Let's take a momentary break from the ever popular pastime of bashing Jerry Jones, and take a moment to celebrate what he has accomplished since he purchased the Dallas Cowboys on February 25th, 1989. Some of you will remember just how far the franchise had sunk back then, but many will be unaware of the true magnitude of what the current owner of America's Team has done.
It encompasses more than the record of the team, although the three Super Bowl victories Dallas accumulated early in Jones' tenure have not been exceeded by any team in that period, and only two, the New England Patriots and New York Giants, have equaled it. It is about how he built the unquestioned flagship franchise of an entire league, and has probably influenced the NFL and its place in professional sports more than any other single figure in that time.
It is also about a man who is much more complex and certainly far more human than the cartoonish image so many have of him. There have been many articles written about him and his ownership on this anniversary. Here are some of the best things I saw.
With the constant media spotlight glaring on the Cowboys today, it is easy to forget that Jones didn't just buy the team. He basically rescued it after the brief but troubled ownership of Bum Bright.
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.
Hard to image, but a quarter of a century ago, Dallas was basically Jacksonville. No matter what else you can say, Jerry Jones turned things around. And he did not buy it as a business investment. The risk of not making money was so great, he had health issues worrying about it. He bought the Cowboys for another reason: He loves football, and he wanted to be an NFL owner to be involved in the game.
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.
This is not just a man owning and running a business. It has become for him a love affair, with the league, with the players and staff, and with the fans. It may not always be fully requited, but the love is always there.
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.
Many people talk about the three 8-8 seasons and the lack of playoff success in recent years. No one is more eager to win again than Jones. But never forget what he has done.
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.
Jerry Jones has talked a lot about his time as owner and GM, but others have added some perspective as well. One thing that might surprise many is that he was not always the man who had to own the room.
Larry Lacewell, a longtime friend of Jones and former Cowboys director of college and pro scouting from 1992 to 2004: "The hardest thing for people in Dallas and the world is [to] understand Jerry was a very low-key guy in [the] state of Arkansas. He was not a guy that was in the newspapers or on TV or talked very much. I know you don't believe that. It's not like we expected him to do something. It kind of shocked us all."
Jones has spoken about his regrets over how he fired Tom Landry, and he is often condemned for that. But that leaves out the full picture of the situation he walked into.
Brad Sham, the current voice of the Cowboys: "I listened to the press conference live on the phone. It's not like everyone was celebrating the great ownership regime of Bum Bright. People want to forget how much the public wanted Landry out the last couple of years.
"That 3-13 team in 1988 was still the worst Cowboys team I've ever seen. I was taking calls on 'Sports Central' every night about, 'When is Landry going to retire? He's got to go! The game has passed him by!' Every night. Until he got fired, then the same people were calling saying, 'How could they fire Tom Landry?'"
The first season was rough, with a lot of growing pains. But Jerry was learning - and so were other members of the family who are also a major part of the staff.
Stephen Jones: "It was all on the fly. Obviously we started going around to teams. We met with people. We were at the league office. We kept a lot of people at the time that were with the team. Let go of people but also kept people. It helped us learn the ropes."
And learn they did, although it was not always an easy thing.
Jerry Jones: "The unknown was one that I never [knew if] Gene would be waiting tables over this deal. After we had an opportunity for her to not wait tables ... I never really thought that would happen, but I did think it had the potential to really knock my stuff in the dirt.
"[The passion] is there now more than it was back then because I'm able to think more offense. I'm not concerned as I was then financially about the state of the franchise, about the NFL, about the game. The future, I can tell you firsthand, is significantly brighter than it was in 1989 for the NFL, for pro football and for that matter pro sports, in my mind today."
Finally, just this one little thing that, for me at least, captures a bit of the simple humanity of someone who so often seems bigger than life. Because this is kinda what I might have done if I had been in his shoes.
On the night he bought the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones walked into Texas Stadium and asked to have the lights turned on.
He walked to midfield and looked up through the hole in the roof.
His time in the owner's suite has been a lot of things the past 25 years. Triumphant, disappointing, exhilarating, maddening, stressful, entertaining, and frustrating. But one thing is certain.
It has never been dull.
Thanks, Jerry. Best of luck.