I’d just changed jobs, trying to do a radio talk show at a station I’d just joined. I’d never done a talk show before. Any kind of talk show. I needed to make a splash.
Getting good guests was a beating. Most people who like being on talk shows aren’t necessarily the ones you want on your talk show. A-Listers take work, and a known name to attract them. But if we could put ourselves in the middle of a story, we could take the show to them. Then the guests would be right there.
And Cowboys camp that year was right down I-35. That’s where we needed to be.
The idea of training at Austin’s St. Edward’s University was part-Jerry and part-Jimmy. The Jerry Part understood early that central Texas was a hotbed of Cowboys fans, the franchise’s version of the Barnett Shale – just waiting for the right play. The Jimmy Part was heavy contact twice-a-day in 100 degree heat and 90% humidity.
The school’s facilities, in fact, reminded me of where I’d done two-a-days in college, back in Abilene. Right down to the cafeteria – and it was there in a storage closet off the main room of Hunt Dining Hall that we waited that morning to interview the owner of the Dallas Cowboys himself, Jerral Wayne Jones.
Advance word informed us he’d had one helluva night before.
I’d actually first met Jerry when he arrived in Dallas. People still forget exactly how that all happened, and that still irritates me. A refresher: then-Cowboys owner and lifelong Aggie Bum Bright detested then-Cowboys head coach and ex-Longhorn Tom Landry. ‘Thought he was pious and self-righteous. Bright wasn’t the only Cowboys investor who wanted Landry out – and there were thousands of fans with similar views who suddenly came down with amnesia when Landry eventually was let go. But so deep was his disgust with Landry that Bright made it a pre-condition: any buyer must also bring in a new coach.
And in walked Jerry Jones.
Bright wanted Tex Schramm to go tell Landry, but it was Jones who decided to tell the mythic coach himself. Fly down and man up. Face to face. To be honest, the very hurt and very human Landry played the situation a bit, but who could blame him? Everything had a bitter taste. Jones, however, wasn’t the problem. Jerry was merely the carpetbagging outsider – and that was the second thing that bothered me. I was raised to think anyone who wanted to be a Texan had to be pretty smart. At the very least, our state motto is supposedly friendship. Cousin Jerry wasn’t getting a very warm reception.
Oddly, it was a bathroom where the idea came to me. What if I put together some crazy old-style radio serial featuring the new owner as the sympathetic main character, parodying Raiders of the Lost Ark? And instead of Indiana Jones, it would be…
See, life-changing moments aren’t supposed to happen like that, but they do. A men’s room stall isn’t where you’re meant to discover the doorway to future success, but that’s what happened. No clouds parted. There were no rays of radiant sunlight. There was no choir of angels. In fact, I think there was only another guy waiting on the stall.
Like most good ideas, I tried to shoot it down by immediately ridiculing where it had come to me – and by saying “Wow, that’s going to take a lot of work.” Fortunately I paid attention to neither, and in a few weeks had The Adventures of Arkansas Jones on the air. It was a hit. In fact, it altered the course of my career.
Up until then I’d just been a behind-the-scenes producer of an already-successful morning show, trying to find any way I could to justify my presence. Promos finished so my boss didn’t have to do them himself after his shift was one way, but Arkansas Jones blew the doors off. Ron Chapman started airing episodes weekly on his KVIL morning show, to rave reviews – and as 1989’s awful 1-15 Cowboys season drew to a close, I needed a finale.
I called Valley Ranch.
Marilyn Love answered in Jerry’s office, just as she still does – although in 1989, it was easier to get through. Long before experts began annually ranking it among the most valuable sports franchises on earth, the The Dallas Cowboys Football Club was bleeding money. Jones had purchased a sinking franchise with a shrinking bottom line and decaying stadium. The last Sunday that year? The Christmas Eve game at home against Green Bay? All the Texas Stadium toilets froze and overflowed. Jerry needed that phone to ring.
Still, I was just some dumb duck deejay who didn’t even have a show of his own. Yet, there I was a few days later – sitting in his office recording a few lines for the conclusion of Arkansas Jones. Basically, and with apologies to The Ticket, the Original Fake Jerry would be interrupted by the real Jerry, and we’d wish everyone a happy off-season. That was it.
Stop and think about that for a minute. Jones knew about the bit, and that most people took the joke to be on him. Beyond being self-effacing, saying yes also required time and effort – and you could say he was a bit busy. He’d just spent the family fortune on a dream. He’d just very badly dumped three future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Landry, Schramm and Gil Brandt). On top of that (and what many people miss), he had uprooted his entire family from the comfort of Little Rock and firmly planted it in Dallas. Cortes burned his ships. Jones invested. But he still found time for a dumb radio bit like this?
