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How 'Bout Them Cowboys?
Inside the Huddle with the Stars and Legends of America's Team
By Gary Myers
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Many books have been written about the Cowboys, but there’s never been an account like this one. How ‘Bout Them Cowboys tells the story of the NFL’s most successful franchise, with special access to its outspoken owner, Jerry Jones, his sons Stephen and Jerry Jr., daughter Charlotte, and dozens of interviews of current and former players and coaches, and characters from across Cowboy Nation. While tracking the successes and controversies of some of the biggest names in the NFL on and off the field, How ‘Bout Them Cowboys? remembers the legends of previous generations, and explains why the star on the helmet has become iconic, and how a little expansion team from North Texas has evolved into a global $5 billion brand.
Primed for their make-or-break 2018 season, How ‘Bout Them Cowboys? delivers a fun and surprising account of America’s Team, its greatest celebrities, its mercurial management, the vicious rivalries, and the enduring saga that makes this the most popular and polarizing team in sports.
Welcome to Dallas
The rock star owner of the Dallas Cowboys, the most popular, famous, and valuable team in the world, opened the door to his suite on the eleventh floor of the elegant St. Regis Hotel just off Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan.
Welcome to Jerry's World.
The view was spectacular and the day almost clear enough for Jerry Jones to see back to all those years ago in Dallas when he bought the Cowboys and the lease to Texas Stadium in 1989 from financially strapped banker, real estate, and oil-and-gas magnate Bum Bright for $154 million. At the time, it was the most money ever spent for a sports franchise, the first to crack the $100 million plateau, which fit right into Jones's business model: If you are going to do it, do it big. The Arkansas wheeler-dealer had been one of seventy-five investors who contacted Bright. He made the cut to fifteen and then five and then the team was his.
Jones paid 60 percent in cash that tapped out his liquidity, and the remaining 40 percent was financed with loans using his personal assets as collateral. In return, Jones bought himself a down-on-their-luck America's Team, coming off a 3-13 season, a debt-ridden operation that was losing $1 million per month. He had to buy 13 percent of the team in foreclosure—it was in the possession of the FDIC—and another 40 percent would be headed to the courthouse if the team wasn't sold ASAP.
It wasn't as if the Jones family was left wondering where the next meal was coming from after Jerry finished writing the checks, but the lifestyle he and his wife, Gene, and their children, Stephen, Charlotte, and Jerry Jr., were accustomed to could not be supported if the football team drained them as it had Bright and Clint Murchison before him, especially with the Dallas economy in ruins.
"Gene wouldn't have had to go to work waiting tables," Jones said with a grin in his luxurious suite. "But it sure was not going to be a lie if you had lost all that you'd have to start over, and I was forty-six. I certainly knew those consequences. I had not taken any risks like that in my oil-and-gas business. You have to remember people were saying the NFL was flat and the NBA was taking over. Of course, you know what Dallas was. Dallas looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off in it."
Once Jones finished negotiating all but the final millions with Bright on a Saturday morning at Bright's office on Stemmons Freeway, a few miles from downtown Dallas, they announced the sale. Bright was out after just five years as the owner; Murchison had guided the Cowboys through their first twenty-four years. The announcement was premature by months. It was made before Jones had been vetted by the NFL finance committee and before owners would vote to approve him. A press conference was planned for 8 p.m. that evening, but Jones and soon-to-be former Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm first flew on Jones's private plane to Austin so Jones could tell coach Tom Landry he was fired. It was an extraordinary turn of events, considering Jones did not even officially own the team, at least as far as the NFL was concerned.
Thus began one of the wildest and most entertaining eras in NFL history. Jerry Does Dallas, indeed.
