Jerry Jones opens up about trying to end Super Bowl drought

Jerry Jones gets recognized constantly as he walks from his luxury hotel on 54th Street just off Fifth Avenue a few blocks over to the NFL offices on 51st and Park.

He was in New York on business for much of last week before returning home to Dallas for his grandson’s high school playoff game at Jones-owned AT&T Stadium on Saturday and then turning around for Sunday night’s game between the Giants and his Cowboys at MetLife.

On his walk, he says he hears encouragement from Cowboys fans and reluctant congratulations from Giants fans.

“They are just excited about your year,” Jones said.

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If any owner in any sport is a rock star, it’s Jones.

He owns the most high-profile team in the world. He is a finalist in the contributor category for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2017. His team is 11-1 playing with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and will likely need just two playoff victories in January to get to Super Bowl LI where they would have a huge home state advantage a short trip away in Houston.

That sounds pretty good for Cowboys Nation.

But…

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If Jones’ oil wells had a two-decade drought back in the day like the Cowboys are trying to end now by getting to the Super Bowl, he would be out of business and slinging hamburgers at some fast food joint.

And with rookie QB and RB leading way, he could return to Super Bowl for first time in 21 years at site of which he’ll find out if he makes Hall of Fame as contributor.

And with rookie QB and RB leading way, he could return to Super Bowl for first time in 21 years at site of which he’ll find out if he makes Hall of Fame as contributor.

(Howard Simmons/New York Daily News)

The Cowboys last appeared in Super Bowl XXX. That was the 1995 season.

That’s so many Roman numerals ago. Elliott was six months old. Prescott was 2½ years old.

Twenty seasons without a sniff of the Super Bowl, the longest stretch in Cowboys history, is, well, un-American for the team that loves its America’s Team nickname. It’s also unexpected after Jones won three Super Bowls in a four-year period in the first seven years after buying the Cowboys in 1989.

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It hurts Jones so badly that he says: “I just almost can’t even recognize it.”

Sterling silver has not been fashionable in Big D. The Lombardi Trophy is the last thing Jones imagined would go out of style.

“Somebody could have owned the team on a good bet. I would have bet I’ll be back before then,” he said in the living room area of his 11th floor hotel suite. “I felt that good. When I look back at it, I think I might have been entitled to Super Bowls. You can get that feeling coming out of that. Maybe this is your special spotlight here. You’re going to be able to rack up five, six, seven, eight of these. Well, the good old reality hard light of the day hit, and I do appreciate and respect just how difficult this thing is.”

The Cowboys are the hottest team in the league with an 11-game winning streak. Prescott and Elliott are battling each other for the offensive rookie of the year award and MVP. They have energized the Cowboys, who have won just three playoff games since winning their last Super Bowl.

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They were the most talented team in the NFC in 2007 and earned the No. 1 seed with a 13-3 record. The Giants, who were only 10-6, including two losses to Dallas, went into Texas Stadium and upset the Cowboys in the divisional round.

Rookie Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys have the league's best record at 11-1.

Rookie Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys have the league’s best record at 11-1.

(Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports)

“You can’t miss those opportunities or you will go a long time without a Super Bowl,” Jones said.

Two years ago, the Cowboys lost in the divisional round in Green Bay in a game remembered for Dez Bryant’s catch-no catch rolling around on the frozen tundra.

Through the first 13 weeks of this season, the Cowboys own the NFL’s best record. A win over the Giants would clinch the NFC East.

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“We can call it fun, but then I hate to call it fun because it’s so serious,” Jones said.

* * *

Inside the Cowboys Draft Room 2016:

The Cowboys were locked in on Elliott with the fourth overall pick. The plan was to run the ball and take the strain off what has been an overmatched defense. He is doing for the Cowboys what DeMarco Murray did two years ago. Only, Elliott is younger and better.

