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As He Waits On HOF Vote, Jerry Jones Reflects On Memorable Career

FRISCO, Texas – On what might amount to one of the most impactful weeks of his distinguished career, it felt fitting that Jerry Jones would sit here of all places.

The third floor executive conference room sits just 10 feet from Jones' office, where he oversees all Dallas Cowboys operations as both their owner and general manager. More pertinent to this story, the floor length windows afforded him a sunny, shining view of the Cowboys' headquarters at The Star – the breathtaking expanse of mirrored glass ­­­and manicured grass the organization now calls home.

The 12,000-seat Ford Center gleams over Jones' left shoulder, and an Omni hotel rises beyond it, nearing completion. With acres of retail and restaurant space, not to mention a state-of-the-art medical complex to follow, it's a fitting testament to Jones' legacy.

If Jones is elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday afternoon, The Star and its many amenities won't be the reason why. But it serves as an undeniable reminder of his vision – and his willingness to see that vision through, even in the face of risk.

As much as anything else, that helps explain why Jones is up for consideration in the Hall after 28 years of helping to mold the modern NFL.

Sitting on his end of a heavy, marble conference table on Tuesday afternoon, it was enough to prompt Jones to share this sage advice:

"Let me say this: change, injection of new thinking, maybe a different and more progressive picture – if you don't look out and you're running things, an organization, what have you – if you don't inject some of that in, you could miss the boat. Because it stirs things up."

That's a fitting quote for a man who began to stir things up immediately upon arrival in Dallas. It's easy to forget in 2017, where Jones is one of the most recognizable faces and influential voices in the NFL. But that wasn't the case at the get-go, coming into the world of professional football from the oil and gas industry.

Even if he was labeled as an outsider, it never seemed to bother Jones' first forays into the world of NFL business.

"What I will say is I accept the fact that not everyone is looking through the same lens that I am looking through, whether it be the 31 owners in the case of the NFL, whether it be the commissioner," he said. "There are a lot of things in our world, in our society, that you can talk all day long and show all day long and others don't understand it."

Fittingly, it's hard to even understand the issues the league faced when Jones first joined the NFL's consciousness.

For instance, one of his greatest contributions to the game came in the early 90s, when the NFL was preparing to sign a new television contract that would see a cut in revenue from the networks – if anyone can believe that now.

Still new to the club, Jones convinced enough other owners to reject the deal, and he invited the Fox Network to join the bidding.

"When I was involved relative to being aggressive with our television contract, even early on, and pushing back on settling for one amount I didn't know at that time what the alternatives were going to be," Jones said. "I just felt we were undervaluing at that time what we being asked to do."

The alternatives were lucrative, as it turns out. The NFL and its 32 clubs are set to share roughly $7 billion in television revenue this season – and the Cowboys stand out among all of them.

In a year where the league experienced unfamiliar ratings issues, Jones' rookie-led team paved the way. The Cowboys played on national TV on five-straight occasions in 2016, claiming five of the top six highest-rated games of the season.

"In a world of premier things, it's pretty rewarding when you see the top 100 programs shown in all of media and you see where the NFL sits in those broadcasts with our games," Jones said.

Heartbreaking though it might have been, the Cowboys' 34-31 playoff loss to Green Bay drew an absurd 48.5 million viewers.

[embeddedad0]"I have always thought we should demand of all our teams that they have a certain best practices and certain emphasis toward marketing or creating visibility or creating interest for their club," Jones said.

There's another dynamite quote for the occasion, given the role that Jones has played in marketing – not just the Cowboys, but the league as a whole – over the years.

His gamble in sponsorship might have been even riskier than his efforts in television, given that it earned him a $300 million lawsuit from the NFL.

At a time when the league used the NFL Trust to sign sweeping endorsements for all of its teams, Jones used the popularity of the Cowboys to sign his own deals. Whereas the NFL was pledged to Coca-Cola and Visa, the Cowboys inked deals with Pepsi and American Express, among others.

Jones' response to the lawsuit was to counter with a $750 lawsuit of his own. The upshot can't be understated. Not only did he pave the way for other NFL clubs to sign their own sponsorship agreements, he also opened the door for the Cowboys to win the right to their own licensing agreements.

That all helps explain how the Cowboys – a franchise Jones acquired for $140 million in 1989 – could be the most valuable sports franchise in the world today, valued at approximately $4 billion by *Forbes *this year. It also explains why three other NFL teams, the New England Patriots, Washington Redskins and New York Giants, factor into the top 10.

"I always felt, and still feel, that the best promoter -- and if he is not, we should demand that he be -- the best in maximizing that value should be the team and the team's organization," Jones said. "That shouldn't be able to be as done as well from Park Avenue. That should be able to be done on a team basis."

The immaculate football fields and the pristine buildings behind Jones underscore that point. It can't be seen from The Star, but the shining beacon of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is one more reminder. The palatial setting for the Cowboys' home games is another testament to Jones' influence – in how NFL teams finance new buildings and entertain fans in the modern age.

Of course, as the Cowboys proved this past season, nothing is more entertaining than a winning football team. Given the two-fold nature of his title, Jones' successes as a business mind will always be mentioned in the same breath, in the same sentence, in the same story as his ups and downs as a general manager.

Three of the five Lombardi Trophies on display in the atrium at The Star came during Jones' tenure with the Cowboys. The hallways at the team's headquarters are littered with photos of Cowboy legends – many of whom Jones drafted.

Many of whom Jones helped induct into the Hall.

"I was so caught up in the fact that they would ask me to be a part of that, that close in and a part of what they were doing, that to me was as big or bigger than going into the Hall Of Fame -- to get to be included with them and have them offer that," he said. "And so it never, I never thought, well someday I may be in their shoes at all."

But just as meaningful as those championships are, there's an equally loud conversation about this franchise's 21-year wait to play in an NFC title game, let alone a ninth Super Bowl.

That conversation grows all the louder after a 13-3 Cowboys team lost its first playoff game – and Jones knows it goes with the territory.

"We've had teams that should have added to my record here as far as how many Super Bowls we've won, and that's very disappointing that we didn't get that done," he said.

Disappointing as it may be, it's easy to draw encouragement. Jones would surely love to be making final preparations for his own team's appearance in Super Bowl LI. Given the young core of talent he has assembled at The Star, though, optimism isn't hard to find.

While he waits for another chance to climb that mountain, there's plenty to take stock in. Jones' three children – Stephen, Charlotte and Jerry Jr. – have adjoining offices down the hall. The Cowboys are a family business in every sense of the word.

The next business venture and the next NFL season – already approaching, even before this one finishes – will bring new opportunities.

Whatever word he heard from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it doesn't seem likely to change Jerry Jones' view.

"I live a life where it is just absolutely a high relative to do what I do and being with the Cowboys," he said. "And so you've heard me say this: it hardly seems fair to also get to sit here and maybe get a pat on the back through the Hall Of Fame, because I have such respect.

"For me to sit here and get a pat on the back of something that really has contributed to me making my life so much more for me, that's not necessary but it is amazing."

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