If Ben Franklin had met Jerry Jones, he would have listed three certainties in life — death, taxes and someone, somewhere holding a grudge against the Dallas Cowboys owner.
At every speaking engagement, I inevitably get a question that begins, “I haven’t liked Jerry Jones since he fired Tom Landry.” Landry’s firing came 27 years ago. The Cowboys have won three Super Bowl championships since then, and Landry died 16 years ago, so what happened in 1989 needs to stay in 1989.
Love him or not — and if you’ve met him, you at least like him — you have to acknowledge Jones’ immense contributions to the game.
USA Today recently listed Jones first among the 100 most important people in the NFL, and it’s hard to argue even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell ranks more important.
“I just don’t see any holes in terms of Jerry’s ownership and his contributions not only to the Dallas Cowboys, but to the NFL. I think he touches it all,” said Stephen Jones, Jerry’s son and an executive vice president for the team.
Jerry Jones has a strong case to be on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot come February. Five members of the contributors’ committee meet next month to decide two finalists from among the best owners, referees, scouts, general managers, player personnel directors, commissioners and other non-players and non-coaches who helped make the game great.
Paul Tagliabue, Bobby Beathard, Gil Brandt, C.O. Brocato and Pat Bowlen are among those who should get strong consideration. No one on the contributors’ ballot, though, has done more for the game than Jones.
“He’s done an awful lot for the league, and he’s got some championships,” said Bill Parcells, who coached for Jones from 2003-06 and entered the Hall of Fame in 2013. “Overall, you can’t argue with any of that. And he’s had a great effect on the marketing of the league and the exposure of the league. He should be a very, very strong consideration, and in my opinion, I think he should be in.”
The Cowboys were losing $1 million a month and had $30 million in overdue bills when Jones bought the team. He spent $77 million of his own cash in 1989 to help cover the $140 million he spent on the franchise and the Texas Stadium lease.
The Cowboys now are worth $4 billion, according to Forbes, which makes them the most valuable sports franchise in the world. They were already America’s Team when Jones bought them, but his risk-taking, vision and business sense grew the Cowboys even bigger.
“I made a decision that I wanted to spend my days with people of sports,” Jones, 73, said. “I really never dreamed that some of the other things would evolve — the business, the television. I did not get into the NFL to make money. I had some money, and I spent it to get in the NFL. I spent all my money practically to get into the NFL. So, it hardly seems fair to have had the 27 years and be able to have the experiences I’ve had.
“I’m disappointed that we haven’t won another Super Bowl. I’m proud of the ones that we’ve won, but I’m not satisfied with them. My whole point is, it hardly seems fair to get to have had the 27 years I’ve had, and have somebody pat you on the back, but I’m honored [to be considered for the Hall].”
Jones showed the NFL how to make money, with other owners and the former commissioner sometimes kicking and screaming all the way to the bank.
During negotiations in 1993, Jones refused to give the TV networks a $238 million rebate on a four-year contract. Instead, he got Fox into bidding and the league’s TV contract jumped from $900 million to $1.1 billion for the 1994-97 seasons.
Jones also opted out of the trust agreement with NFL Properties in 1995, striking deals with Nike, American Express and Pepsi worth more than $40 million. The league sued him for $300 million, and Jones countered with a $750 antitrust lawsuit. The sides settled, allowing teams to control their own licensing agreements.
The rich have gotten richer — Jones himself, but other teams, the league and the players — because of Jerry Jones.
If he’s not the world’s most interesting man, he could be.
Jones built the league’s first billion-dollar stadium; he opened a new billion-dollar training complex last week with a unique partnership with Frisco ISD; he was instrumental in getting the Rams back to Los Angeles.
Everyone in the league is trying to keep up with Jones.
“The things he’s done in Dallas have affected and pushed the league to bigger heights,” Stephen Jones said. “There was no such thing as a billion-dollar stadium until AT&T was completed. Now, you don’t see one that is less than that, and they’re starting to push over $2 billion.
“He sets the bar high. He challenges the league every step of the way. ... He’s willing to give his time, energy and effort, and he just has such a passion for the game of football.”
One day soon — maybe as soon as next August — Jones will join the man he fired in 1989 in Canton. If it’s true the Hall of Fame busts talk to each other at night, then Landry likely congratulates and welcomes Jones.
Jones will have earned it.
“I’m really proud that we’ve really been able to generate the kind of passion, the interest, and if you will, the substantial-ness of the game,” Jerry Jones said. “I’d never dream we’d be as important — it may be misplaced — but as important as it is in our society. I’m the proudest of where we’ve been able to take that visibility and take that kind of interest and really do some good things. The best example for me, and the thing that I am certainly most proud of, along with the Super Bowls, is what we do with the Salvation Army. That has really made a difference.”
Jones, too, has made a difference, which is why his arrival in Canton will happen sooner than later.