Ever since he bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, Jerry Jones has been a magnet for the media. The first official act of his ownership was to fire legendary head coach Tom Landry, setting off a firestorm of criticism (more for how it was handled than the actual termination itself). From that moment on, Jones has continued to generate headlines, along with a staggering fortune and influence in the NFL on par with any other single man.
As might be expected, someone who has done that is going to be a complex individual, not easily fitted into five second soundbites or 140 characters. When the public seems to be less and less interested in details and nuance, it is easy to turn someone like Jones into a caricature. The only way to get anything like an accurate view of him requires time and analysis.
That is exactly what Don Van Natta Jr. put into his remarkable profile of Jerry Jones for ESPN. Natta started out trying to get an interview with Jones the standard way, calling Cowboys public relations man Rich Dalrymple and basically getting a cold shoulder. He then took a more direct approach, going to the NFL spring league meeting and hanging around in hopes of catching a moment or two with Jones. After it appeared everyone, including Jerry's children and co-executives Stephen Jones and Charlotte Jones-Anderson, had left, Natta decided to take one last look.
In the bar.
He learned a valuable lesson. If you ever see Jerry Jones sitting alone in a bar, go up and say hello. Natta did just that, hoping for a few minutes of his time. What he got was three and a half hours of Jerry's time that night (along with free scotch that normally retails in the $200.00 a bottle range), a clear demonstration that having billions in net worth makes you pretty much a babe magnet no matter how old you are, and an invitation to spend much of the next summer talking with, and mostly listening to, Jerry Jones explain who he is and what makes him tick, along with input from myriad people in Jerry's life.
There have been several headlines taken from this story, such as the "tampering" in a phone call with Adrian Peterson (where someone who knows Peterson handed the phone to Jerry so the two could talk), and how Jerry really, really did want to draft Johnny Football, but that is what people looking for controversy will look for.
The real story this tells is about how Jerry Jones is a man driven to prove himself to the world and to himself. He has shown how he can make prodigious quantities of money. According to the article, he is both a public and private philanthropist. He is probably the most famous non-athlete in sports. Women can't stay away from him, or his wallet, as the case may be. But he truly longs for one thing that he has been denied so far: He wants to be acknowledged as a football man. A smart one.
He wants to build another Super Bowl champion and get credit for it. The media may think he has focused on the glamour and glitz, but in the article he reveals how badly it hurts him that Jimmy Johnson not only took credit for those two Lombardi trophies, but deliberately and somewhat nastily degraded any input Jerry had in the process. That disloyalty, more than anything, is why Jerry will probably never put Jimmy in the Ring of Honor.
The article also helps document the fact that Jerry is trying to do things more intelligently. It affirms that Jerry wanted Johnny Manziel badly, but that he was just about the only one (the one other person was Jerry Jones Jr., who is in charge of marketing for the Cowboys. The math is obvious.) And Jerry, who made his fortune as a gambler, who loves to go for the big score, listened to his advisers and not his instincts, and passed on Manziel.
After seven decades of life, Jerry Jones is not satisfied, but he is still able to learn and grow. He will not give up his control of the team as long as he feels he is capable of doing the job. He believes he can turn the Cowboys around, because reliance on himself is perhaps the most central facet of his character. As fans, we have to hope he can pull it off, because it is going to be a long time until things change at the top. But that hope may not be misplaced. He has overcome longer odds before.
You may notice that I have not used any quotes from the article here. That is because it is hard to pull something without losing the context. This long piece is truly a unified whole. You have to read it all, not just the controversial quotes, to get it all. It is a complex and fascinating bit of writing.
It is much like its subject.