By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Jerry Jones is unbuttoning his shirt.
And as usual—as with everything concerning the owner of the Dallas Cowboys—the whole world is watching.
Well, for now, it's merely a handful of patrons at Coyote Ugly on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. But, seeing that most of them have drawn cell phones from their holsters, unflattering photos of a whipped-cream-covered, big breast-smothered Jones seem literally seconds from splashing onto the Internet.
It's a Wednesday night in early August, and the Cowboys have put to bed another successful day in what is undeniably a successful training camp. After watching quarterback Tony Romo develop timing with receiver Roy Williams before a weekday crowd of almost 10,000 at The Alamodome, Jones has piled friends, family, employees and sponsors into his customized, chauffeured Cowboys tour bus for a night on the town. A pub crawl that starts with red meat and White Russians at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on St. Paul Square has migrated to the Howl at the Moon piano bar, PolyEster's discotheque and, finally, this rowdy country saloon where the beer is cold, the dancers are hot, and there's a standing invitation to lie on the bar and have scantily clad waitresses turn your shot of choice into an interactive Josh Hamilton experience.
Drink firmly in hand, Jones has been boogying to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Now the waitstaff is begging him to open his mind and his shirt to the idea of a body shot. Jones, 66 going on 26, is a good-timin', big-hearted boy with bottomless reservoirs of passion for football, fame and, indeed, fun. He reaches for the top button...
And reminds us all that he's no dummy.
While the Rangers' Hamilton had God by his side that fateful night in Arizona when he notoriously caved to whiskey, women and whipped cream, Jones has something more tangibly effective: Personal security chief Roosevelt Riley, who red-flags any activity that tip-toes close to the inappropriate line. And the savvy to know he doesn't have to show skin to spread the Cowboys gospel.
"Let's have some fun here!" Jones suddenly announces while subtly removing his hand from his shirt and waving it over the heads of his adoring crowd like a wizard sprinkling fairy dust. "Put all this on my tab."
Cameras back in pockets. Fresh drinks in hand. Smiles on every face. Boogying resumed. The Dallas Cowboys just won a few more fans—courtesy of the most intoxicating owner in the history of professional sports.
Who else could build and fill a billion-dollar sports stadium in the depths of a catastrophic recession? Who else could keep the Cowboys not only relevant, but wildly popular, in the depths of an unprecedented 13-year stretch without a playoff win? Who else could risk the ire of the NFL by challenging the way it does business? And who else could market a bold, cutting-edge coliseum into a distraction to keep fans from thinking about his years of being an inferior general manager?
There's only one Jerral Wayne Jones.
"The guy's amazing," says former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, who teamed with Jones to win two Super Bowls in the '90s. "Jerry goes to bed thinking about making money, and he wakes up with brilliant marketing schemes. He's just different than the rest of us. I always credit his great passion, his energy. When he does something, he does it the best and biggest it can possibly be done."
By 6 most mornings Jones is on his elliptical fitness machine. Texting. Calling. Sweating. Reading. Planning. Yearning. Multitasking.
For an owner who has delivered three Super Bowls in the past, secured his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement in the future and just opened the doors on his $1.2 billion legacy, the glaring, expanding hole on his résumé resides right here, right now. For all their popularity and pizzazz, the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since December 28, 1996, the longest such drought in franchise history.
Jones has always been a polarizing owner: To some Cowboys fans, he's the divine deliverer of championships and a cathedral; to others, he's the devil who fired Tom Landry, ran off Johnson, signed Terrell Owens and priced the blue-collar fan out of his hoity-toity coliseum.
"It's motivating to me to have not won a playoff game in 13 years," Jones admits during training camp. "It has an impact on me. Really does."
In his opening day press conference at camp, Jones recalls that he learned almost immediately upon buying the team in 1989 that marketing machinations can earn first downs, but not touchdowns. He tells a story about riding in a car to Austin with former GM Tex Schramm en route to firing the legendary Landry. Jones remarked how impressed he was with the America's Team image cultivated by Schramm's regime.
After a long pause, Tex grumbled, "Yeah, it'd be a hell of a business if we didn't have to play the football games."
Cowboys Stadium may buy Jones another season of clemency, but he realizes the shelf life of past performance is about to expire. The Cowboys indeed have to play the football games. And they have to win in December, even January, ideally February.