There are plenty of opportunities for schadenfreude when you are a sports fan. Let's be honest: Almost all of us are taking more than a little bit of pleasure from watching Bill Belichick and Tom Brady endure incredibly awkward press conferences to discuss the lack of pressure in the footballs the New England Patriots used in the game against the Indianapolis Colts. (And for those who are wondering why there was not a really salacious play on words in that last sentence, it can only be attributed to incredible restraint, plus all the really good ones have been used already.)
It makes you feel good if you are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, because you know that at least part of the reason there is so much controversy over something that had absolutely nothing to do with which team won the game is that the Patriots have such a strongly established reputation as schemers and cheaters. Jason Garrett and Tony Romo have very good reputations, and we all know with absolute conviction that neither of them would ever do anything in any way underhanded to gain an advantage in a game.
OK, maybe Romo isn't really as pure as the driven snow. But he was playing that strictly for laughs. Maybe.
While the football world, and actually almost all of American media, has been obsessed with those soft balls (OK, I had to get one in), there has been another strange story playing out about another NFL franchise. It seems that the owner of the New Orleans Saints (and Pelicans), Tom Benson, is embroiled in a huge battle over who will control the team.
Benson, 87, announcend Wednesday that he plans to hand over control of the franchises to his wife, Gayle, in the event of his death. But Benson's adopted daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming he should not be allowed to do so because his "health and mental capacity have significantly declined" and he has "fallen under the undue influence" of Gayle, whom Benson married in 2004.
And this is hardly the only case of discord in a family that owns an NFL team. The Maras had a well publicized feud that only ended when Tim Mara sold his interest in the New York Giants. When even the most ineffective franchise in the NFL is worth close to a billion dollars, it is not surprising that there would be a concerted effort by the younger generation to make sure they don't miss out on their shot at ownership. This of course does not mean that the eager future owners are going to be any good at all when their turn comes to sit in the owner's suite at the stadium. But if it weren't for inept owners who understand next to nothing about football, players, coaches, management in general, or in some cases any of the above, there would be far fewer opportunities for new owners to buy in.
This is another aspect of Jerry Jones and his time as the owner of the Cowboys that deserves praise. Since he bought the team, he has been the man in charge, but as the years have gone by, he has been steadily bringing his own children along. The key one of Jones' children is Stephen, who over the years has clearly emerged as an important part of the management team. He is frequently seen at his father's side, he attends key meetings representing the family, and if you have a question about what the team might do, particularly regarding personnel, he is much more likely to give an understandable and coherent answer than his father. Stephen is pretty clearly who is going to step in to run the football operations when his father is, as they often joke, "ten toes up".
But the football team is just a part of the empire that Jerry Jones built. He has created the premier sports and event venue in the world, along with the dominant marketing and merchandising operation in the NFL. At times, Jones was criticized for being more focused on making money than winning football games. There were times during the long stretch of playoff futility that this seemed a reasonable criticism. But it seems more likely that he was just stretched a little too thin.
Just as Stephen has become Jerry's main lieutenant for putting a winning football team together, his daughter Charlotte Jones Anderson has become his main lieutenant for growing and protecting the brand, and really the entire Dallas Cowboys organization. She also is one of the most visible female executives in the NFL.
Even Jerry Jones Jr. is involved in the operation of the franchise, although he is generally seen a minor player. But the important part is that he is a part of the family team, credited with running the sales and marketing. The important thing is that there is no discord in the Jones family. They operate as a unified front. Jerry Jones has not only built his franchise to the most valuable in the league, he has taken important steps to make sure it thrives even after he is gone.
He may even be doing a better job than the original owner of the Cowboys, Clint Murchison Jr. Of course, Murchison is a hard act to follow, never meddling in the operation of the team. Well, except for going around his general manager, Tex Shramm, and giving Tom Landry a ten-year contract, mostly just to shut up the constant stream of criticism springing from the dismal performance of the team to that point. But Murchison never was involved in anything like Jerry's infamous pictures with the two young women that were recently all over the internet. Well, except for the fact he kept a New York penthouse that served primarily as a place to seduce younger women, and would up getting Gil Brandt's wife to divorce her husband to marry Murchison. And of course, Murchison eventually lost the team because he was a terrible businessman.
Jerry Jones likes to refer to himself as a football man. But he is very much a superb businessman. There are times he has not been able to be equally successful in all areas, but that may have all come together at last. He was recently named Executive of the Year, but he has a much longer vision. The old meme of Jerry as a bumbler is dying, and it should. He has done a truly remarkable job as the owner of America's Team.