It took the Cowboys’ 25th anniversary celebration for Jimmy Johnson to put on his shoes and leave the Florida Keys in the off-season.
Johnson wore a sport jacket and a big smile Saturday night.
“To get me in this at this time of year….” Johnson joked. “I normally don’t leave the Keys, but Troy [Aikman] kind of twisted my arm, and Troy’s been such a great friend. He said, ‘Coach, we’ve got to have you there for the reunion.’ So I told him a long time ago, I said, ‘If you do it, I’ll be there.’ ”
The Cowboys shared hugs, laughter and stories – with Johnson and Jerry Jones even exchanging compliments – during a weekend celebration that culminated with a Saturday night party at Gilley’s benefiting the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.
Aikman, recently named chairman of the city’s 93rd annual United Way of Metropolitan Dallas fund-raising campaign, hosted the event. He said the reunion idea came during a dinner with several former teammates more than a year ago.
No name tags were necessary for this reunion, with only slimmed down offensive linemen Nate Newton and Mark Stepnoski having changed much since the team’s glory days.
“I’m wondering what the hell happened to this great wall of Dallas,” Aikman said of his former offensive linemen.
Johnson reunited with Jones, his former college teammate and boss. The two haven’t interacted much since March of 1994 when they agreed to part ways after back-to-back Super Bowl championships.
But both swear they have a good relationship these days.
“It is good with Jimmy Johnson. It’s very good,” Jones said. “Jimmy and I really understand the circumstances, and to some degree, we have a good feel for each other, and so I’ve always had to overlook his foibles. But he’s had to overlook mine, too. I’ve accentuated, too, his [positives]. I think I said when we first came in that Jimmy Johnson is worth five No. 1 draft picks, so I’ve always had great admiration for the great qualities that have made him the coach that he is.
“We just absolutely had five years together that you just can’t write a book and make it any more rewarding.”
Johnson praised Jones’ election into the Pro Football of Fame. Selectors made Johnson a finalist in 2015, the closest he has come to Canton.
“I talked to Jerry at the Super Bowl and congratulated him on going into the Hall of Fame,” Johnson said. “…Without question, he deserves to be in there. You look at what the impact he has made on the NFL since he’s been in the league, the value of every franchise can be attributed really to Jerry Jones. His passion, his work ethic, and what he’s done for the league, he deserves to go in there, and I’m happy for him.”
Jones’ first order of business when he bought the team in 1989 was to hire Johnson. Three years after a 1-15 finish in Jones’ and Johnson’s first season, the Cowboys won the franchise’s third Super Bowl.
“There is nothing sweeter than that very first one,” Emmitt Smith said. “Your first bite was very exciting. The second bite was just a bite. But that very first Super Bowl was extremely exciting, because the thrill of getting there and the thought process of going back to when you’re a child, you thought about what it would be like. … It was special.”
The Cowboys had a chance to do something special by winning three consecutive Super Bowls, but Johnson left and Jones replaced him with Barry Switzer. The 1994 Cowboys lost to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
“I’m just happy for what we had,” Johnson said. “We had a great, great thing going, and so I’ll look back at those years and I appreciate what we did.”
The Cowboys did win another Super Bowl in 1995 without Johnson, which was their third in four years. But more than 20 years later, the question remains whether they might have won more if Johnson had stayed.
“You know what? God blessed us with three,” Smith said. “That’s how many we were supposed to win. If he wanted us to win more than that, we would have. And so I’m happy with what I’ve got.”
Charean Williams: 817-390-7760, firstname.lastname@example.org, @NFLCharean