Jones pulled Landry off the golf course in the middle of a round at Hidden Hills Country Club near Landry's vacation home in the exclusive Lakeway section of Austin—on a day he was playing well and smacking his drives right down the middle of the fairway, no less—and fired him. Hours later, Jones held the press conference that became known as the Saturday Night Massacre that enraged all of Dallas, even the hypocritical Cowboys fans who had been pleading with Schramm for years to fire Landry. The difference: They had wanted Tex to do it; instead, some unknown bumpkin from the wrong side of the Red River in Arkansas decided the end had come for Saint Tom, with a $1 million golden parachute settling the final year of his contract.
"This is like Lombardi's death," Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who three months later would announce his own retirement, said with deep regret.
It was inconceivable back then that in 2017 Jones would join Rozelle, Landry, and Schramm in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
At the St. Regis, Jones was dressed immaculately in a suit and tie. He learned early the value of dressing nicely when his mom had him wear a bow tie to greet customers in his father Pat's grocery store. On this day, he had just returned from a meeting at the NFL offices on Park Avenue and been recognized on his ten-minute walk back every step of the way. No team had more fans in enemy territory than the Cowboys.
Jones was now holding a cup of hot tea in his right hand, and the spoon inside it clanged against the mug as his hand began to shake. He paused, then began a story about the risks he took to buy the Cowboys and how it still gave him anxiety. His eyes got red and moist, and his voice cracked.
Yes, there is crying in football. It was an emotional time in Jones's life with the Hall of Fame voting imminent, the sadness he felt that his parents had passed and were not around to share the moment, and the flashback to risking his fortune when he was worrying so much he went from perfect health to being diagnosed with arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. He had what doctors told him was a "good-time heart," which he said was most common among medical students studying for endless hours and not sleeping enough and using caffeine or alcohol to stay awake.
"When your body says stop, you don't stop," Jones said.
The anxiety that was so paralyzing in 1989 paid off with three Super Bowl titles, recognition among the greats in the game with a bust in Canton, and a franchise valued by Forbes at $4.8 billion, the most in the world and just about $700 million more than the runner-up Manchester United. The Patriots were the next NFL team at $307 billion.
"I didn't have the answers financially," he said. "I really stuck it out there to buy the team. I had walked with the financial devil to buy these Cowboys."
Jones went to his doctor to find out why he had been having these episodes of uncontrollable tears while telling stories of how he gambled it all to buy the Cowboys.
"You had a traumatic experience back then," his doc said.
The tears didn't stop in the hotel room. He cried right up until the day before his August 5, 2017, induction, which he topped off with an A-list party of one thousand of his dearest friends at the Glenmoor Country Club in Canton. The party cost $8 million—that included a hometown discount from Justin Timberlake for his two-hour performance. The event was so extravagant the estimate in the media went as high as $16 million, but not even Jones was willing to spend quite that much to celebrate himself.
* * *
Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith came and went with the Cowboys following careers that put them in the Hall of Fame, Jimmy Johnson left Dallas halfway through his ten-year contract, and even former adversary Bill Parcells of the New York Giants stopped by to say hello and coach the team for four years. They were shooting stars in the Cowboys' galaxy.
Jones has been the consistent face of the franchise, but this was not a start-up operation he purchased. Long before he arrived, the powerhouse brand was established by nearly three decades of Tex, Tom, and Gil, five Super Bowl appearances, great television ratings, and the coveted late afternoon television spot on Sunday doubleheaders.
NFL Films is officially credited with coining the America's Team nickname. It was the title of the Cowboys' 1978 highlight video, a pat on the back that Landry, by the way, despised. Now it can be told: Doug Todd, the Cowboys' public relations director at the time, went to his grave claiming he was the one who came up with America's Team.
Jones inherited a franchise that was hemorrhaging more than $30,000 a day in cash, but it still had tradition and the Landry Legacy and, of course, the world-famous Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, so popular they were the subject of a parody in the immensely popular porn film Debbie Does Dallas.
There was an awful lot to build on.
