys Cheerleader, but was rejected.

Why: An editor at this magazine whose name rhymes with “Jim Dodgers” recently wondered if Debbie Does Dallas was actual hard-core pornography and not just the stuff that airs late Friday nights on Cinemax. And though it is tame by today’s standards, yes, Jim, Debbie Does Dallas is actual pornography. In fact, it is arguably one of the more famous entries in the genre, right there alongside (or beneath, or on top of) Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door.

19. Dana Carvey Does His Ross Perot Impression on Saturday Night Life

Photo courtesy of Corbis
What: When Dana Carvey debuted his take on third-party presidential candidate Ross Perot during the run-up to the 1992 campaign, it quickly became the breakout hit of that season of Saturday Night Live and a fixture on the show.

Why: We would wager more people know Perot from Carvey’s impression than anything else.

20. Jaws Premieres in Dallas

What: Before Jaws opened wide on June 20, 1975, the film had its first test screening on March 26 at the old Medallion Theater at Northwest Highway and Skillman Avenue. The movie’s sneak preview played along with The Towering Inferno, which still tops the short list of disaster flicks with both Paul Newman and O.J. Simpson in the cast.

Why: Thanks to the enormous success of Jaws, director Steven Spielberg came to consider the Medallion his good-luck theater. He made sure Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 1941 first screened there. He probably stopped thinking it was good luck shortly thereafter.

21. The Jonas Brothers Move to Town

Illustration by Michael Witte
What: Fun fact: the JoBros’ parents, Kevin Sr. and Denise, met at Christ for the Nations Bible college in Dallas and lived here until their eldest son, Kevin, was 9 years old. So the Jonases were already more or less homegrown talent before they even moved back (to the Vaquero development in Westlake) in 2009, whether you like it or not. It also means claiming them as successful local recording artists doesn’t feel like cheating. Or, at least, not as much.

Why: The Jonas Brothers’ return to their hometown (see what we did there?), along with Chace Crawford’s role on Gossip Girl, means Dallas has never been a more popular destination for tabloid journalists and paparazzi.

22. Invention of the Fried Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Banana Sandwich

Photo courtesy of The Dallas Morning News
My first win at the Big Tex choice awards was in 2005 for my deep-fried peanut butter, jelly, and banana sandwich—or The Elvis, as we now call it. At the time, I had no idea what kind of impact the award would have, either on our business or the publicity that would come with it. All I knew was that there was a contest and that the State Fair of Texas had an Elvis theme that year. (There was a huge Elvis exhibit in the Hall of State.)

After reading the application sent to me by the State Fair, it took me all of about 30 seconds to figure out what my entry should be. I’ve always been an Elvis fan, and I knew that one of his favorite dishes was a pan-fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. My thoughts were that I would take the King’s favorite, trash the pan, and deep fry it instead.

An hour or two later, after some test sandwiches were dunked into my deep fryer, I realized that the King may have left a key ingredient out of his famous dish: grape jelly.

Adding the cool, sweet jelly really took the sandwich over the top. Deep frying the whole sandwich added warmth and a crunch that complemented all the ingredients. I had no idea if I had a winner on my hands, but I did know that I loved it.

I’ve never missed a fair, and as a kid, my parents or grandparents would buy us new clothes for Fair Day. We would start early with the exhibits or buildings, as we called them, then hit Owens for some breakfast. Rides would follow, then a homemade fried chicken lunch brought via city bus by my grandmother, who would join us for the rest of the day. Fletcher’s for dinner and then maybe a cotton candy or candy apple. Mom worked nights so we would leave right after the fireworks.

As I grew older and was at an age to hit the Fair alone, there was always an extra 20 bucks slipped into my pocket by my grandmother or grandfather. When my parents were young and there wasn’t a lot of extra money, my grandparents would save so that they would have some Fair money. The Fair was that important. There is always a Fair story when we gather around and talk. Fair memories are some of our best memories.

