Canton calling card: Jerry Jones
Saturday night the Pro Football Hall of Fame will again open its exclusive gates and enshrine the seven-member class of 2017. Pro Football Weekly is highlighting them all, continuing with Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
Credentials: Jones purchased the Cowboys in 1989, coming off 7-, 7- and 3-win seasons and with the team falling into disrepair after years of glory, mostly in the late 1970s. In his first major move as team owner, he fired longtime head coach Tom Landry and hired his former college teammate, Jimmy Johnson, a move for which Jones still is hated in some small circles. But the move paid off eventually as the Cowboys won Super Bowls XXVII, XVIII and XXX in his first seven seasons as team owner.
His and Johnson’s shrewd draft maneuvering and roster building helped erect a dynasty on the field and restore the glory and prestige off of it. Jones’ work on the league’s television broadcast contracts and in sports marketing and promotion have been revolutionary masterstrokes that have helped make the NFL the undisputed king of American sports. And even with a lull in the early 2000s, Jones helped rebuild the Cowboys once again as winners of the 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2016 division titles, even as another Super Bowl run has escaped the team the past two decades.
Jones passes the ‘owner debate’: Of the 21 prior Hall of Famers listed as “contributors,” the primary category for non-players and non-coaches, only 13 were listed as team owners primarily. A handful, such as Bert Bell, were team owners with other significant contributions; he was also a coach and the league’s commissioner for 14 years.
In this vein, Al Davis probably belongs in a category unto his own. Plus, legendary team owners such as Curly Lambeau, George Halas, Tim Mara, Art Rooney, George Preston Marshall, Clark Hunt and Ralph Wilson also are credited as their respective teams’ founders.
In short, getting into the Hall as strictly a team owner is difficult.
But it’s difficult to say that Jones merely was a team owner. In addition to rebuilding the glory of the Cowboys — rebranding America’s Team in the process — following some of their darkest days, Jones also earned a reputation as one of the NFL’s best dealmakers and businessmen.
There’s no question that his savvy has helped grow not only his franchise, but also the NFL, into the behemoth it is today.
After failing to buy the AFL’s San Diego Chargers in 1967 — a mere three years after he co-captained the national champion Oklahoma Sooners as an offensive lineman — Jones entered the oil-and-gas industry in 1970 and built up his fortune. A little less than 20 years later, he bought the Cowboys from H.R. “Bum” Bright for $140 million.
In current dollars, factoring in inflation, that figure would be about double that amount. According to Forbes, the Cowboys are now worth more than $4.2 billion — a return on investment of more than 3,000 percent. Jones has helped rebuild and rebrand the Cowboys into an international behemoth — one of the handful of most valuable and recognizable franchises worldwide — more than once, and they are the purveyors of a stadium and practice facility that are two of the crown jewels of the NFL.
But Jones also has been a giant for growing the league as a whole, playing major roles in the NFL’s increased TV revenue, stadium development, marketing, sponsorship and through labor negotiations. Those have all been major victories for the NFL and for the team owners, and Jones’ influences cannot go overlooked.
There might be a pushback against having owners in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in some circles, but you cannot understate Jones’ incredible influence and impact on not just his team but also the other 31 franchises. That makes his candidacy nearly undeniable.
Quotable: “He’s meant a lot to our game,” former Cowboys quarterback Troy Akiman said. “The prosperity of our league in large part, if you had to single one person, you would single Jerry Jones as the guy who’s responsible.”