When the sub-committee members gather in Canton, Ohio, next week, they will be asked to consider an intriguing and possibly polarizing question:
Does Jerry Jones belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Depending on your feelings towards Jones, who bought the Dallas Cowboys and fired Tom Landry some 27 years ago, this issue is either a no-brainer or the ultimate personification of NFL greed.
NFL owners like money, and Jerry bulldozed many of the league’s long-standing policies in order to teach his fellow owners how to make more.
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How do you separate Jones, the wildcatter owner, from Jones, the general manager who ran a 1990s juggernaut into the ground?
The NFL drank Coke. Jones wanted Pepsi. The NFL had always chosen its own equipment deal. But Jones outfitted the Cowboys in Nikes.
When it comes to finding money under the NFL mattress, nobody has been better than Jones. And there is unquestioned value in that.
But how do you separate Jones, the wildcatter owner, from Jones, the general manager who ran a 1990s juggernaut into the ground?
To me, the two Joneses — billionaire owner and bungling GM — must be considered as one. Jones defines himself as wearing both hats.
The Hall of Fame sub-committee is charged with the task of scrutinizing a list of 10 nominees in the “contributors” category and narrowing it down to two for the full 46-voter committee to consider.
The contributors category was added as a way to stem a growing backlog of worthy Hall of Fame candidates from amongst the league’s owners, general managers, scouts and personnel directors.
Owner Jones had an elite team, lost his coach, and hasn’t been back to the big game since 1996.
The list of finalists won’t be announced, but it reportedly includes, besides Jones, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, ex-Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, Art Modell, Bobby Beathard, George Young, Steve Sabol, Bucko Kilroy and former Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt.
Jones’ marketing credentials clearly shine within that group. But it’s hard to compare his pioneering work — such as squeezing more dollars out of Fox for the NFL TV rights package — with, say, Young, who took over a perennially underachieving New York Giants franchise and built it into a three-time Super Bowl team.
For that matter, how do you pass over Brandt to consider Jones? It was Brandt who helped get the players, who in turn helped to build the Cowboys brand into what it is today — a $4 billion franchise, according to Forbes.
Brandt’s former boss, the late Tex Schramm, was humbled when he was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991. Schramm felt that visitors go to Canton to see the busts of the legendary players and coaches, not the guys who worked in the club offices.
But Schramm’s case was compelling. Jones’, on the other hand, seems tarnished by the franchise’s lackluster performance over the past 20 years.
The Canton hall is for football, and it’s hard to argue that people such as Young, Brandt and Bobby Beathard didn’t play key roles in transforming their organizations into elite teams.
Owner Jones, on the other hand, had an elite team, lost his coach, and hasn’t been back to the big game since 1996.
In the meantime, make no mistake, he has helped to fill the pockets of his fellow owners and Jones has a magnificent $1.1 billion stadium.
But how does candidate Jones separate himself from the championship drought of the past 20 years?
That’s up to the Hall of Fame committee to decide.
Oh, one day Jerry will probably get in. But he should have to wait.
Just like Cowboys fans have had to.