But back to the sandwich. It took me another day or so to get the Elvis exactly the way I wanted it, and then I waited for the contest. When Labor Day finally rolled around, I was surprised at how excited I was. I kept telling myself the trophy didn’t matter, that the Elvis was a winner regardless. But as the competition began, I started getting nervous and anxious.

When my name was called, I almost imagined what it would feel like to win the Super Bowl. I didn’t yell or scream because it’s not in my nature to do so, but inside I was howling louder than Big Tex himself. It was not so much the Elvis sandwich itself that made me so happy about the win; after all, creating it didn’t really take me all that long. What made me feel so ecstatic was after being a lifelong fan of the fair and a concessionaire for three years, I finally felt like I was truly a part of the great State Fair of Texas.

Winning the Big Tex trophy meant a lot to me then, and it still means a lot to me now. And the publicity has certainly been great. Business is booming. But that little trophy means a lot more to me and my family because of what the state fair has meant to us. —Abel Gonzalez Jr.

Abel Gonzalez Jr. has also been recognized at the Big Tex Choice Awards for his fried Coke, fried cookie dough, and fried butter.

23. “Dimebag” Darrell is Murdered Onstage

Photo courtesy of Getty Images
What: On December 8, 2004, as Damageplan was midway through the first song of its set at Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio, Nathan Gale, a deranged former Marine, ran onstage and shot and killed guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott. At first, stunned by the violence and audacity of the attack, the majority of the audience assumed it was part of the show. It got worse. Gale eventually killed three others before he was taken down by a single shot from officer James Niggemeyer’s 12-gauge shotgun.

Why: David Draiman, singer for Disturbed, called the murders at Alrosa Villa “the 9/11 of rock” in the aftermath. It’s a strong statement, but one that checks out based on Abbott’s impact on the hard rock and metal community with his first band, Pantera, and as a influence on, and mentor to, up-and-coming guitar heroes.

24. Kelly Clarkson Wins American Idol

Photo courtesy of Corbis
I will confess that I’ve seen only one full season of American Idol—the first one. I was sucked in by the car-crash nature of the audition process and the then-novel interplay between Simon Cowell, his fellow judges, and the contestants. What can I say? I enjoy a good cringe. It engages my core muscles.

I don’t know why I kept watching once the real singing started, but I did. As with any show like this, you develop favorites. I had two, I suppose. There was Tamyra Gray, who came off like a ringer, a total-package stunner it was difficult to buy as an amateur. (After every performance by Gray, I felt like I was an unwitting pawn of the record industry, playing along with an ingenious marketing plan.) I also was pulling for a local girl from the western suburbs.

Nikki McKibbin.

I’ll confess something else: I didn’t initially see the appeal of Kelly Clarkson. I didn’t see it later, either. Up until she won (on September 4, 2002), I considered her a poor choice. It wasn’t until after that I realized how wrong I had been. She was exactly what the contest was supposed to be about and rarely has been since that first, pure season.

Clarkson is the kind of regular girl who makes American Idol’s plucked-from-obscurity conceit actually work. By all accounts, she remains one. I recall an impromptu appearance by her on The Ticket 1310 AM a few years ago when she happened to be shopping for groceries at the same store at which the gang from The Hardline was doing a remote broadcast. (Celebrities: they’re just like us!)

But that’s not enough. The next step of the American Idol creation myth says that the girl (or guy) next door in question has to be capable of delivering something so undeniable that everyone—old and young, hip and square, and on and on—is helpless in the face of it. Clarkson accomplished that very thing with “Since U Been Gone,” which everyone everywhere loved, whether they would freely admit it or not.