See, that’s the thing that so many people miss about Jerry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or read something about Jones that completely misses the mark. He’s the reason for a lot of that himself, because Jerry is, to put it mildly, complex. The thing that’s consistent is his passion. That’s why Jerry moved to town. He doesn’t think he does anything best from afar. That’s why Jerry will be the general manager until the owner dies. That’s why he throws himself into a good time with the same vigor as signing the next sponsor. That’s why a guy who can get in trouble for not being home when he should be can well up like a baby whenever he speaks of his family.
Recording his lines was easy, but admittedly odd sitting a few feet from the Cowboys’ then-two Lombardi Trophies. I remembered a Leukemia fundraising luncheon coming up and mentioned he might want to come. Sure enough, Jones did – even accepting a bid to walk around holding a raw pig’s foot singing the Razorback fight song (which he performed while good-naturedly laughing the whole time). As far as I know, that function was the first of its kind Jerry ever attended in Dallas. Now he and wife Gene support countless charities to the tune of millions of dollars, across north Texas. And it began with a raw pig’s foot.
Wasn’t long after that Jerry and our station started getting together on a more formal basis. Soon we came up with new ticket promotions for the team, and game day presentations in the stadium. The Rock & Roll the Cowboys now pump through the speakers at AT&T? Up until 1989 they used a live Dixieland band. Jerry and daughter Charlotte let us have free reign, too. They were open to new ideas, and eager to try whatever we came up with. The short of it is that our station eventually got the radio rights for the Cowboys, and that association began relationships that Jerry later used to re-engineer the NFL’s broadcast deals with TV. It didn’t stop there, either. From our experience doing it previously with a few Mavericks NBA games, our station proposed doing Cowboys football broadcasts in stereo. Jerry was on board before the presentation was finished. If you trace most of the advances in game coverage in the last 30 years to one specific moment, that was it. Once the rest of the NFL saw what Jerry was doing with improved technology and unconventional sponsorships, it was only a matter of time.
Finding yourself out with Jones wasn’t that hard to do, either. Those of us who spent time with the Cowboys in Austin may recall the Copper Tank, depending on how many brain cells survived. Jerry was the guy who bought a round for the house, then bought the house. That Thanksgiving night against Miami, after Leon Left chased the ball in the infamous 1993 Snow Bowl? Everyone went to Drew Pearson’s 88 club off Central. If only Jerry took ice in his Johnny Walker Blue, because he ordered enough to use every inch we had to drive through on Walnut Hill to get there.
Contradiction is also an easy word to apply. Back when the annual Cowboys kick-off luncheon was small enough to hold in the (then-Grand Kempinski Hotel’s) Malachite Showroom, Jones introduced himself to Dallas by moving his first audience to tears. He didn’t just speak of football. He talked about what the game meant. He spoke with a reverence for lessons learned and character instilled on the gridiron, and talked of what it takes when the game is tight and time is short. Of the joy of the huddle. Maybe that was it. That affability and enthusiasm that seemed to know no limit – or occasionally, an understanding of his own situation. You simply didn’t walk into the NFL and win a championship in your first three or four years. It wasn’t done.
One night we were auditioning some new music through the Texas Stadium sound system. Jerry strode onto the field, surrounded by a much-smaller entourage than he leads these days, drink in hand, bear-hugging me with his other arm. “And up there near the roof, we’re going to put in a whole ‘nother row of luxury boxes, and call ’em the Crown Suites!” Leave it to Jerry Jones to look up and see a way to make money by the ceiling.
Unguarded would be another good description. Jerry was a writer’s dream. A quote machine of epic proportions. A gold mine of soundbite opportunity. One night we staged a special roundtable radio program featuring Jones, then-Mavericks owner Don Carter, and Rangers managing general partner George W. Bush. It was hosted by the legendary Brad Sham, and took place before a live audience in one of the city’s finest concert halls. As the three owners discussed the different business approaches based on the nature of their sports, Jerry offered an observation: “Brad, as you and everyone knows, football is a game of bounces, and sometimes footballs bounce funny. Our balls are oval. On the other hand, Don and George’s balls are round.”
I don’t remember a thing anyone said or did after that.
Did I mention how hot it gets inside a college dining room storage closet, especially in August? No air ducts. But that was the only place available. Channel 8 was set up in the corner just outside. There were no media rooms or special studios then. But that was fine. When it was just covering the Cowboys instead of a $5 Billion Dollar Organization, broom closets were the norm. Randy White and Tony Dorsett had come by earlier to talk about their impending Hall of Fame inductions. Austin musicians such as Jimmy Gilmore and Tish Hinojosa had dropped in to play. Now Jerry Jones was due, any minute.
But he’d be moving kinda slow, they warned.