Love 'em or hate 'em a lot, ambivalence is not on the menu. The Cowboys pack hotel lobbies on the road and the team buses have to drop them off by a back door like concert promoters had to do with the Beatles to keep them away from their adoring fans. Their mere presence prompts "Cowboys Suck" chants on the road just as quickly as loud cheers that make the home team feel like they are playing a road game. Even at a crucial showdown at the end of the 1993 season against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium that would decide the NFC East and the number 1 seed, Cowboys fans drowned out Giants fans with "moooooose" calls for fullback Daryl "Moose" Johnston. The fans in Dallas don't travel around the country like Pittsburgh Steelers or Philadelphia Eagles fans to see their team play, but they don't need to. They are already well represented in every NFL city.
Their brand is worldwide, and they have the most creative marketers. They took their direction from Jones, the ringleader of a three-ring circus, who learned it on the fly. Marketing was not his background—he was an oilman—but he sure taught himself how to transform the Cowboys into a moneymaking machine. Jones had to fight the NFL off in court when he brazenly signed lucrative deals in the midnineties to break away from the league's all-for-one-and-one-for-all revenue-sharing sponsorship rules and negotiated contracts with Nike, Pepsi, and American Express at Texas Stadium. The NFL sued him for $300 million. Jones countersued for $750 million. They settled, with future commissioner Roger Goodell playing peacemaker. Jones won over other owners who at first shrieked that he was ruining the league and then rejoiced when he showed the way to turn their franchises into ATM machines with no cash limits. That is why Jones is in the Hall of Fame. He changed the way the NFL does business. He turned multimillionaires into multibillionaires.
* * *
My personal journey with the Cowboys began in December 1981 when I was hired to cover them for the Dallas Morning News. The plan of executive sports editor Dave Smith was for me to be the backup writer for the rest of the season, using the next six to eight weeks to get to know the players and Landry and Schramm and personnel director Gil Brandt and the assistant coaches, then take over as the main beat writer as soon as the season was over.
That sounded great, also giving me time to adjust to my move from New York to Dallas, dump my Queens accent, learn how to say y'all, realize football was the predominant religion, and step into the middle of one of the greatest newspaper wars in the history of American journalism between the Morning News and the Dallas Times Herald. The Cowboys were the most important story in town, and the Cowboys were the battleground on which the winner would be declared. That was appealing to any journalist who enjoyed the competition.
Two weeks before I was to meet the Cowboys and my new Morning News teammates in Baltimore for a game against the Baltimore Colts, Smith called and told me they'd had a change in plans. He had decided to remove the incumbent beat writer starting with the game in Baltimore.
"You're it," he said.
"Sounds good," I said. I was actually thinking, Oh crap.
The only Cowboys player I had ever spoken to was Tony Dorsett, when he was at the University of Pittsburgh and I was a student at Syracuse covering a game for the Daily Orange. We hardly forged a relationship in the visitor's locker room at old Archbold Stadium on the Syracuse campus, but I did bring my story with me to Dallas to show Dorsett and break the ice. It worked. Dorsett and I quickly formed a great player-writer bond.
I took the train from New York to Baltimore the night before the Cowboys-Colts game. The Cowboys easily beat the Colts, who would finish with a 2-14 record. I then took the train back to New York, finished packing up my stuff, and flew to Dallas that Tuesday. By Wednesday, I was in the locker room trying to develop sources and break stories. The Cowboys clinched the NFC East the next week with a victory at home against the Eagles, then lost in overtime in New York to the Giants to finish the regular season, which also gave Big Blue its first playoff berth since 1963.
I asked maybe the dumbest question of my career in the Cowboys locker room after the game. Perhaps caught up in my New York upbringing and actually being a Giants fan before I started my journalism career in 1976 and became completely neutral, I was curious if Cowboys veteran safety Charlie Waters felt good about the Giants finally making the playoffs after all those years of ineptitude. The game was meaningless for Dallas, which had already locked up the number 2 seed.
