By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Says Roy Williams, pointing toward Jones after a practice in San Antonio, "In Detroit we had like 20 people at our practices, and here we have 20,000. Credit that man right there."
Jones, who's equally comfortable with a crown or dunce cap (or toupee?) atop his head, remains popular locally and nationally despite his team's plight. The Cowboys play 11 of their 16 games in showcased network TV slots, and every day at camp an ovation announced his arrival to practice.
He's the visionary of Cowboys Stadium. The financier who paid for most of the bells, whistles and unfathomable upgrades out of his own pocket. And the ambassador who opened the place for free to 30,000 fans in an open house and 25,000 more for an open practice.
"Sports has a role in hard times in that it's a respite for people to move away from life and their real jobs," Jones says. "This stadium will help people cope. It was my job to build a place suitable for the fans of the Dallas Cowboys. I think we've done that."
Nonetheless, Jones didn't exactly offer sign-of-the-times discounted tickets. Maybe that's why his stadium is such a lucrative business.
The Cowboys, already the most valuable team in sports according to Forbes, expect to boost revenue this season by $90 million thanks to Jones' innovative club seats that require one-time rights fees of as much as $150,000 a pop. And that's, mind you, without a lucrative corporate naming partner that should surface in 2010 with the expected uptick of the economy.
Though the initial cost of Cowboys Stadium was $650 million, Arlington's ($325 million) and Tarrant County's ($25 million) contributions remained fixed while Jones dug deeper for unprecedented amenities like the $40 million video boards that cost more than the whole of Texas Stadium 28 years ago ($35 million).
"Some fans will never outgrow or outlive the fact that Jerry fired Tom Landry and that's OK," Sham says. "But I think the majority realize the three Super Bowls. The majority realize that Jerry put in much more of his money than he initially intended to. The majority realize that Jerry's real legacy will be seen in 50 years when we have all the memories from the Cowboys games and Super Bowls and Final Fours and all the money that was funneled into North Texas by the house that Jerry built."
Wittingly or not, Jones is our Pied Piper. He has passionately hypnotized Cowboys fans into ditching Landry, absorbing Parcells, embracing Owens, welcoming Pacman and now moving to Tarrant County. With his unique combination of money and moxie, he gets what he wants, usually when and how he wants it.
And no, thanks for asking, Jones isn't about to change.
"I'm not afraid to shove it all out there," he says. "There's no real guesswork on where I stand on most things."
Asked if Jones the owner will ever acquiesce to public outcry and fire Jones the GM in favor of an experienced football voice, Johnson says without hesitation. "No."
No one doubts Jones' powers of persuasion. His knack for attracting attention. Or the likelihood that he'll sell out the biggest, most expensive sports stadium in the country. In the midst of 10 percent unemployment and the bleakest economic times since The Great Depression, Cowboys Stadium is already 95 percent sold.
"One real advantage here is they have maybe the greatest salesman in America, who's selling and getting people excited about this project: Jerry Jones," Fox's Joe Buck told a national TV audience during his play-by play of the Cowboys' first pre-season game in Arlington. "You just have to believe he will make this work, whatever the economic situation is."
Jones sells you a stadium.
You wind up buying hope.
Cowboys Stadium feels like a plush hotel with a football field for a courtyard. Imagine Ghostbar's synthetic beat and fake boobs, accented by artificial grass.
Two thoughts upon your first visit: 1. As a society that greedily lusts after grandeur, opulence and decadent excess, we're all going to Hell. 2. This is Heaven.
"With the excitement and visibility this gives us nationally and internationally," Jones says, beaming, one day during training camp, "it has a chance to be one of the important sports venues in the world."
It's at once an obscene, extravagant edifice and the final frontier of sports architecture. It's a temple. A palace that will host Final Fours, Cotton Bowls, NBA All-Star Games and Super Bowl XLV, built by The Joneses seemingly for The Jetsons.
And to think, the defining structure of North Texas and the nation's most significant sports stadium to open since the Astrodome in 1965 had every chance to be in Dallas' backyard. Then-mayor Laura Miller held talks from April-July 2004 with the Cowboys about a Fair Park site, but failed to reach an agreement.
Just imagine, a city that's stuck in the sand on a Trinity River project when it's not spending $350 million on a convention center hotel or wasting $50 million for a Cotton Bowl facelift, having a single businessman invest $800 million into its image and its future.
"I made it clear that we weren't willing to pay for half their stadium," Miller told The Dallas Morning News after the Cowboys took their ball and headed west five years ago. "I have no regrets that they went to Arlington. It's too rich for me."