He certainly wasn’t on the day Stephen told me about. The kids did something, I don’t recall what, that alerted their dad, who was in the shower. Here came Jerry, clad only in a bath towel, chasing them down the street. The man throws himself into everything. I guess that’s why I asked him that question at the Byron Nelson that one spring. Jerry and I were talking about our kids. I was too busy in those days, foolishly too distracted, and didn’t know if I really had time to coach my boys in youth league. “Let me tell you,” grinned the close-talking Jones. “Back when my kids were little, sometimes I had to leave meetings. A few times I even had to have my plane ready at the airport, but I was there in time for their practices. And it was the best thing I ever did.”
I can honestly say up until that minute I didn’t know what I was going to do – but if a guy as busy as Jerry Jones could make the time, so could I. It’s funny, but no matter what the man does, that’s where my mind always ends up. Question anything else you’d care to, but don’t ever doubt the effect that must have had on his children – or mine. You want to know why Jerry’s children love him with, and are loyal to, a passion? Start there. Consequently, Jerry Jones is the reason I have about 15 million amazing, wonderful, blessed memories with my kids. He’s part of why they are who they are now. Little else counts a tenth of that.
Over the years, our association even led to Jerry hiring me as the Worst Public Address Announcer in team history. Bless the Cowboys’ hearts, they let me profane the memory of Murphy Martin for two years before they came to their senses and brought in Roger Emrich. At one point I even ended up doing some of the music for Charlotte’s wedding. But those aren’t the stories that jump out. It’s other memories instead. Like the evening of Joe Avezzano’s annual Special Olympics show at Dallas’ Majestic Theater, and the big party right before at the club just across the street. Loads of Cowboys would be there. My boys were about 9 and 5 then, so I decided to take them as a surprise. Nolan, not knowing where we were going, decided to wear his Packers Starter jacket. Hehehe.
Naturally when we arrived and saw who was in attendance, my son realized his dad had pulled a horrible fast one on him. Aikman. Emmitt. Moose. Step. Irvin. All of them. If he leaves me for the wolves in the woods when I’m 90, this will be why. But what made it all worth it was when he heard a voice behind him say, “Nice jacket, young man. We need to get you one of ours.” – and turned to see smiling Jerry standing over him, twisting his newest Super Bowl ring directly at eye level. Nolan’s peepers were wide as saucers.
Darn, I wish we had cellphone video in those days.
But now here we were, sweating our socks off in a broom closet waiting for him. Look, I closed down the Copper Tank with that Austin bunch a few times myself. They were hard pressed to get me to show up some mornings, and it was my own show. So, I really wouldn’t have blamed Jerry if he…
Nope. Here he came. A little worse for the wear, perhaps – but Jerry understands the value of an open mic. No hangover has existed that can keep him from the latter. More importantly, he said he’d be there. A mutual acquaintance says if a man’s handshake is no good his paper isn’t either. That’s as true of Jones as anyone I know, sometimes to his own detriment.
That’s it, you see. All the money and all the power and all the success and all the everything else. That’s how he gets back to that moment. Some people have suggested that it’s all about credit. Maybe a little. But you know what Jerry really wants? To lead Power Left, 37 Toss for Frank Broyles one more time. To put on those pads and run around out there awhile. Jerry wants to play. Be in that huddle. Charge out of that tunnel. He’d trade every dollar he’s ever made to do that again.
That’s why he sometimes gets too close to players. That’s why he sometimes lets himself be blinded. That’s why he sticks with many too long. But that’s why he also always gets choked up at the luncheon, and he’ll probably get you all choked up too. All those real estate deals and oil wells? Those are simply as close as he can get to pulling through the hole and finding the linebacker short of putting on his own helmet again, which he would much rather do. Forget that big new boat. If you gave him a time machine, he’d go right back to the 1965 Cotton Bowl win over Nebraska.
That’s why even on that sweaty afternoon in a broom closet, an obviously battered Jerry rose to life as his segment approached. You and I think of it maybe as just talkin’ about sports. Jerry thinks of it as talking about the thing he loves. Everything that made him. Everything that’s fed his family, and given it opportunity. Those eyes light up, he sits straighter in his chair, that grin gets cocked, that stem gets wound, and off he goes. Injury reports, personnel decisions, draft thoughts, socks and jocks. Yeah, all that.
But if you told Jones he could run down on kickoffs, he’d be lacing on the cleats. Spend five minutes with him and you want to grab a ball and go outside. The sunglasses remained on as we started this one – but even misery couldn’t keep him from bubbling.
“Well, thank you for having me. You know I awl-ways love to talk about our Dallas Ca-boys.” He was scheduled for ten minutes. I think he stayed the hour.
In a stuffy, hot, unventilated broom closet. With a really bad headache.
For a lot of folks, it’s understandably about how many playoff wins the team doesn’t have, or how many years it’s been since Jerry’s sprung for an even newer ring. That’s fine.
Me? I think of good ol’ Arkansas Jones.