I’ll confess one more thing: I just listened to “Since U Been Gone” five times in a row. —Zac Crain

25. Nolan Ryan Puts Robin Ventura in a Headlock

Photo courtesy of Newscom
What: Chicago White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura probably should have taken his base after Nolan Ryan plunked him with a fastball during a game on August 4, 1993. It didn’t matter that Ryan, 46, was 20 years older than he was and would retire from the game in another month or so. It’s bad karma to charge the mound when a legend is toeing the rubber. And it’s just a bad idea when that legend happens to be a rancher in the off-season, accustomed to wrestling steers and so on. But Ventura stormed the mound anyway. Ryan—who remained on the mound almost the entire time—obliged him. He wrapped Ventura in a headlock with his left arm while punching the third baseman in the face six times with his right before catcher Pudge Rodriguez was able to separate the two. Best part (or second best): Ryan wasn’t even ejected. Footage of the incident led every sportscast for the next few days, and it became one of the most iconic sports photos extant.

Why: Despite a solid career, Ventura is still mostly known as the guy Nolan Ryan beat up. And despite a Hall-of-Fame career that lasted 27 seasons and saw him set records for most career strikeouts and no-hitters—well, Ryan isn’t mostly known as the guy who beat up Robin Ventura, but it’s guaranteed to be one of the first things people bring up.


26. North Dallas Forty Tells All

What: The 1979 adaptation of former Cowboy Peter Gent’s semiautobiographical 1973 novel followed the North Dallas Bulls through an off-field circus of sex, drugs, and alcohol, giving viewers a different take of America’s Team.

Why: The movie led to this great quote from former Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith (who served as the inspiration for Mac Davis’ Seth Maxwell): “If I’d known Gent was as good as he says he was, I would have thrown to him more.”

27. Flickerstick Wins Bands on the Run

What: Was Flickerstick the best group on the one and only season of VH1’s Bands on the Run, which first aired April 2, 2001, and had acts traversing the country, trying to win challenges? Maybe, but that wouldn’t be saying much. Flickerstick was, however, the most entertaining of the lot, with its drunken off-stage antics.

Why: The band will always have a place in the long line of successful (or at least captivating) reality-show stars from the area. That said, the after effect of the Bands on the Run win turned out to be short-lived. Epic Records signed the group and reissued a slightly revamped version of its debut, Welcoming Home the Astronauts. It would be Flickerstick’s last release on the label.

28. Michael Irvin Wears a Mink Coat to Court

Photo courtesy of The Dallas Morning News
What: Even though Michael Irvin had been arrested for cocaine possession in March 1996, he hadn’t quite gotten his comeuppance yet. So when he was set to appear at the courthouse for his grand jury hearing, Irvin dressed for the occasion in the manner to which he had become accustomed: completely over the top. In this case, that meant a full-length mink coat. It didn’t exactly scream “innocent!” when photos and video of Irvin in said coat turned up in every news outlet that runs photos and video. He looked like a man who had cocaine on him at that very moment.

Why: Irvin has since found God, various levels of success as a media personality, and more trouble with the law. But the image of him in that mink will never be forgotten. It is as central to the Michael Irvin story as anything he ever did on the field with the Cowboys and overshadows almost everything he did off of it. Except for that time he said he had a weed pipe in his car because he was throwing it away for someone else, because that’s just crazy.

29. JFK Reignites Conspiracy Theories

What: The various conspiracies potentially in play regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy had long been simmering. (It was the Cubans! Or the anti-Cubans! Or the Russians! Or the CIA! Or the FBI! Or LBJ! Or aliens! Or suicide!) Director Oliver Stone brought it to a boil when he came to Dallas to shoot JFK, which (more or less) took the best parts of all extant theories and mashed them into one extremely entertaining, if not necessarily historically accurate, whole.

Why: JFK extended the shelf life of Dallas’ City of Hate reputation by another decade or two. But! At least we got a chance to mix and mingle with Kevin Costner for a couple of months. And everyone involved even tangentially with profiting from the assassination and its attendant theorizing made out like bandits.