Jones second-guessed himself after the draft for not offering enough to Seattle to trade back into the end of the first round to get Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. Then the Raiders traded up into the early part of the fourth round and beat the Cowboys to Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook.

Jerry Jones takes over as majority owner of the Dallas Cowboys in 1989.

Jerry Jones takes over as majority owner of the Dallas Cowboys in 1989.

(Ron Heflin/AP)

Finally, later in the fourth round, with the 135th overall selection, the Cowboys picked Prescott from Mississippi State, a camper and counselor at the Manning Passing Academy. He was the fifth player picked by the Cowboys, the eighth quarterback selected and Dallas used a supplemental draft pick to take him.

“When we drafted Dak, unlike Lynch, we didn’t think we could count on Dak being the takeover guy if we lost Tony Romo,” Jones said. “Ultimately, we would have to have a veteran.”

The Cowboys staff coached the North team in the Senior Bowl. The Jaguars staff had the South. The North had Carson Wentz, who would go second overall to the Eagles. The South had Prescott. Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan told Jones that coaches on both staffs thought Prescott was the best quarterback at Senior Bowl week. He earned the game’s MVP.

The Cowboys brought him to Dallas for a pre-draft visit. They liked him. They obviously didn’t love him or they wouldn’t have waited so long to take him.

“I not only would say this about our room or our evaluation, but I don’t think there was an evaluation anywhere on this planet that would have Dak coming in and being the first line backup if you lost your starter,” Jones said.

“Nobody had him being the guy to immediately step in.”

Backup Kellen Moore broke his leg early in camp. Prescott was tearing it up in practice and the preseason games. There was speculation Dallas would sign Nick Foles when he was cut by the Rams, but he signed with the Chiefs. Then Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back in the third preseason game in Seattle and didn’t dress again for a game until Nov. 20. The Cowboys signed Mark Sanchez after he was cut by the Broncos but Prescott was the guy.

The Cowboys were 1-11 without Romo last year and Jones had left the Cowboys with just a rookie backup. Did he think the season was lost? Nope. He convinced himself Romo would be back in one month.

** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, OCT. 10-11 ** A JAN. 31, 1993 FILE PHOTO

Jerry Jones’ first Super Bowl win as owner comes on Jan. 31, 1993 with Jimmy Johnson as coach.

(RICK BOWMER/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Instead, after the Cowboys lost the season opener to the Giants, they kept on winning. They’ve flipped last year’s disaster and are 11-1 without Romo. The 11 straight wins are a team record.

The offense grinds it out. Jones acknowledges Dallas would score quicker and more with Romo, but Romo’s turnovers would put more pressure on the defense.

“Dak plays to the team,” Jones said. “I don’t and wouldn’t speculate what we would be with Romo.”

Jones is very fond of Romo and said he believes he will play a part in the Cowboys drive to the Super Bowl, although he says he’s not wishing for Romo to play because that would mean Prescott was either injured or not playing well. He also says he believes he can convince Romo to return in 2017 as a backup rather than seek a trade so he can start.

Even now, in practice, Jones said Romo “just goes down the field like zip, zip, zip.”

But Jones believes in Prescott. “The one thing that was common through his evaluation was his leadership, his “it,” his charisma, his ability to influence just what he is as a leader,” Jones said.

* * *

Jones literally was brought to tears last week discussing the period of time in February of 1989 when he had to decide whether to stretch himself financially to buy the Cowboys from financially troubled Bum Bright. The team was losing $1 million per month.

Handschuh;

The pair combined to lead the Cowboys to another Super Bowl title the following year.

(CHARLES KRUPA)

“I didn’t have the answers financially,” he said. “I really stuck it out there to buy the team.”

Bright wanted a decision from Jones. You in or out? He was sitting in Bright’s office off Stemmons Freeway just outside downtown Dallas. The pressure was enormous.

“I want you to go home tonight and think this thing over real good. I want you to come back in here tomorrow and tell me if you’re going to do it and how much you are going to pay me for the Cowboys,” Bright said.