Waters, busy zipping up his bag by his locker, raised his head for a second.
"No," he said.
He meant to say: Are you out of your mind?
Then he turned away.
In the coming weeks, I worked the locker room trying to learn faces to attach to the names. My first trip to the Cowboys "facility" on Forest Lane, a few blocks off Central Expressway, was a shock. It was a blue metal shack that lacked for amenities and cleanliness. It was run-down and roach-infested and, quite frankly, not at all what I expected from America's Team.
High schools in football-crazed Texas had nicer locker rooms. High schools in New York that didn't even have a football team had nicer locker rooms. Cowboys players went across the street to the Tom Thumb supermarket to pick up lunch and sat on wooden benches in front of their dingy lockers to dine. The sight of Ed "Too Tall" Jones with a white towel and a bag of chicken wings on his lap and a bottle of Tabasco sauce by his side is hilarious to this day. I saw Too Tall at a golf tournament in 2016, and we had a good laugh reminiscing. Still, it was a safer place to hang out than many of the strip clubs in the area that players headed to after practice. Ron Springs was once arrested at the Million-Dollar Saloon on Greenville Avenue on charges of harassing topless dancers and striking a police officer. Dorsett appeared as a character witness. The Cowboys cut Springs and he signed with Tampa Bay. That was an interesting story to cover.
The typical rookie reaction on his initial visit to the Cowboys facility: "This is the NFL?" There was no office space for the coaches and little room for team meetings. The coaches worked on game plans ten miles away at the Twin Sixties office building on Central Expressway where the team's front office had its headquarters. The grass practice field behind the metal shack was shielded behind one end zone by a hotel offering day rates. Landry was so paranoid that Redskins coach George Allen was sending spies to infiltrate the hotel and watch practice that he bought out the top floor. There was little space in the locker room to conduct private interviews, so I made the nonfunctioning sauna my office. That's where I interviewed Drew Pearson for the column I wrote for him.
It wasn't until the 1985 season that the Cowboys moved into Valley Ranch, a sprawling one-story, state-of-the-art complex more befitting a team of their stature. It even had space for the coaches' offices, a large team meeting room, and a lunchroom with food provided. The food service was convenient for the players, and by keeping them in the building, the Cowboys coaches didn't have to worry about lunchtime trouble and guaranteed they would show up for practice. By the time the Cowboys returned from training camp in 2016, they had moved again, this time to "The Star," in suburban Frisco, which was the practice center equivalent in glitz to AT&T Stadium, which opened in 2009. The stadium and the practice facility are only thirty-nine miles apart, but with Dallas traffic, it takes a little more than an hour by land. Jones often has the need to shuttle back and forth but doesn't have the time to go by car. He purchased the perfect solution to bypassing the traffic: He became the proud owner of a helicopter that had reserved parking spots at the $1.3 billion stadium and on the practice field at the Dallas Cowboys World Headquarters, which sits on ninety-one acres the Cowboys are developing with a final price tag of $1.5 billion. Of course it's called The Star. What else? Why not? The blue star on the Cowboys silver helmet is the equivalent to the New York Yankees pinstripes. The Star is not just home to the Cowboys. It has an Omni hotel, health club, sports medical center, multiple restaurants, and stores. The low-rise building where the Cowboys operate also has office space in a separate tower for outside businesses, many of whom partner with the football team.
* * *
How 'Bout Them Cowboys? will take you along for a wildly entertaining ride. I spent a lot of time with the Jones family. This really is a Mom-Pop-and-Kids operation. Stephen, the oldest, is his father's conscience and has been forced to play good cop–bad cop when his dad acts out on his many whims. His play-by-play of talking Jerry out of drafting Johnny Manziel in 2014 is compelling and quite funny.
