Editor’s note: This story was originally published on February 2, 2017. In celebration of Jerry Jones’ 30th year as Cowboys owner, we’re bringing it back.
FRISCO — For Jerry Jones, the road to the gates of the Pro Football Hall of Fame began in a fetal position. That’s hardly a comfortable pose for a successful 46-year-old businessman who already had amassed more than a modicum of wealth and power through the relatively obscure oil fields of rural America.
Jones, who was based in Arkansas and Oklahoma, didn’t have to ponder purchasing the Dallas Cowboys back in 1989 for more than a New York minute. He was determined to add the Cowboys to his portfolio despite the advice of a team of attorneys and accountants who looked at the blue- and metallic silver-shaded glamour and glitz surrounding America’s Team and saw only a black hole.
Jones clearly understood the cold, hard fact that the team, owned by Bum Bright and a cadre of minority owners, was drowning in the red. It was bleeding $1 million a month with full-blown bankruptcy beckoning.
His bean counters, immersed in due diligence, had informed Jones that the FDIC already had foreclosed on 13 percent of the franchise with another 40 percent headed to the courthouse.
No matter. Jones couldn’t stand having his nose pressed to the window while what he craved sat in plain view on the other side.
Jones wanted what he wanted and let the bottom line be damned. He could fix it, he believed, when he got his hands on the Cowboys.
“I was blindly intoxicated with the idea of being involved with sports and the NFL,” Jones said earlier in January, one month shy of 28 years since he purchased the Cowboys.
But deep down, buying the franchise scared him. And it scarred him.
Jittery Jerry Jones? Who knew?
Certainly not if you remember his coming-out party, his introduction as the Cowboys owner on a haunting Saturday night in late February 1989. It was there, at the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch headquarters, that Jones announced he had fired iconic coach Tom Landry earlier in the day. He confirmed he was bringing along his former University of Arkansas football teammate Jimmy Johnson, a college coach with no NFL experience, to replace Landry.
And then, there was this nugget. Jones decreed that he would be in charge of every detail related to the franchise, down to “jocks” and “socks.”
He came across as J.R. Ewing cocky.
“I put on a brave face,” Jones admitted in recalling the night while seated in his sleek office on the second floor of the Cowboys’ new billion-dollar headquarters complex. Appropriately called “The Star,” it bookends his team’s billion-dollar stadium 36 miles to the south.
Turns out the “brave face” was the ultimate con.
Jones said if anyone had seen him trying to hold a cup of water in the stressed-filled days and sleepless nights in the hours leading up to the moment, they would have known.
“I was so nervous I needed two hands not to spill,” he said.
And those nerves didn’t disappear anytime soon.
For years, Jones said, he could not talk about the events surrounding his purchase of the Cowboys for $140 million, a then-record price on the American sports landscape, without inexplicably breaking into a cold sweat while fighting back tears.
It bothered him enough that he solicited medical advice.
“I’ve talked to doctors about it,” Jones said. “They all said it was normal because I was suffering from tremendous stress in those days. It’s my own version of post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“And that I can talk about it now without tearing up shows how far I have come.”
Much has changed
Jerry Jones, who needed all the money he could scrape together to make the Cowboys deal a go, has indeed come a long way, and he has carried the NFL with him.
For his contributions to the league, he will be considered for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when 48 voters confer in Houston on Saturday, the eve of Super Bowl LI.
Jones needs 39 affirmative votes in a straight yes-or-no referendum that will judge if he has done enough in contributing to the best interests of the league to warrant a place among the football greats in Canton, Ohio. Unlike players and coaches, who are considered only after they have been retired for five years, the stand-alone “contributor” category, which was introduced in 2015, has no mandatory retirement period.
The contributors in the Class of 2015 were longtime front-office executives Ron Wolf — who worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers — and Bill Polian, who worked for the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts.
Last year, Edward DeBartolo Jr., whose San Francisco 49ers rose from the ashes under his ownership, was inducted.
And now along comes Jones, a still-active, first-time finalist. He’s joined by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, whose candidacy dates to the days when contributors competed against players and coaches in Hall balloting. Both could be voted in. Or only one could. Or both could be shut out.
Jones’ contributions include breathing life into a marquee but moribund Cowboys franchise that would win three Super Bowl championships in the 1990s. But more important, he introduced new revenue streams to the league and his fellow owners in markets around the country.
Jones revolutionized the league’s dealings with television networks and reinvented how owners could independently turn marketing of their teams and their stadiums into gushers.
“Had to try something to turn around the Cowboys’ finances,” he said.
To that end, he lowered expenses when he “weeded out” employees he thought non-essential. But that was relative chump change.
“I also had to look for other sources of revenue,” he said.
He didn’t have to look far. As a relatively freshly minted owner, he was appalled to learn that the NFL was considering a new network television deal that would actually reduce revenue in 1994 — after a 1991 deal that kept network money flat. The reduction would cost Jones and each of his fellow NFL owners $8.5 million a year.
And so, he led an insurrection against old-guard owners, who seemed content to take what the poverty-crying networks were offering,
Jones and his group instead invited the fledgling Fox Network to the party. And the money has streamed in ever since.
Pre-Jones in 1987, the league signed a three-year deal with the networks for a total of about $1.4 billion.
Post-Jones in 1994, the NFL’s network deals for four seasons were valued at $4.4 billion.
This season alone, the league will rake in an estimated $7 billion from its network partners.
Jones also led the way in showing how teams could create independent marketing agreements to complement the NFL’s league-wide agreements. If the NFL signed with Coca-Cola, for example, what was to stop Jerry Jones’ stadium signing with Pepsi?
The Cowboys owner was branded a maverick. The league sued. But in the end, Jones won, and his fellow franchisees fell in lock step.
In essence, Jones established a blueprint that allowed rich men and women to make more money. According to Forbes, his Cowboys are worth $4 billion. That’s more than any other sports team on the planet. Four more NFL teams are in the top 10. There are eight in the top 20, 12 in the top 30, 18 in the top 40.
Is that enough to warrant a place in his game’s Hall of Fame? Will the voters, media members not blessed to own billion-dollar properties, deem him worthy?
Jones wouldn’t even attempt to answer those questions.
One thing he promises, however. He is not the least bit nervous about the upcoming vote.
Rather, he has assumed a statesmanlike pose.
“Just the recognition, to be considered for the Hall is an honor for which I am greatly appreciative,” Jones said diplomatically.
“I’m pretty realistic that by the nature of my style, I haven’t always been praised for what I have done,” he said. “Some of my critics would tell you that I wasn’t always working for the game, but I was. A rising tide lifts all ships.”
Doing the deal
One final Jones story relating to his Cowboys purchase: After haggling the price for days with Bright, the old Cowboys owner told Jones he needed a bona fide offer by the next day.
Jones retreated to his hotel room at the Mansion on Turtle Creek and soberly came up with a dollar figure he thought would get the deal done.
He scribbled down a number on hotel stationery that was not fiscally responsible, but one he believed would satisfy Bright.
“It was instinctive,” Jones said. “It didn’t reflect the value of the team.”
But it was also close enough to what Jones surmised Bright was seeking.
After a sleepless night, Jones presented Bright with the handwritten dollar figure.
Still $100,000 apart, Jones would not let the deal go.
In the grand scheme of things, the two men “were down to circumcising mosquitoes,” Jones said.
Ultimately, they flipped a coin. Jones would pay $140 million.
“I lost the flip and the money,” Jones said. “But I won the Dallas Cowboys.”
This Topic is Missing Your Voice.