“Too much of life is effort and risk. You can’t rely on fate. You don’t chase, you don’t win.”
- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
Twenty five years ago today the trajectory of the Cowboys franchise changed forever when Arkansas oil millionaire Jerrall Wayne Jones achieved an ambition of more than two decades and became an NFL owner.
The chase was on, and Jerry would win. Huge. In ways no one in the NFL had ever won before. He would take a wrecking ball to America’s Team, unceremoniously dismiss two NFL legends in Tom Landry and Tex Schramm, and in a few short years build a three-time champion out of a 1-15 grease fire.
Most folks rightly give the lion’s share of credit for those rings to head coach Jimmy Johnson. But without Jerry in Dallas, there is no Jimmy in Dallas. Recognize the transitive relation: A=B and B=C. Therefore, A=C.
Jerry = Jimmy and Jimmy = Three Rings. Therefore, Jerry = Three Rings.
Three rings in the past 25 years. That ties Jerry with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for tops in the NFL over that span. Oddly enough, they both won them the same way – in a bunch. The only two franchises to win three championships in four years. Sounds odd to say it out loud, but Kraft hasn’t held up the Lombardi Trophy in a decade. Time flies when you’re not winning championships.
So Jerry’s in pretty elite company. No other NFL franchise won more than two rings during Jerry’s 25 years in the league. That “Got Five?” T shirt with the rings on it that you’ve worn threadbare? Today’s the day to thank Jerry for it, because without him you’re maybe still stuck at two.
Without Jerry, Cowboys fans don’t get the ‘90s dynasty. They can wistfully recall the ‘60s, when they were also-rans to the Packers. They can gnash their teeth about the ‘70s, when a Jackie Smith drop made them second fiddle to the Steelers. But without Jerry, this franchise doesn’t have a decade to call its own.
Without Jerry, the Cowboys don’t boast as part of their history the greatest football team ever to grace a gridiron. Think that mantle belongs to the ’72 Dolphins? Maybe, but being undefeated is more a function of luck than greatness. Think the ’85 Bears were better? Maybe, but if they were so dominant, what exactly were they doing in ’84 and ’86?
The success Jimmy and Jerry enjoyed together in Dallas was a phenomenon neither managed to duplicate in later years. In 1989, their first NFL draft together, they used five of their first six picks to draft future pro bowlers. That’s unheard of. The two enjoyed a five-year talent grab that built a dynasty.
In the four years after Jimmy left Dallas, Jerry teamed with Barry Switzer to draft two pro bowlers with 35 picks. In four drafts with the Miami Dolphins, Jimmy drafted three pro bowlers with 41 picks.
Those first five years of Jerry’s reign were lightning in a bottle, and Jimmy’s lack of subsequent success suggests Jerry played an important role in harnessing it.
There has been little to boast about the past 18 years, but the Garrett Era has given cause for hope: A couple of promising draft classes. A culture of hard-nosed competition at Valley Ranch. Smart roster decisions, such as locking up safety Barry Church long-term on the cheap following his Achilles injury, and allowing Jason Hatcher to play out his contract in the midst of a career year – 31-year-old defensive tackles are dead cap money waiting to happen. Jerry knows. Jay Ratliff told him.
Midway through his third decade in the role, Jerry is morphing into a GM who hoards the organization’s draft assets and ruthlessly assesses his own talent.
Time will tell. For now, Cowboys fans should celebrate Jerry for his role in perhaps the richest part of an already storied franchise history. Tom Landry is 25 years gone, and Jimmy was never built to last. These Cowboys are all Jerry’s, and how they perform these next few years will go a long way toward shaping how he’s ultimately remembered.