Charlotte Jones Anderson is the most powerful woman in the NFL and was thrust into the middle of the Cowboys' decision to sign Greg Hardy and to stick by Ezekiel Elliott, both allegedly involved in ugly domestic violence incidents. Jerry Jr., by his father's account, is most like his old man. He has the lowest profile of the Jones kids but had major input on the building plans for the stadium and The Star. Jerry and his wife, Gene, were married in 1963, much to the initial chagrin of her father.
The patriarch of the Jones family himself challenged Goodell in an epic power struggle in 2017 that led to whispers the NFL would try to force Jones out of the league.
Jones's response? Literally laughter.
Jason Witten, the future Hall of Fame tight end, was handed the torch from Bob Lilly as Mr. Cowboy and displayed the grace and dignity that made him one of the franchise's most beloved figures. His experience growing up in a home with domestic violence led to his charitable endeavors centered on providing help to children in abusive homes. Moving away at a young age with his mother and brothers from his destructive father in Virginia to his grandparents' home in Tennessee changed his life. Witten and Tony Romo met before a rookie minicamp in 2003, and they have been inseparable ever since. Romo retired in 2017 to accept the lead NFL analyst role on CBS. One year later, Witten was preparing for his sixteenth season, with plans to play until he was forty years old, when he was presented with an opportunity he could not refuse: ESPN offered him the coveted analyst position on Monday Night Football, a job first held by former Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith when the series debuted in 1970 on ABC. Witten hung 'em up in early May 2018, a few days shy of his thirty-sixth birthday. It gave former Cowboys three of the number one NFL analyst jobs on network television with Witten joining Romo and Aikman, who is on Fox. You will learn about the incredible Romo-Witten bond.
Dorsett, Dennis Thurman, Springs, and Robert Newhouse shared a dorm suite at training camp in Thousand Oaks for four summers. They were the heartbeat of the fun-loving team. Newhouse was trying to squeeze as many years as possible out of his career, while Dorsett, Thurman, and Springs were young and full of life and talkative. They were my guys. Springs was gone at fifty-four, Newhouse was dead three years later at sixty-four, and Dorsett, by his early sixties, was suffering from severe memory loss. Their bond lives on. As does the bond between Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. And between Emmitt Smith and Daryl Johnston.
After Jones and Jimmy Johnson couldn't find a way to share the credit and divorced after five years, what led Jones to hire an equally strong-willed Bill Parcells ten years later?
There are many turns to the Cowboys reality show, so hang on to your Cowboys hats and buckle up your boots.
* * *
Back to my journey in Dallas. Back to 1981.
The Cowboys easily eliminated the overmatched Bucs 38–0 in the divisional round of the playoffs a few weeks after my arrival. My first big game for the Morning News was the following week in San Francisco for the NFC Championship Game, which became known as the Dwight Clark "Catch" game. I had not even unpacked all my bags or purchased my first pair of cowboy boots (full disclosure: I never did buy a pair in my eight years in Dallas) and was covering what would go down as one of the most iconic games in NFL history. Landry was awful with names but I felt proud that by the San Francisco 49ers game he knew mine.
I spent the off-season developing contacts and writing stories. That was the easy part. The newspapers in Dallas had historically covered the team as if the writers had to first clear their stories with Tex, Tom, and Gil. The media loved being associated with the organization and were sensitive about being put on an enemies list and being frozen out of information. As a result, there was a lot of meat on the bone or, to put it in Texas terms, lots of guacamole in the bowl for me to gobble up. There were so many stories that needed to be reported. A few weeks after the Cowboys lost to the 49ers, I published a story with a chart detailing the salaries of the Cowboys players and how underpaid most of them had been in comparison to the rest of the league. It was splashed across the top of the Morning News sports section.
It also prompted a phone call from Doug Todd, the Cowboys' public relations director.
"How could you do that?" he said.
"Do what?" I said.
"We are a family here. You hurt my family with that story," he said.
Not one player complained except Drew Pearson. The numbers I had been provided by the NFL Players Association did not have Pearson's updated salary, and it showed him making less than Butch Johnson.