Jones was just 46 years old.

He drove to his hotel. He grabbed a piece of hotel stationery and put down a number he was prepared to pay for the Cowboys and the lease to Texas Stadium.

He returned to Bright’s office and placed the piece of paper in front of Bright.

“Here it is. Take that and we got a deal,” Jones said.

Bright looked at the number. He wanted a bigger number. He also needed Jones’ money.

NO SALES ELECTRONIC IMAGE

Two seasons later, now with Barry Switzer at the helm, the Cowboys win a third title under Jerry Jones.

( H DARR BEISER/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

He looked at Jones.

“You own the Cowboys,” Bright said.

The number was $150 million, the most money ever paid to that point for a professional franchise.

The first thing Jones did was fly to Austin, where Tom Landry was playing golf. He fired him. Jones wanted Jimmy Johnson as his coach.

Bright had offered to fire Landry to take the burden off Jones. Bright despised Landry — the coach in the funny hat snubbed him at a cocktail party — and if he was invested enough emotionally in the team he would have fired Landry years earlier. But Jones felt he should tell Landry himself. He then returned to Dallas for a news conference introducing him as the Cowboys’ new owner.

It became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. I covered the Cowboys and the NFL for the Dallas Morning News back then and the animosity towards Jones at that event was brutal. So was the reaction from the fans. For most of the 1988 season fans were pleading for Cowboys president Tex Schramm to fire Landry, but he just couldn’t do it. Dallas finished 3-13, the team was sold and Landry was gone.

The same fans were outraged that Jones, an outsider from Arkansas, had fired Landry. I’ve always felt the Cowboys fans were so hypocritical, but also feel Jones did Landry a favor. He became a martyr. Nearly 100,000 fans lined the streets of downtown Dallas for Hats Off To Tom Landry Day on April 22, 1989.

The purchase was supposed to be Jones’ greatest professional moment. He had rescued the Cowboys from financial hell. He bought 13% of the team from the FDIC that had already foreclosed on it and 40% was headed to the courts. It was a bad economic time in Dallas. Construction was left unfinished. Buildings were half occupied.

“Here you come right in the middle of an economic nuclear bomb,” Jones said.

He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t treated the same as an investor who came in and bought a struggling manufacturing plant when, he said, you can make the case that a football team is more impactful.

He had become a lightning rod. Ten days into his ownership, he received a call from his father Pat. He had informed his father of his interest in the Cowboys, but never talked about the financial risk he was taking. His father was receiving phone calls requesting interviews.

“You’ve either got to be successful or make it look successful or you will be known to the whole country as a failure for the rest of your life,” Pat said.

“Dad, you really got to make my day,” Jerry said.

His $150 million investment is now worth $4.2 billion, according to Forbes.

Jones is friends from Arkansas with Bill and Hillary Clinton and many years ago when Jones had an office in New York for his oil company, he had a maroon limo that he used to entertain clients. When the Clintons visited New York, he gave them use of the limo. Jones is also friends with Donald Trump.

He won’t say who he voted for, but did say he was surprised at the outcome.

“I’m basically a social Democrat and an economic Republican,” he said.

Jones is the most influential owner in the league and has an excellent chance to be elected to the Hall of Fame in February. He was largely responsible for Fox becoming a broadcast partner, increasing the network TV money by $750 million when other owners were prepared to give the networks a reduced rights fee. He changed the way teams market themselves by striking lucrative local sponsorships deals.

He has been on every important league committee, was instrumental in the Rams moving back to Los Angeles, opened a new stadium in 2009, a new training facility this year.

Jones could have quite a time the first weekend of February in Houston. Saturday is the Hall of Fame vote. Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“I know consideration will be there for the Hall of Fame,” Jones said. “To think having the team down there too would be unbelievable.”

He could return to Dallas with a gold jacket and a nice piece of sterling silver. 

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