I don’t live in the Dallas area, nor in Texas — never have. But like a lot of people, I’ve grown up a Dallas Cowboys fan, rooting fervently through the Staubach, Aikman and Romo eras.
And like a lot of people, I’ve had to reckon with a powerful, yet incomprehensible force that simultaneously raises hope and dashes dreams. That force is Jerry Jones.
Jones reminds me of the villains who duke it out with Bruce Willis in the first Die Hard movie.
For much of the film, we are led to believe they are ideological terrorists who kidnap people for political gain. But toward the end, we find out they are just about the money.
For years, I’ve been tormented by Jones’ terrible and erratic decisions as the team’s general manager, not just because of the failures, but because underneath it all, I clung to the idea that his floundering and plodding were the result of a man out of his depth, yet a man deeply committed to winning.
He was crazy Uncle Jerry, in many ways a national embarrassment — but dang it, he was my crazy uncle, and somehow I could forgive the poor drafting and terrible free agent contracts and cringe-worthy press statements because his heart was in the right place.
Come hell or high water, he was doing all he could to win a Super Bowl.
But after decades of disappointment and frustration, a moment of clarity washed over me.
Perhaps the pain and suffering that forced me to close my eyes during five games this season helped open them to something else. Maybe Jones isn’t my crazy Uncle Jerry. Maybe he is my crafty Uncle Jerry.
Just like the bad guys in Die Hard, could it be that Jerry has been stealthily drawing our attention over here, while he focuses his real intent over there?
And that real intent is relevancy. Keeping the Cowboys relevant is, and always has been, Jones’ top priority. It’s a priority that supersedes winning.
Crafty Uncle Jerry figured out a long time ago that fan passion is not an addiction fed only by winning. Indeed, disappointment, anger and despair can be powerful at hooking fans into the opiate of team worship.
Yes, Jones brought us the triplets and Super Bowl victories and “the team of the ’90s” glory. But he also brought us Quincy Carter, the Joey Galloway trade, the Dave Campo era and a postseason record that the Rams and Cardinals find pathetic.
Yet, we stilled watched. The nation still watched. The national sports reporters and editors still wrote stories.
Our glory years under Jimmy Johnson captured worldwide attention, but so did the playoff debacle in Minnesota under Wade Phillips and the crushing disappointment of Bill Parcells’ failures.
People pay good money to watch Jeff Gordon race around a track. But, if they are truly honest, they also pay good money to watch drivers crash and burn.
The Cowboys are the accident you can’t look away from, and Jones knows this.
We will buy our tickets and tune into the game to see the debacle that is Brandon Weeden or Matt Cassel. We will stay up for the postgame coverage to hear Jones spout ridiculous about Greg Hardy’s leadership or Dez Bryant’s maturity.
Being loved and worshiped is relevant. But being hated and pitied is also relevant.
I’m not saying that Jones spends all his energy and money to intentionally lose.
Nor am I saying that being a national punchline makes the Cowboys more relevant than a championship team.
But winning is hard. Jones knows this, and he also knows that if you can’t consistently win, you’d better be relevant.
The Cowboys are worth billions. Jones is too.
Ninety-five percent of sports fans don’t know who owns the San Antonio Spurs, but villagers in sub-Saharan Africa know who owns a football team that has won only two playoff games in 20 years.
The man must be doing something right, by doing so many things so wrong.
Michael Dunne is a corporate public relations and communications officer who lives in Eugene, Ore.