Airing it out

By the time you read these words, some of you will have already wandered into a bookstore and skimmed through the pages of Jim Dent's new book, King of the Cowboys: The Life and Times of Jerry Jones.

You will have been so enthralled by Chapter 11 and its account of Jerry Jones' drunken womanizing that you surely will have plopped your butt down on the Barnes & Noble carpet to read more--about shady business deals, a caffeine addiction that leaves Jones wild-eyed even when he isn't drinking, and assorted other strange behaviors.

In short, this book's filled with fascinating stuff (notwithstanding News columnist Barry Horn's recent dismissal of all but Chapter 11 as old news).

But just as juicy as the book is the story of how Jones sought to sanitize its contents.

Jones would not speak directly to the Observer about the book or Dent's comments, though he did respond to some questions through his attorney. Jones has told other reporters (without getting specific) that there are inaccuracies in every chapter. But Jones' bizarre quest (as described by Dent) to purge damning material says something. You are free to determine just what.

It started in early June. That's when Jerry had his son Stephen, a Cowboys vice president, meet Dent in the parking lot of Prime Sports Radio, the national network based in Irving where Dent is an on-air personality.

"He said, 'Dad has to talk to you,'" recalls Dent. "Then he said, 'Think about how this is going to hurt my mother.'

"I told him, 'Your dad should have thought about that a long time ago.'"
About this time, Richard Cass, a prominent Washington, D.C., attorney with Wilmer, Cutler &Pickering who was representing Jones, had begun writing letters to Adams Publishing, the Boston publisher of the book, asking to review the manuscript before publication--a request Adams denied. In the letters, recalls Dent, Jones' attorney said the Cowboys owner was contemplating legal action because the book was full of errors. "At this time, no one had seen the book," said Dent. "They couldn't have known if it was full of errors.

"My publisher started sending me queries wanting to know how many sources I had on each thing. It was like a hundred questions at a time. Here I had just finished this book and you breathe this sigh of relief. Then they decided I needed to meet with Jones."

That's when things got really funny.
Jones had known Dent was writing the book for some time. The writer says Jones spoke to him for a total of more than 12 hours as the project proceeded.

But Jones' concern apparently began to mount last spring and early summer, when word filtered through the Valley Ranch grapevine that the book contained information on Jones' rather prolific social life.

Jones wanted to meet with Dent with lawyers present. Dent says his publisher vetoed the idea--but he preferred to meet with Jones anyway by himself, just man-to-man. On July 3, Dent said, he reached Jones in Florida. A meeting was set for July 6 in Dallas. Dent was insistent that the meeting not be at Valley Ranch, but on neutral turf.

"So he came to this building," says Dent, referring to Prime Sports' Las Colinas office. "His car was out there in the fire lane. He first said for me to follow him over [across the street to the Omni Mandalay Hotel]; he wanted to get his car out of the fire lane. Then he said, 'You're gonna drive.'

"Well, I drive an '85 Caprice Classic, wrecked, with a dent in the front. It's got McDonald's coffee cups all over the floor. It smelled bad. Newspapers all over the back. Typical inside-of-car like people in our business have. But he wants to go in my car."

Jones left his Cadillac with the valet attendant at the Omni, climbed into Dent's wreck, and they took off down the road. That's when the Cowboys owner showed him the tape recorder detector. "He shows it to me like he's proud of it," laughs Dent. "It had one of those little red lights on it, like a radar detector. I said, 'Well, let's try it out.'

"So I pulled a tape recorder out of my pocket, turned it on, and sure enough that light went off.

"Then he said, 'Now this is how we're gonna do this.' (And picture all this in Jerry's best snappy little, preachy country-boy voice.)

Jones asked him to name six places he'd want to go for this meeting. Dent named several bars, including TGI Friday's, Bennigans, Frijoles, and the bar at the Omni. Jerry was sitting in the collage of old coffee cups and yellowed sports sections, writing every choice down on a legal pad.

Then Jones flipped the page. "He rewrote the name of one of them at the bottom, covered it with his hand, and turned his head to the side. Then he hands it over to where I can see it, and uncovers the name he has rewritten.

"'See that,' he said. 'That's where we're goin'.
"It was the Omni, where we were in the first place, and now we're two miles down the road from it. So I turn the car around, and we go back to the Omni."

There's a little bar in a corner of the hotel which Jerry has been known to frequent for the privacy it provides. Dent said Jones expressed a fear of having a photographer catch them together. Then, during their conversation at the Omni, Jones asked if Dent had previously had him followed.

Dent told him he had not, that he couldn't afford it.
Dent then asked Jones if he had someone following Dent during the last few weeks.

Affirmative, said Jones. "He told me someone followed me [for] over a week," recalls Dent.

The writer asked what he had done to deserve a tail. "He said he wanted to know where I lived."

Jones, in fact, told Dent that he had someone following them that very night. Dent confessed, in turn, that he too had arranged for someone to tail them. Dent says he was trying to figure out who had been following him.

Meanwhile, Jones' tape-recorder detector light was going crazy; Dent figured it was a guy nearby on a cellular phone. But Jones wasn't sure. "Jim, I can't stand it," Jerry declared. The Cowboys owner announced that he wanted to frisk Dent. "And he obviously knew what he was doing--or someone had told him," says Dent. "Because when you wear a wire, it goes across the back and he was patting all the right places."

