CANTON, Ohio – Who knew?
Who really knew?
Who knew that on that monumental day in Dallas Cowboys history when this 46-year-old oil and gas man from Arkansas named Jerral Wayne Jones first stepped into The Ranch on Feb. 25, 1989, turning the 29-year history of this first NFL expansion franchise upside down, that 28 years later, in his 29th season as just the third owner of the Cowboys, he would be now stepping into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday evening, Aug. 5, 2017.
Not a soul.
Not a soul in that team meeting room at Valley Ranch witnessing the baton of this storied franchise being handed over to the guy blindly but brashly walking into the National Football League with his only football experience having come from playing on the offensive line at the University of Arkansas.
Not a soul aghast that this veritable stranger would have the hutzpah to not only fire Tom Landry, the only coach the Cowboys ever had, but also unceremoniously push aside Tex Schramm, the only president and general manager the Cowboys ever had.
And certainly not this soul, sitting there witnessing the clashing emotions of a coronation spectacle and a mournful funeral, all giving new meaning to out with the old and in with the new.
Who would ever forget Cowboys linebacker – and as it turned out not for long – Jeff Rohr being asked what he thought of the Cowboys new owner, breaking out on camera, mind you, and singing the opening of the *Beverly Hillbillies, *better known as "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," and not exactly in tune:
Come listen to a story 'bout a name named Jed …
Seriously, can't make this stuff up.
Teeth clashed. Tears were shed. Mouths were left gapingly open, as if to say, Whaaaaat? This guy is the new Cowboys owner?
And truth be known, as we have come to learn, at that time when this cat named Jerry Jones bought this franchise, his feet, too, were shaking in his oil-field boots, having basically taken whatever he had, and then some, to purchase the financially-failing Cowboys and the rights to play in Texas Stadium for $150 million.
Only come to find out, and didn't take long, he would become known nationwide – no check that, internationally – as a mover and a shaker.
See, as we all know, we in this life never get to moments like these – Jerry and wife Gene of 54 years, on stage Saturday night at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, lifting off the cloth covering his bust that will forever become housed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's sacred rotunda – without a true beginning, usually most revealing that road well-traveled.
This all dawned on me the other day when someone asked me for a Jones story, and this isn't as much a story as it is asking yourself, Would you have thought back then that Jerry Jones one day 28 years later would be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? My answer would have been, "Not in a million years."
This is one of the most amazing stories, journeys, I have witnessed in this my 42nd year in the sports media business. Especially when I think back to some of the more improbable stories that have personally crossed my path:
Some Brit who became known as "Eddie The Eagle" teaching himself to ski jump, and there before my very eyes at the 1988 Winter Olympics wildly coming down the ramp like some downhill skier from Texas. There in that same Olympics having interviewed the Jamaican bobsled team members well before those guys competed in Calgary and had a movie made about their journey.
Let's see, there was Ben Johnson testing positive for steroids in Seoul that same year. Of course, the Cowboys winning three Super Bowls in four years. Covering Major League Baseball's 50th anniversary All-Star Game in Comiskey Park, the very place I cut my teeth on baseball. Covering the playoff journey of the Chicago Bears winning their only Super Bowl. Watching the Dallas Mavericks play that seventh game of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, only to lose.
Was there when the University of Miami won the national championship with Jimmy Johnson the head coach and Michael Irvin the star wide receiver. Watching Marcus Dupree play high school football in Philadelphia, Miss. Witnessing the New Orleans Saints win a playoff game under Sean Payton that 2006 season, their first full season back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, and then there three years later witnessing their improbable Super Bowl victory in that 2009 season.
Yep, could go on and on. But this Jerry Jones journey takes the cake. And here is another reason why:
They might as well play Frank Sinatra's hit song "My Way" when he walks to the podium Saturday night.
Now, not to get to too maudlin here, but he did do it his way. In fact, he really invented the way. Maybe his greatest decision while shaking in those boots, also considered at the time going to be his biggest mistake, was to surround himself with his people. People he trusted. People with whom he had been in the oil- and gas-well trenches. Guys like Mike McCoy. George Hays. Bringing in Carol Padgett and Marylyn Love to handle his administrative duties, which by the way, no easy task. Hiring his college teammate, Jimmy Johnson, as his first head coach, and trusting him to bring in a bunch of college assistants.
I'll let him go on and on with the names tomorrow night during his acceptance speech. He threatened Al Michaels at halftime during Thursday night's Hall of Fame preseason game to go 60 minutes. Warning, don't laugh.
Then bringing his family along for the ride. He convinced oldest son Stephen to forget all that oil business and come learn the business of football. He convinced daughter Charlotte to forget Capitol Hill and come help daddy smooth over the rough edges he invariably created. Convinced son Jerry Jr. to bring that eventual law degree into his new business. They were all so young at the time.
And then there is wife Gene, bringing her along for what began as a tumultuous ride through many a minefield.
They all hustled, every one of them. Saw it with my very eyes. They had to because remember, whatever fortune he had, he sunk into the Cowboys. So he really didn't care if he hurt the feelings of the old-guard owners in the league. Gosh darn it, he needed to make money, and while he didn't mind sharing profits as they did and still do in the NFL with all the teams, he thought those other teams ought to start hustling, too, to create greater revenue.
The maverick Jerry began developing partnerships with companies who weren't partners with the NFL. Sacked groceries with Kroger and then Albertsons. Drank beer with Miller and soda pops with Pepsi. Wore tennis shoes with Phil Knight and Nike. Put his money in Bank of America. Made his phone calls with AT&T. Made Ford his ride of choice.
Yep, upset that NFL apple cart, but in the end helped put more apples in those carts than these NFL owners ever could have imagined.
Oh, and will step on stage owning the richest sports franchise in the world, 4.2 billion dollars. BILLION now.
And don't think this was easy by any means. I mean, along the way he not only ended up firing Landry, parting ways with Schramm, separating from Johnson, trading Herschel Walker and firing Barry Switzer, but had the nerve to make a four-year go with Bill Parcells as his head coach and hire Jason Garrett as his offensive coordinator with like two years of coaching experience before naming Wade Phillips his head coach and then being smart enough to listen to Garrett after naming him head coach.
You know, I first started covering the Dallas Cowboys on a fulltime basis that week after Jerry bought the team. Agreed with my sports editor at the Dallas Times Herald to do so on a temporary basis. With the revolving door at The Ranch spinning faster than one of those cartoon gizmos, I needed out. Too hectic. Too much pressure. Wanted my old general assignment job back, but was told they were eliminating that position.
OK, I'll stay covering the Dallas Cowboys. And stayed and stayed and stayed, long after the Herald went out of business 26 years ago.
And I'll be here Saturday night, watching the guy I initially butted heads with far too many times in those early days getting, uh, busted if you will, into the Hall of Fame. In some sense, his life ended up becoming my life, and that, too, wouldn't have dreamed of in a million years back in 1989.
But you know what, looking back, must have loved every minute of it.
And tell you what, predicting that Jerry will tell you the same Saturday night, tipping his hand during the interview with Michaels, basically pointing out how life is amazing, that you can "get a pat on the back for something you loved what you were doing.
"I've had a ball."
Yes he has, and has shared that ball with a lot of us, you'll see.