"You think I'm stupid?" Pearson shouted. "You think I'd be making less than my backup?"
The players liked the concept of publishing their salaries. It exposed Schramm and Brandt as being cheap, and I began to give the players a forum to express their unhappiness with the Cowboys' negotiating tactics, which had never been done in Dallas with any consistency by previous beat writers.
That summer, on the first night of training camp in Thousand Oaks, Todd and the beat writer for the Times Herald had a few too many cocktails and stood outside my dorm room at California Lutheran University at 3 a.m. chanting my name.
They had decided that "Myers Sucks" was the professional way to respond to my hurting Todd's family and breaking stories ahead of the Times Herald. Once Todd realized I worked for the Morning News and not the Dallas Cowboys, we got along fine, and he was much more understanding of my approach of doing my job and not cutting the team slack, which by then I realized was a novel approach to covering America's Team.
Landry was much more civil. He was the best to cover. Straightforward and honest. "Call me at home if you have a question," he told me. "I don't want you to be wrong." I was there to cover the beginning and the end of his football demise, and it wasn't pretty. Only his first year with the expansion Cowboys in 1960 was worse than his last year with a roster depleted of talent.
He told the players in the opening evening team meeting at my first camp to be careful, "because we have a New York writer covering us now." By 8 a.m. the next morning, several players pulled me aside on their way to breakfast to tell me about Landry's warning.
I laughed. "That's respect."
Those Cowboys teams were the most quotable locker rooms of all time: Dorsett, Everson Walls, Too Tall, Pearson, Harvey Martin, Tony Hill, Johnson, Doug Cosbie, Thurman, Springs, Bob Breunig, Danny White, Randy White, John Dutton, Timmy Newsome, Anthony Dickerson, Mike Hegman, Tom Rafferty, Howard Richards, Billy Joe DuPree, Gary Hogeboom, Dextor Clinkscale, and Ron Fellows. I had an up-and-down relationship with Danny White, but on the rare days he felt like talking to me, he was always insightful. Those guys were fun to be around; they were great talkers, and they won a lot of games.
Schramm was Pete Rozelle's right-hand man and his former boss with the Los Angeles Rams. Having daily access to the de facto commissioner made my job so much easier. Schramm was a great man and accessible. When he was completely out of football in the last years of his life, and his beloved wife, Marty, had passed, I used to call him every six weeks or so to talk football. After all the help he had given me over the years, I thought I was doing a mitzvah by making sure he still felt involved. Brandt was a wealth of knowledge and information, even if he would now and again intentionally hand me bad draft information, hoping I would call my friend Giants GM George Young to mislead him as to what the Cowboys were thinking.
My last Cowboys game for the Morning News was the final game of the 1988 season, when the 'Boys lost to the Eagles to finish 3-13, which, combined with the Green Bay Packers' victory two hours later in Arizona, clinched the number 1 pick in the 1989 draft for Dallas, setting them up to draft Aikman.
I worked in Dallas for nearly eight years but unfortunately covered only the final few games of Waters's career. He was such an especially smart player, compromised at the end by knees ravaged by playing such a brutal sport. He retired after the loss to the 49ers in the NFC title game in 1981. He was used to being pampered by the Dallas media, but twenty-five years after he retired, he told me, "You changed the way this team is covered. That's a good thing."
* * *
At the Bengals-49ers Super Bowl in Miami after the 1988 season, Brandt invited University of Miami coach Jimmy Johnson to watch the game from the Cowboys suite. One month and three days later, Jones bought the Cowboys. Landry was immediately out of a job. Schramm and Brandt would soon follow. The Cowboys hierarchy had no idea at the Super Bowl what Jones was up to, and Johnson insists he didn't know Jones was going to buy the team and hire him to replace Landry when he sat with the Cowboys brain trust in Miami.
- On Sale
- Oct 9, 2018
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Grand Central Publishing