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Sullivan: Jones Finally Set to Take Rightful Place in Hall of Fame

Jerry Jones just had finished up a speech in a conference room at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas, the hotel where the team stays the night before home games. He told the same jokes he did when talking to club suite owners at AT&T Stadium a day earlier, and as always, they killed on both occasions. Jones works an audience as if he's spent a lifetime headlining in Vegas.

We walked out to his car and headed to lunch. There's driving and then there's driving with Jerry. Anyone who has experienced the latter would concur.

We talked for about two hours, and I was saving my best question for last. This was our third interview in as many days, and this question had been scribbled among my possible talking points from the start, but the timing never seemed right. The back-and-forth of an interview is more about timing than necessarily having the best questions. In two decades of talking to folks, the better material, the kind of answers reporters dream about, those always come on follow-up questions.

Finally, as he finished his haddock sandwich and unsweet iced tea, I just said, "So, who's going to present you when you're inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?"

It takes a lot to render Jones speechless, but he just sort of looked up at me. This was more than five years ago. Then he smiled and said, "I can't imagine that day would ever come … maybe if it did, I'd surprised them all and have Jimmy (Johnson) do it. That would be something, huh?"

It would indeed. For whatever reason, when word came earlier this afternoon that Jerry Jones has been nominated as a contributor for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that was my first thought. We've talked about Canton twice since then, and Jones has always been genuinely awed by the prospect.

The Selection Committee meets the day before the Super Bowl with 80 percent of the vote needed (meaning at least 39 of the 48 voters). It should be a mere formality as it almost always is with the veterans and contributors nominated. As for who presents him, it would be beyond stunning if it wasn't his oldest son, Stephen. That said, this is the perfect opportunity for Jerry and Jimmy to bury all their issues once and for all. The two of them admire each other in ways even the other doesn't fully understand.

Now, this being the world in which we currently exist, some are going to question why exactly Jones deserves to be a Hall of Famer. We're going to hear about him being the general manager and not winning a Super Bowl in 20 years and .500 records and a whole bunch of other stuff that means nothing in the how and why this is happening.

As much as anyone since he bought the team in 1989, Jones has changed the game, the landscape, the numbers, the business, heck, even where teams are playing their home games. The very fabric and essence of the National Football League is what it is at this time and place because of Jones, first and foremost. He has been the league's most powerful and influential owner for at least a decade now and maybe longer.

The other man nominated Tuesday was former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. When the league owners voted to replace Pete Rozelle after 29 years as the top man in 1989, it was thought to be a done deal with New Orleans Saints president and general manager Jim Finks the only one even nominated. Despite being a first-year owner, Jones stepped in and changed the conversation, and by the end, Tagliabue was the choice.

The kid who used to greet customers at his father's North Little Rock grocery store in a suit and bow tie, a smile and handshake for one and all, changed the business landscape of the league around the same time his team was collecting Lombardi Trophies with the way he was making sponsorship and licensing agreements. His Cowboys didn't need the other teams and the league itself to make deals, so Jones was making his own.

Even those who dislike Jones admit he's one of the most brilliant businessmen of his lifetime. Probably of all time. Every single NFL franchise is worth a lot more dough because of Jerry Jones, and not a single owner would dispute that.

And he's run a first-class organization along the way. It's been, what, seven years since the new stadium was built and it's still the best in the business. Will be 10 years from now as well. Jones dug deep into his pockets to build it, too, he didn't cut a single cost because he wanted to the fans to have the best. In the midst of the country's worst financial turn since the Great Depression, Jones was taking out loans and mortgages left and right to keep building the exact palace he had envisioned, cost be damned.

Yeah, the Cowboys haven't won like the fans and Jones himself wish they had over the last 20 years. But I promise you this on my life: Jerry would write a check this very second for every dime he has earned since buying the Cowboys to win the Super Bowl this year. And he'd be the happiest person at the celebration party.

There are two ways that one knows he or she is doing something right. The first is when they change the rules to stop your success. The second is when everyone else starts copying you.

The NFL, much like the United States did with monopolies, changed the rules because of the success Jones and Johnson were enjoying with the Cowboys. The salary cap and free agency were created.

As for all the money the organization was making, the other teams started replicating what Jones was doing. Everyone wanted a piece. That's something else Jones deserves credit for, too, in being the most powerful owner with the most lucrative franchise: He makes sure all the other owners are taken care of.

He told me a couple of years ago that the next step was Los Angles and London, and by all accounts, no one was more responsible for landing the Rams on the West Coast than Jones.

I once spent the day with him at AT&T Stadium when he was shooting a Papa John's commercial. For reasons beyond me, a 30-second finished product takes like nine hours to create and it's a whole lot of sitting around. It was a long day, and before even arriving, Jones had overseen several meetings at Valley Ranch.

He gave a little speech to some club owners or potential season ticket buyers, I'm honestly not sure who they were. Afterward, Jones stood for photos, shook hands and signed autographs for more than an hour. Then it was back to his suite at the stadium for a two-hour meeting with some guys involved with the video board.

I have spent some time with Jones over the years, and I've also been around him when he had no idea I was nearby. And I've never seen him not make the time for the fans. He honestly adores them and wants to win for them so badly.

Jones was once telling me about how much he hurts after losing games. He was telling me about how some of those defeats have made him cry; he literally sits there sobbing. And then he said something that has never left me, "The pain is because we let the fans down."

Know what a lot of people around the team have told me over the years? That Jones cares too much. That's a heck of a legacy to have. He cares about the fans, his players and coaches, his family. Cares with a love and passion rarely seen in this world, never mind professional sports.

And now he's going to take his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are hundreds of men already enshrined there, but only a handful or so who truly changed the game. Jerry Jones is one of those men. That's also a heck of a legacy.

Celebrate Owner, President, and General Manager Jerry Jones Pro Football Hall of Fame vote with some of our favorite photos of him through the years.

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