Money, Power, Respect: A Jerry Jones-Jimmy Johnson Divorce Retrospective

During the days when she would make an effort to watch football, my grandma always had one complaint.

"Now why does he always have to do this in the fourth quarter?" she'd ask every Sunday like clockwork. "It's a close game, those boys are already nervous enough and here he comes standing over everyone's shoulder. I hate when he does that."

The "he" in this case was Jerry Jones. The "does that" was Jerry's Sunday tradition of vacating his plush luxury seat atop Texas Stadium to stand on the sidelines. In the years since, grandma all but abandoned watching football because of my craziness that comes with watching the game, specifically Dallas. I yell, curse, laugh and cry — much of the time within the same quarter. It's too much for her. Ironically, however, she loves Michael Strahan only because she watches Live With Kelly And Michael religiously.

Jerry, on the other hand, hasn't abandoned anything. In fact, he's more stubborn than he's ever been.

Twenty years ago tomorrow, Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson parted ways following two consecutive Super Bowl victories. And the Cowboys have been fighting bad luck, ego, and karma ever since.

"The aftershocks of today's action may rattle the club for years to come."

Twenty years ago tomorrow, one of the strangest, maddening and remarkably hilarious moments in not only sports history, but the entire decade of the '90s, went down. Jimmy Johnson resigned as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. How does an owner allow the most charismatic and beloved head coach to walk when the couple had won the previous two Super Bowls? And not only that, when the two stood on the brink of the rarest of rare feats in sports, a three-peat in the NFL? It's quite simple, actually. Here's the abbreviated version in eight steps.

1. Jerry Jones buys the Cowboys on February 25, 1989. He then quickly removes Tom Landry from the organization, a move the Landry family has never forgiven. Jerry hires his former college teammate Jimmy Johnson, who helped spawn the University of Miami football program into a larger-than-life pop culture rebel.

2. Jimmy is reunited with Michael Irvin, but the Cowboys go 1-15 his first season in charge.

3. Things quickly change, and Jimmy and Jerry begin wheeling and dealing (i.e., "the Hershel Walker trade"), assembling a nucleus that would soon dominate the NFL. Dallas improves to 7-9 in Jimmy's second season.

4.  By 1991, the seeds of dissension were already in place. The Dallas Morning News ran a football preview with the word "Power" as the headline. Johnson was credited with transforming Dallas from laughingstock to well-oiled machine through his personnel moves. Rick Gosselin, who wrote the story, remembers Jimmy telling him, "This is going to be a problem." Jerry wanted credit. Jerry wanted his general manager title to be given the respect his owner title received.

5. The Cowboys begin to hit full stride. Under Jimmy, Dallas went 10-1 in the month of December (the same month spelling the Cowboys' doom nowadays) his final three seasons. Dallas wins two consecutive Super Bowls, and "How 'bout them Cowboys?!" becomes public lexicon.

6. Per Sports Illustrated:

Johnson's story was this: The day before the 1992 NFL draft, the Dallas brain-trust—Johnson, Jones and Ackles—formulated a trade to offer the Cleveland Browns. Late that day, after Jones had left the office, Cleveland coach Bill Belichick called back to say he would do the deal, and the Cowboys announced it. On draft day Jones came to the office upset that he hadn't been called when the deal was confirmed, and he asked to see Johnson. Their meeting droned on until, with only five minutes left before the start of the draft, Jones told Johnson, "You know the ESPN camera is in the draft room today. So whenever we're about to make a pick, you look at me, like we're talking about it."

In other words, make me look as if I'm a big player here, even though we all know I'm not making the picks.

7. Fast-forward to the NFL owners meeting in Orlando on March 21, 1994. The story goes, an allegedly semi-tipsy (re: drunk, if this video is any indication) Jerry prances over to a table seating Jimmy Johnson and several former Cowboys employees, some of whom Jerry fired — Bob Ackles (Arizona Cardinals assistant GM), Dave Wannstedt (Chicago Bears head coach), Norv Turner (Washington Redskins head coach) and their wives. Jerry becomes "that guy," goes full-fledged Wedding Singer proposing a drunk toast, the entire table gives Jerry the "Will Smith meme" face, prompting Jerry to storm off cursing.

8. Later that night, in a dark bar, perhaps toasted out of his mind and running off emotion, jealousy and a surplus of frustration, Jerry utters the line that became the nail in the coffin. Reportedly, Jerry tells two Morning News writers, "There are 500 coaches who could have won the Super Bowl with our team.”

Jimmy was no angel. How could he have been? Jimmy was an eccentric personality, just like Jerry. A duo of alpha males rarely works in a team setting, especially once overwhelming success is added to the equation a la Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. Especially when they're flashy decision makers in the ilk of Jones and Johnson. Yet, there's something to be said about the coach — who through his tug of war with a man he once saw as a close friend — nearly considering to return for the 1994 season.

Troy Aikman, the recipient of a new eight-year contract, begged Jimmy to stay. Irvin practically saw him as a father figure. The fan base adored Jimmy, and still does. The straw that broke the camel's back, however, was a headline in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reading, "Jerry to Jimmy: Commit or Quit." Jimmy saw the paper as Jerry's mouthpiece, so in his mind, Jerry essentially wrote the headline and article himself.

Jerry allowed Jimmy out of his contract in year five of a 10-year deal. So eager to remove Jimmy's "stain" on his investment, Jerry offered the former coach a $2 million severance package. And then hired Barry Switzer days later. The same Barry Switzer who:

A. Found unprecedented success as the University of Oklahoma's head football coach to the tune of 12 conference titles and three national titles in 16 seasons. Bwin odds on would only give Clemson or Alabama such a chance at replicating what the son of a bootlegger did with the Sooners during his time as coach.

