The author of “America’s Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys,” Jeff also writes a new column in each issue of Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine and cohosts the “On Air with Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine” online show. For subscription information, please click here.
Even after owning the Dallas Cowboys for 25 years, Jerry Jones isn't who you think he is. Well, he is, but he isn't.
First and foremost, he wants to please. Family, fans, media, players, coaches, employees, those who think he's a reckless oilman without a clue, even the guy who is already posting a vicious comment on this very column, writing that I'm an idiot and Jerry is responsible for all that is wrong in the world. Still, he wants to please that guy, too.
There are many misconceptions about Jones, too many to list here, but his ownership has been an overwhelming success. That isn't even up for debate. The man inherited a franchise hemorrhaging money, about $35,000 per day, and coming off three straight losing seasons. Attendance at Texas Stadium had plummeted, averaging an all-time low 49,141 in 1988, nearly 15,000 less per game than just five years earlier and nearly 12,000 below the league average. Never mind America's Team. The Cowboys weren't Dallas's team, with just one game that season avoiding a local television blackout.
Buying the Cowboys wasn't a business decision for Jones. In fact, as he freely admits, those who looked at the numbers told him it was among the dumbest business decisions they had ever seen. Nonetheless, he went all-in to purchase the team.
The co-captain of the 1964 national championship Arkansas Razorbacks, Jones always wanted to own an NFL franchise, even attempting to buy the San Diego Chargers a few years out of school before his father talked him out of it. For the record, he didn't have the money to do so, but that wasn't going to stop him, at least in his mind.
Why? Because Jones loves football. He coached his sons back in the day, and when out of town on business he would fly home commercially to take part in a two-hour practice before returning directly to the airport. He wouldn't even stop by the house for dinner.
And the Cowboys were always Jones’s favorite NFL team. He admired Tom Landry and Tex Schramm, and while he didn't always watch many pro games, when he did, it was usually the Cowboys.
Jones, now 71 years old, didn't buy the team for business reasons. However, once he purchased it, being successful in business was only going to enhance the on-field product. And he's a businessman, a natural-born salesman, so he was going to do what he does best: Sell his product. Sell the Dallas Cowboys.
The business has never outweighed the football, though. Oh no, not even close. If there was a price tag on winning the Super Bowl, be it 10 figures, Jones would write the check without hesitation. No one wants to win more than him. He'll spend whatever money is needed. If the NFL didn't have a salary cap, the Cowboys would be the New York Yankees, leading the league in team payroll year after year.
"If we could buy a Super Bowl, my father would give up any and all financial success to do so, without hesitation" says Charlotte Jones Anderson, the Cowboys’ executive vice president and chief brand manager.
Jones has cried after games, most recently the playoff loss to the Giants in January 2008, a season in which he was convinced would end at the Super Bowl. The season-ending losses these past three years have been devastating for him as well. No one takes the defeats harder.
"Jerry wants to win to the point that a little part of his heart breaks after every loss," says Gene Jones, his wife of 51 years. "All we talk about is the football team and the grandchildren. Jerry doesn't have any hobbies, he never has. It's family and football. When people ask me how Jerry is doing, I tell them he's only as happy as his unhappiest grandchild and only as happy as the unhappiest Cowboys fan. That's who he is."
Some say he's an egomaniac, and he is to some degree. Jerry wouldn’t be Jerry without some ego. For whatever reason, we associate ego as a negative. That shouldn't be the case. There are different kinds of ego.
The greatest stadium the world has ever seen isn't created without that ego, without the hundreds of millions of dollars beyond budget that Jones himself invested. Must be the best, anything less wasn't an option. Jones was willing to spend his last nickel and then borrow a few more million. And he did just that. The Dallas Cowboys, the team and the fans, absolutely, positively demanded the most magnificent stadium on the planet. And Jones was going to deliver. The new team headquarters in Frisco will be a similar situation. Nothing but the best, first-class.
Jones knows who he is. He gets it. There is no delusion. He understands the mistakes, knows his strengths and weaknesses and feels pretty damn good about the life he has lived. Sure, he wishes this or that was handled better, especially the firing of Landry. That's his greatest regret. Let there be no doubt of that. It bothers him to this day more than anyone can fathom.
There are no days off with Jones. He doesn't say no all that well and doesn't like to delegate. His life is a constant state of movement and flux. If there were suddenly 28 hours in a day, Jones wouldn't sleep any longer or pick up a hobby. He'd just dedicate those extra hours to the Cowboys and his family.
To spend time with Jones for a story usually means becoming a part of his day. While writing America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys, I spent a few days with Jones, the first of which covered some 12 hours at AT&T Stadium and started with a commercial shoot.
Then it was time for Jones to address some prospective season-ticket buyers. He spoke for a few minutes, told his favorite joke, and then stood there for about 90 minutes, signing every autograph request and posing for every photo. He didn't have to, but he did. He always does. Every team function, every training camp, every event, Jones will respect every request. He considers it an honor, even after 25 years.
As for being general manager, there's no way to write a Jones 25-year anniversary column without mentioning it. It is what it is. He relies heavily on those around him, especially his son, Stephen, who honestly deals with more of the GM duties than Jerry does. But as a businessman, Jerry Jones likes to have the final say. Really see nothing wrong with that. If he didn't have the title, that wouldn't change, so not really entirely sure of the issue.
Keep in mind that the Cowboys are 214-186 with just six losing seasons since 1990. There are also three Super Bowls, no matter how long ago that third one was. Know how many franchises have won three Super Bowls since Jones bought the Cowboys? Two: the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. And no team has four.
The Cowboys have also sold out 194 consecutive home games and routinely rank first among the most valuable professional franchises in North America, according to Forbes. They also dominate national television ratings. And, the Jones family's work with The Salvation Army has been extraordinary, having raised more than $2 billion the last 17 years. That's quite a legacy.
Yet, these past four seasons have been disappointing, more so for Jones than anyone. Those setbacks, however, have only increased the level his passion, if that was even possible. His drive to win a championship is stronger than ever.
He's not interested in looking back on his accomplishments, at least not in terms of a finished product. Sure, Jones would consider it among the highlights of his life to be inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a more than deserving honor that many believe will come in the next few years, but his focus remains entirely on returning the Cowboys to the league's elite.
"I do think that the future holds so much more than it did 25 years ago, and I never dreamed that," Jones says. "In terms of a legacy, the perception is very real. I think there are a lot of positives in regard to what we've been able to do, there's some meat on the bone.
"Now, we haven't met the mark the last 10 years. We should have had a Super Bowl or two during that stretch. If I've learned anything these 25 years is that you have to get yours when the opportunity is there. And I think the opportunity is there now. I think we can compete this season. I really believe that."
Jones hasn't really changed all that much in the 25 years since buying the team. The optimism and passion have never wavered. He really isn't a complex guy. He loves his family and he loves the Dallas Cowboys. That's who Jerry Jones is.
Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.