By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Some in our Bible Belt even chastise Jones for introducing alcohol to Cowboys games, clinging to a kinder, gentler time framed by Tommy Loy's National Anthem trumpet and original owner Clint Murchison's humility. They hear his cryptic, rambling interviews, see his diamond star lapel pendant and cringe when he allows tight-end Bennett to call him "J-Dawg" in a TV pizza commercial.
But by trying to avoid the supposedly sinister spell of his steel-blue eyes, they miss his big heart.
"When [former Cowboys' long-snapper] Dale Hellestrae's dad died, I remember Jerry giving him unlimited use of his private jet to fly family all around the country, no questions asked," says 30-year voice of the Cowboys, Brad Sham. "It's a side of him not many people get to see, and that's a shame."
Most damning, his detractors say, was Jones appointing himself de facto GM after Johnson's departure in 1994 and making mind-boggling decisions—passing on Randy Moss, falling for Chad Hutchinson and signing Owens come to mind—that have plummeted his team into the smelliest stretch in franchise history. Unless they finish 10-6 this season, the team will suffer its worst won-loss decade ever. And since Dallas last won its last playoff game, every NFC team—save the lowly Detroit Lions—has won at least two.
The Cowboys have become Paris Hilton. Famous for nothing other than being famous.
"I honestly like Jerry Jones," says longtime WFAA-Channel 8 sports anchor Dale Hansen, who has deliciously sparred with the owner through the years. "Now, I'm convinced he's full of it half the time and he's a horrible general manager. But I genuinely like him. He's like one of those old inflatable toys that you punched and it would bounce right back up. The guy can take a hit. Nobody in this town is better at dealing with the criticism."
Jones has the thick skin, the ego, the loot and even the baritone KEH-boyz drawl to be a Texas-sized villain. All that's missing is the Cadillac (he prefers a black Lincoln Town Car) with the oversized longhorns protruding from the hood.
One problem: He's big hat, bigger cattle.
For a guy who once took on—and defeated—the NFL's staid old guard of owners, scrubbing a locker room, bleaching his team's image and repackaging the Cowboys as "new" should be relatively uncomplicated. Long before Jones was a carnival barker who slapped backs, pumped hands and seduced fans into watching TV pre-season games 15 times more than they watched Texas Rangers' games, the Cowboy was a maverick.
By 1995—six years after his team debuted with a 1-15 flop—Jones had two Super Bowl trophies but still one goal: Making money.
But he continued receiving minimal returns from Texas Stadium, which he owned (most teams merely leased) because existing NFL policy forced him to share revenue with 27 other teams. So Jones went rogue. He signed a deal with Pepsi that generated $40 million, even though the NFL was Coca-Cola. At his press conference announcing the deal, he famously kicked a red, white and blue Pepsi-logo boot off his foot, into the air and—symbolically—into the ass of his crotchety, conservative peers.
"At the time, the Pepsi thing really flew in the face of conventional thinking," says Cowboys director of media relations Rich Dalrymple, Jones' confidant and strategist for three decades. "He was smart enough to find a loophole and eventually the NFL backed down. That doesn't happen very often."
By the time Jones signed lucrative, independent deals with American Express (the NFL was VISA) and Nike (the NFL was Reebok), commissioner Paul Tagliabue was calling him "self-serving" and "destructive" and in a September 19, 1995, article, The New York Times screamed: "Jerry Jones and the NFL are officially at war."
The Times was referring, of course, to the lawsuit filed the day before against Jones by the NFL, which was suing to protect its team revenue-sharing agreements and its strict guidelines in place for 35 years that prevented teams from negotiating independent contracts. Instead of backing down, Jones countersued for $750 million. Less than a year later, both claims were dropped with Jones keeping his contracts and the league its revenue sharing.
Also on his résumé for Pro Football Hall of Fame status will be Jones' urging the league to jump from CBS to Fox in the early '90s, creating seat licensing fees which gave fans the right to own a specific seat for up to 30 years, and generally—via in-house sponsorships like Ford, Miller Lite and Papa John's at his new joint—making stadium ownership a profitable arm of business.
Megalomaniac? Maybe. Trailblazer? Absolutely. Success? You betcha.
Jones, already in both the Texas Sports and Business Halls of Fame, is one of only six NFL owners to win three Super Bowls. He's sharp enough to vault his $140 million investment in 1989 into a franchise now valued at almost $2 billion, yet grounded enough to keep in touch with his customers—evidenced when he casually high-fived an Oakland Raiders fan in a gorilla suit at last month's pre-season opener.