B. Left the program in 1989 following a mountain of controversy including the Brian Bosworth steroids allegations, Boz's book that alleged vicious amount of drug and firearm usage, a player shooting another teammate, three players charged with rape and quarterback Charles Thompson convicted on cocaine charges

C. Coached both Jones and Johnson at Arkansas

Moreover, here's where the situation went from weird to "WTF is Jerry doing?" As if the irony wasn't eerie enough, Switzer only lost three times at OU between 1985 and 1987. All three times were to Johnson's Miami team.

"It's certainly unprecedented to see a team unraveling at the height of its glory."

To understand Jerry in the 18 years since is to understand his two sides.

Despite the cash-slashing during this year's free agency, causing fans to panic — like so — Jerry Jones, the businessman, is largely impeccable. From purchasing the Cowboys for $140 million, a quarter century later, Dallas' net worth stands at $2.3 billion, tops in the NFL. Jerry, in effect, increased his investment by 17 times. Putting that in perspective, Jay Z bragged about "tripling his worth" on 2001's "U Don't Know" from his seminal project The Blueprint. The Dallas Cowboys are worth 17 times more than what Jones grabbed them for 25 years ago. That's not making money hand over fist. That's Scrooge McDuck swan diving into it.

Couple that with Jones playing an integral role in placing Paul Tagliabue as NFL commissioner. He also was a key player in opening the door for billion-dollar broadcasting packages after he and a small group of owners refused to give TV networks a rebate due to money being lost. Months later, Fox grabbed the NFL's broadcasting rights away from CBS in a contract worth more than $1 billion. The NFL never looked back, and neither did its ratings.

And, of course, that's not to overlook the gargantuan, modern-day, nine-figure Roman coliseum disguised as the new Cowboys stadium that has housed everything from Dallas home dates to college football games and the NBA All-Star Game. Jerry Jones not only understands the value of a dollar. He's helped write the NFL pamphlet on making it.


Here's where the issue lies. In the three decades since the franchise's fifth and final Super Bowl, Cowboys fans have seen a disconnect. A disconnect growing more and more each season ending in heartbreak. A disconnect making titles from the '90s increasingly irrelevant in debates with other fan bases who have more recently tasted Super Bowl glory. Or any sort of success for that matter.

The single biggest travesty to happen to the Cowboys in the 7,305 days since Jerry made his most infamous executive decision was actually finding immediate success. How so? In the following two seasons after Jimmy's departure, Dallas lost in the NFC Championship to the 49ers and beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl. The Cowboys were the most popular sporting entity in America not named Michael Jordan.

In Jerry's mind, he was right. He was the star of the show. And 500 other coaches could have won with the talent assembled in Big D. He was the ringleader on "America's Team." Not Jimmy. But where braggadocio and on-field prosperity defined the early years of his tenure as owner, the burden of failure now claims sole residency as the franchise's black eye with three NFC East titles and one playoff victory since 1996. Jerry still believes he is the catalyst for re-creating the magic of early '90s lust. But he isn't. And, somehow, through it all, Jones has remained in character much like Rick Ross does.

The crutch phrases popular to utter are "get rid of Romo" or "hire a GM." If the solution was as easy as typing the previous sentence, Dallas would have righted the ship a decade ago. Pride is a man's greatest attribute and, conversely, his biggest detriment. For every DeMarcus Ware, or Dez Bryant, or Sean Lee or Tyron Smith, there are a million other draft blunders from the Jones administration that made about as much sense as what went down on March 29, 1994.

Dallas diehards yearn for Jerry to relinquish a portion of his wide-conquering power, but total power is what drives Jerry. It's his aphrodisiac. Hell, it's probably better than Viagra at this point. It's not enough to be the richest owner. It's about being the richest owner and the most recognizable. In that regard, Jerry isn't only doing his job well. He's doing it better than anyone on Earth.

When Jerry made his now infamous fan apathy comment, the line in the sand was drawn. Dallas had just blown a game to the Green Bay Packers 37-36 when the Cowboys were, at one point, up by three touchdowns. "Not with games like the other day," Jones said on his radio show on 105.3 The Fan. "That's a show, if you want to look at it that way. Where there's due, we're there to win the ballgame and go forward and win the next ballgame."

The disconnect spoken of earlier? There it is, symbolized in one comment. Fans desperately wanted a win — one, in hindsight, that would have helped Dallas chart its own playoff destiny instead of its trademark "win and you're in" Week 17 game the Cowboys never actually win. Jones, on the other hand, was pleased with the entertainment.

As a fan base, praying change overtakes an owner and organization so punch-drunk in their ways is pointless. Dallas is still one of three teams to win three titles during Jerry's tenure in the NFL — New England and New York being the other two. Even as wrinkles overtake his once boyish and dapper face, Jones remains at the top of the mountain peering through the lens of his own telescope. Directly outside his front door, the weight of mediocrity and no sense of hope or greener pastures buries perhaps the most self-aggrandizing and loathsome fan base in sports. He continues to sell dreams because dreams made him one of the wealthiest and most compelling names in American culture.

So where to now? Only one person knows that, and he's hellbent on not asking for directions or using the GPS to maneuver his way back to the highway. Meanwhile, the most loved and despised fan base in the NFL collectively sits in the back seat staring blankly outside the window, thinking their team will hit the over on wins, and praying their phones showing vintage Alvin Harper, Jay Novacek or Charles Haley highlights maintains a charge.

Divorces are the worst.

Bonus: Because there is never a bad time or reason to play The Lox, Lil Kim and DMX's "Money, Power, Respect," I present to you Jerry Jones' most played rap song on his iTunes. Pending Jerry Jones listened to rap, owned a smartphone and cared what iTunes was.

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