As Dent tells this tale, he illustrates how Jerry frisked him right there at the table. "You pat me down, Jimmy," Jones told the sportswriter, "and I'll pat you down." Dent bent over the table as instructed and submitted. Then Jerry volunteered: "Now you do me. Pat me down, Jimmy, pat me down."

"This," recalls Dent, "was clearly weird."
After all the espionage tactics were complete, the conversation settled into talk about the womanizing that Dent details in the book--which Jones, of course, had not yet seen.

Dent recalls Jones' commenting: "I am here on behalf of me and my entire family. I want you to know people consider me as having a hard outer shell. Jim, I can take a lick. But this is different in that it's in regards to my family. It touches me.

"If you'll be my friend on this, I'm starting my own TV network similar to ESPN. I will see that you get a job there."

The long and the short of it, according to Dent: Jones was telling him that if he would "take the womanizing out, I would be assured of a job for a very long time. He added that it would be desirable for me to take it out if I ever wanted to work in this town again. Then he asked, 'How is my wife Gene gonna feel when she reads this book?'

"That was something he kept repeating--If I ever wanted to work in this town again, publishing the womanizing would not be advisable."

Jones, through attorney Cass, confirms the meeting took place. "They met," says Cass. "But Jerry never offered him a job, and he never said [Dent] would never work in this town again."

The material in question remained--and there is plenty of it.
In Chapter 11, titled "Honky-Tonk Man," we see one side of Jerry--a late-night, hard-drinking, partying side which even Barry Switzer, a man who knows how to kick back, tells Dent was too wild to keep up with. Dent describes one attractive young woman, 20 years Jones' junior, who appears at Jerry's side in bars and on road trips and gets promoted within the Texas Stadium marketing department. Close encounters with many other women are described.

Dent also describes Jones' partying ways--including a time in Austin when last call was approaching and Texas liquor laws barred serving Jones' party any more booze. "Okay," Jones told the bartender, "if you're not gonna serve us, then here's the deal. I'm going to buy this goddamn bar right here and now, and you're gonna be the first fucker to go."

Drew Pearson, who used to own a bar in North Dallas, is quoted as saying: "Some of the things he used to do in my club were disgusting." Of special interest is Jones' habit of pinching women he does not know on the rear ends--one time unknowingly nipping the six-months-pregnant wife of David Mantle, Mickey's son.

Dent said he had about three sources for each account in the book. His publisher made extra demands for verification after the letters from Jones' lawyers began arriving.

Dent says he is not certain how Jerry will react when he realizes he cannot brush off the book. But Dent does say he expects Jones to attack him personally--and he vows to fight back.

Dent makes no bones about the troubled last few years of his own personal life. He has engaged in more than his share of boozy despair.

He covered the Cowboys for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Dallas Times Herald, where he stayed until the paper folded in 1991. He got burned out. He is starting over at 42. "I feel like I am making a complete break with the first 15 years of my career," he says.

He may be. Dent has always been known in the sports business as a good writer and reporter. But during the last few years, he has jumped from here to there, using up goodwill and work options. As a favor, retired Cowboys great Randy White in 1994 had Dent write his speech for his induction into the Football Hall of Fame. He knew Dent could still write--and needed the work.

By then, Dent didn't have many people willing to do him favors. "I lost some friends in the last three or four years," he acknowledges. "I am still going through the process of recovering those friendships."

He still drinks, but not like he did during those three or four bad years. He went nine months without a paycheck and was borrowing money from friends and his dad. He was driving that big boat car after years in a Volvo 940. He won't have good credit again for a long time. When he couldn't find steady work, Dent spent a lot of time drinking and gambling.

Last October, he got divorced, signed the contract to write the book, and went to Gamblers Anonymous. It wasn't a minute too soon.

For three or four years, Dent was capable of a mean drunk. I grew to dislike him a lot, before finally feeling compassion for someone I realized was having a damn hard time.

Today, Dent looks like he always did, only better. Happy and often smiling, he seems to have metamorphosed back into a genuinely kind man. "My life got so low I decided I'd straighten everything out at once," Dent says. "I was out of options."

Dent speaks freely about this period of hateful, irresponsible behavior and hard luck. He knows full well Jerry may throw all of that right at him. "Fine," says Dent, patting his much-trimmer chest. Jones can slap a Nike swoosh right across his butt for all Dent seems to care.

The last time Dent ever spoke to Jones was during an accidental meeting at Memphis, a North Dallas nightspot, about three weeks ago.

Dent turned around to see Jerry and an attractive young companion next to him at the bar.

"Jerry was plowed," he says. "But if you say that I said Jerry was plowed, then you have to say that I had a few too."

Dent had a few too.
Jones turned to Dent. "Jimmy, is the damn book done?" Jones asked.
"The damn book is done," Dent replied.

Jerry lifted his hands heavenward like an Arkansas tent revivalist, eyeballs toward the Lord.

"What the fuck," said the owner of the NFL's most sainted franchise. Then Jerry Jones turned to his companion: "Darlin', do you want to dance?


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