30. Sex Pistols Rock the Longhorn Ballroom

What: The Sex Pistols—in their late 1970s incarnation, anyway—toured America only once, a 12-day exercise in barely controlled chaos. Of that handful of shows, only two are constantly referenced: the last one in San Francisco (wherein Johnny Rotten infamously ended the performance by asking, “You ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”) and the band’s gig on January 10, 1978, at the Longhorn Ballroom. Built by Texas swing legend Bob Wills and known for hosting predominantly country and western acts, the Longhorn Ballroom served as the backdrop for what was less a concert than a confrontation. To wit: a female audience member head-butted bassist Sid Vicious, causing blood to flow down his chest (where, incidentally, he’d scribbled “Gimme a Fix” in marker) for the duration of the set.

Why: Anyone who has ever had even a passing interest in punk rock has seen footage from the Longhorn Ballroom show, which Rotten called “a living circus” from the stage that night.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

31. Walker, Texas Ranger Kicks Butt

What: For eight seasons (beginning April 21, 1993), Chuck Norris delivered his roundhouse kick of justice—as North Texas-based Texas Ranger Cordell Walker—right here. Fun fact: Walker, Texas Ranger was co-created by multiple Oscar winner Paul Haggis (CrashMillion Dollar Baby).

Why: It was a boon to the local film industry, people who like seeing Las Colinas on TV, and the folks behind Which reminds us: Chuck Norris destroyed the periodic table, because he recognizes only the element of surprise.

32. Bottle Rocket Launches

What: Every city needs a cult classic to call its own. Bottle Rocket is ours, and we have the Criterion Collection DVD to prove it.

Why: When it debuted on February 21, 1996, Bottle Rocket didn’t appear as though it would be launching anyone’s career. But the quirky, charming heist film, shot in and around Dallas, found new life in the secondary market. It launched the career of director Wes Anderson and helped turn brothers Luke and Owen Wilson (and even, to some extent, their elder brother, Andrew) into recognizable names in Hollywood.

33. Dr. Phil Brings His Bromides to Oprah

Illustration by Michael Witte
What: After Dr. Phil McGraw’s legal consulting concern, Courtroom Sciences, helped Oprah Winfrey prevail in her Amarillo, Texas, beef trial, the talk show host invited McGraw to appear on her program. His visit proved so successful that, in April 1998, he became her “relationship and life strategy expert,” offering his advice to Winfrey and her guests every Tuesday. And thus, Dr. Phil was born.

Why: McGraw’s Tuesdays with Oprah were spun off into his own show, Dr. Phil, in 2002, with Winfrey’s Harpo Studios producing. Not only that, McGraw is now a best-selling author several times over and, for a brief, ultimately disastrous, time, was also a weight-loss consultant, despite all evidence to the contrary.

34. Michael Scott is “Attacked” by a Gecko

What: On August 9, 2002, on a broadcast of DFW Today, NBC Channel 5’s Michael Scott gave us a gift. Oddly enough, he was holding a snake when a gecko leaped onto his crotch. To put it mildly, Scott freaked. Waving an arm spastically at the gecko (apparently afraid to touch it), he made gurgling sounds, then squeaked out an F-bomb before throwing himself off camera and onto the floor.

Why: Jay Leno aired the clip repeatedly on The Tonight Show, and in short order, Scott became a YouTube star. (Though the F-bomb has been expunged from all extant online clips of the blooper, we have an unadulterated copy at the D Magazine offices.)

35. The Polyphonic Spree Sings in an Apple/Volkswagen Ad

What: It’s rare when three brands hit their target demographic with one TV spot. But this commercial (which premiered July 15, 2003) for the Volkswagen Bug and Apple’s iPod, set to the Polyphonic Spree’s “Light and Day,” did just that. Not that it was difficult to accomplish: the Venn diagram of their respective audiences likely resembles a single circle.

Why: Though various successful festival appearances turned the majority of our nation’s music journalists into starry-eyed believers, the exposure from the Apple/VW team-up was the tipping point, the equivalent of having the No. 1 video on MTV back when MTV played music videos.