CANTON, Ohio (105.3 THE FAN) — If you are among the legion of Jerry Jones haters, your emotion stemming from the Dallas Cowboys owner’s football divorce from Jimmy Johnson 23 years ago, it’s time to let it go.
The Hall of Fame actions of Jones and Johnson here in Canton on Saturday night give you permission to forgive … because they have.
“Jimmy,” Jerry said during his induction speech into the Hall of Fame, turning toward the co-architect of Dallas’ three Super Bowl winners in the 1990s, “to the contrary of popular belief, you were a great teammate and great partner. We worked so well together for five years and restored the credibility of the Cowboys with our fans. I thank you.”
The audience in many cases has simply never understood their relationship. Not back then. And not now. Some of that is willful ignorance, a belief that fans and media had to “pick a side.’’ And those flames of controversy were often lit, over and over again after Johnson departed Dallas in March 1994, by the egos of the two football giants.
Fault. Credit. Blame. Congratulations.
It needn’t matter anymore to you … because it no longer matters to them.
Jimmy’s perfect hair has gone gray and Jerry’s outfit is so golden it extends from the Hall of Fame jacket to Nike shoes made especially for him by Phil Knight. But there is something unchanged: Jimmy knows he was never better than when he teamed with Jerry. And Jerry knows the same.
“The changes were inevitable,” Jones said, looking back on his February 1989 purchase of the Cowboys. “There was no real easy way to do it. I wanted someone I knew, I wanted someone I knew well. I wanted someone that could get it done to be our coach. I wanted Jimmy Johnson. … It was my first experience as an owner and general manager making a difficult and very unpopular decision. Jimmy, it was a great decision.’’
Jones really was the GM, no matter what the Jimmy camp ever claimed. But GM-level moves were made together.
And after five years, when Jimmy left? He wasn’t “fired’’; it was his idea to depart, in part because of the clash of egos that flashed only briefly on Saturday night when Jerry playfully poked what a mistake Johnson made in leaving.
“After, Jimmy screwed up and we parted ways …’’ Jerry said.
But Jerry poked at himself, too, noting (as he had done throughout the week) that when the Jerry-Jimmy team broke up, wife Gene — Jerry’s presenter here — rolled over in bed one night to chide her husband.
“You just can’t leave it alone, can you?’’ she said of her husband’s famous/infamous hands-on style.
Jones is self-assured enough to be self-effecting, and demonstrated that again to a public that might not fully recognize the fact when he told the story of the Cowboys playing a preseason game in Japan. Jerry noticed that the trophy for the winner of the meaningless Cowboys-Oilers match was a life-size samurai warrior statue. During the game, Jerry expressed to his coach that he’d really like to win that statue.
Jimmy talked the owner out of its importance.
And six months later, when Dallas won its 1992 Super Bowl?
“We’re standing in the Rose Bowl,’’ Jerry recalled. “Paul Tagliabue, the commissioner of the NFL, hands us the Lombardi Trophy. And when he handed us the trophy, that Jimmy reached over and said, ‘Jerry, would you rather have that samurai warrior back in Tokyo or would you rather have this Lombardi Trophy?”
The Jerry-Jimmy partnership ended painfully, as coaching stints often do. (The dismissal of Tom Landry to clear the way for Johnson was painful, too, and no, that wasn’t really Jerry’s “fault,’’ either.)
“We were driven, we had thick skin, we took all the criticism they could dish out,’’ Jerry said in his speech, skipping the part about how in the end they didn’t possess thick-enough skin to tolerate each other.
But Jones stood on that stage in his golf jacket and endorsed Jimmy as worthy of his own coat. And you are left imaging that Jerry is more than open that ever to grant to the colleague he’s known since the two of them were in their teens and playing football together at the University of Arkansas access into another exclusive club, the Cowboys Ring of Honor.
Jerry and Jimmy are considering that level of forgiveness?
Maybe you should, too.