Dallas Cowboys

Brash Cowboys owner Jerry Jones changed the look, feel of the NFL

Having sat in the room with Michael Irvin and Charles Haley during previous Pro Football Hall of Fame votes, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones knows the powder keg of emotions involved with waiting on your eternal football fate.

He’s seen the disappointments of getting shunned, which both players experience, and the elation of finally getting in.

So is Jones concerned about being the one whose candidacy will be picked apart by 48 members of the voting committee Saturday?

Will he be nervous holed up with his family in a secret bunker in Houston?

“You remind me of a story, that my father called me,” responded Jones, “and he said, ‘I had no idea of the breadth, of the intensity of what you were doing when you bought the Cowboys.’ And he said, ‘Son, I hope you know how to let the pressure off.’ He said, ‘This thing could just blow you sky high, there’s so much going and there’s such potential pressure.’ And I said, ‘Dad, of all the things you taught me how to do — of all the wonderful things my father gave me — knowing how to keep the pressure off, I have a doctor’s degree in. But it’s good advice. I’ll take your word for it. C’mon down and help me get the pressure off.’ ”

Jones’ dad, J.W. “Pat” Jones, who died in 1997, won’t be here to help his son blow off some steam as he awaits his fate for induction as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017 as a contributors candidate.

But as far as pressure is concerned, there is none for Jones.

The hard work has been done. The cake has been baked. This is simply the icing on a charmed life.

That he is even here, at the brink of the hallowed Pro Football Hall of Fame after entering the league as an outsider and a rebel in 1989 and gaining more enemies than friends, is victory in itself.

But Jones, who made his money as an oil and gas wildcatter, is seemingly destined for induction because of how he kept the pressure on the NFL to change and grow into the billion-dollar industry it has become today.

3 Super Bowl titles

Just ask former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, the architect of the three Super Bowl titles of the 1990s.

Johnson coached the 1992 and 1993 Cowboys titles teams before being fired before the 1994 season after a feud with Jones over control. The Cowboys won again in 1995 under coach Barry Switzer.

Tensions between the two have softened over the years to the point that Johnson calls Jones a no-brainer for the Hall, even though Johnson is still left wanting.

“I said this at the time when I saw he was nominated,” Johnson said. “You look at the value of every franchise in the league right now and see how it’s skyrocketed. I think his vision, his marketing, sometimes his persistence on some of the things, the TV contracts, etc., I think without question he deserves to be in there.”

Jones is one of a few owners to have three Super Bowl titles on their résumés. But his Hall of Fame candidacy is rooted in his contributions to the league and the game, specifically how he has grown the Cowboys and the NFL through his efforts in sales, marketing and television deals.

Jones bought a sinking Cowboys franchise for $140 million in 1989. It is now worth more than $4 billion, according for Forbes magazine.

More than half the teams in the NFL were losing money in 1989. The average price for a team now is $2.3 billion, thanks to the $7 billion television revenue deal that Jones helped renegotiate last year.

Jones is a made-man in the NFL these days. He is a respected mover and shaker who helped put the NFL back in Los Angeles, making even more money for the league and his fellow owners.

Ironically, while Cowboys fans hated Jones early on because of the way he awkwardly fired legendary coach Tom Landry after hiring Johnson, it was the owners who initially pushed back the hardest against Jones.

Jones bucked the NFL tradition of operating all-for-one and cut separate marketing deals for the Cowboys and then-Texas Stadium with Pepsi, Dr Pepper and Nike.

The NFL, led by then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who is up for Hall of Fame induction as a contributor with Jones, sued Jones for $300 million in 1995. Jones countersued for $750 million.

“The lawsuit is a sad commentary on where Jerry Jones is. He’s isolated from the other owners,” said Tagliabue at the time.

Of course, Jones eventually won. Both lawsuits were dropped and the league prospered.

Jones said it was always about growing the Cowboys and growing the league.

“Everything I have ever done with the Cowboys I have looked as though ultimately if we were successful with it, even though it hadn’t been done in the league, then other teams would use best practices or it would be something the league would actually demand that the teams do,” Jones said “I have always thought we should demand of all our teams that they have a certain best practices and certain emphasis toward marketing or creating visibility or creating interest for their club. I think that is a responsibility of the people that own the clubs.”

Television deals

Jones’ biggest impact was in television rights fees, and that also came against the wishes of Paul Tagliabue and other old-school owners, namely the late Art Modell, the chairman of the broadcast committee and one of his biggest critics.

At the end of the 1993 season, CBS and NBC, which were paying about $455 million a year combined, complained of losing big money and asked for a reduction in rights fees.

Modell and Tagliabue agreed, believing it was in the league’s best interest.

Jones led a coup to block the Modell-led proposal to refund the money and then encouraged the owners to agree to a $1 million-per-team reduction and no contract extension.

Tagliabue put Jones on the committee to negotiate a new television contract for the 1994 season.

Jones changed the landscape forever by bringing Fox to the table, cutting CBS out of the process with a bid that was $100 million more per season.

In the end, the NFL went from a $900 million television deal in 1990 to $1.1 billion in 1994. It went to $2.2 billion in 1997 and is now worth $7 billion.

Jones credits his oil wildcatter days for making him comfortable with change, ambiguity and taking risks in hopes of big rewards. He said other owners were too pragmatic and couldn’t buy “into the sauce” he was selling. At least, not then.

“When we got in the NFL, I started with ambiguity. I started with not knowing really where the Cowboys were. So you had to play that option quarterback on out to the end and see what was there before you made your move,” Jones said. “That method of managing and that method of operating, in my mind, has been a positive for our franchise and I think it’s certainly had a good, positive impact for the NFL. I must admit that when I initially started it, I had a lot people shaking their finger, naysaying, saying, ‘I had my doubts’…”

And now he is on the precipice of the Hall of Fame.

“The level that I’ve gotten to be involved in through the Cowboys, because of the Cowboys and because of the NFL, I was a walk-on at whatever it is we’re doing here,” Jones said. “There’s no question the competition, the evolving of the NFL caused me to go to another level at least of confidence, of what I was willing to try to do and it brought that out in me. And so for me to sit here and get a pat on the back of something that really has contributed to me making my life so much more for me, that’s not necessary, but it is amazing.”

Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr

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