Inside Jerry's World: An introduction

It's been 25 years since Jerry Jones and his Dallas Cowboys have won a Super Bowl. How is that possible? And how are things really run around here? We talk to those in the know for this series.

What could’ve been.

That’s all they could’ve been thinking in Canton, Ohio one month ago.

Oh, they wore their gold jackets. They smiled and laughed for the cameras. They slapped each other on the shoulders like old pals who’ve buried their hatchets forever. Two weeks after an emotional mea culpa that the divorce was his fault — that he “f----- it up” with Jimmy Johnson — there was owner Jerry Jones extending the olive branch to Johnson on national television. It only took a generation but the owner said he’d add the coach to the Cowboys’ “Ring of Honor.”

To which Johnson quipped: “While I’m alive?!”

More laughs. More fun. More smiles for the camera that won’t erase the fact that these legends had their collective boots atop the skulls of the entire NFL in the early 90s. These Hall-of-Famers — Jerry and Jimmy and Aikman and Emmitt and Irvin — won back-to-back Super Bowls in ’92 and ’93, the owner drove away the head coach in ’94 and after one more title in ’95? Poof, over. No way did any of these Cowboys celebrating in Canton that weekend imagine in a million years that their team, “America’s Team,” would go the next 25 years without a Super Bowl.

Yet here we are.

Twenty other teams have made the Super Bowl.

Jerry Jones’ franchise hasn’t even made it back to the conference championship once.

Expectations soar — annually — and expectations are promptly gunned down by reality.

This is, hands down, one of the most baffling mysteries in all of sports.

Over the same three decades, the business that is The Dallas Cowboys has exploded beyond belief. Worth $5.7 billion, per Forbes, this is the most profitable sports franchise in the world. And it’s been the most profitable since 2016. The logo itself? Iconic. The navy blue star is right there with Nike’s swoop and McDonalds’ golden arches. The team’s owner did not merely build a mecca of a stadium, no, with one wave of the magic wand, Jones also brought “The Star at Frisco” to Texas. A 91-acre Utopia that includes luxury hotels, a shopping center, a 12,000-seat stadium for practice and, hey, there’s locals doing yoga on an outdoor turf field. The universe Jones has created for his team makes the other 31 NFL franchises feel like they’re practicing on mud-slopped high school fields next to a cow pasture.

No man in the league is more powerful than Jerry Jones. He is the Don Corleone pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Money is no concern. He’ll throw money at any problem that could ever arise on the roster.

Both Hall-of-Fame players and coaches have worn that star.

So… how? How does “America’s Team” go a quarter-century without a ring?

And equally important: Will anything change anytime soon?

Go Long spent time this offseason talking to several sources in the know to get answers. One theme emerges repeatedly, too. It’s just “not normal” in Jerry’s World, as one former personnel man states. Here, everything just feels “twisted,” as one longtime Cowboy adds. There’s strange DNA to the makeup of these Cowboys. Jerry’s World is a marvelous place but those who do get out? Those who can compare this organization to others? They describe the Cowboys as a funhouse where bizarre decisions are constantly made behind that curtain.

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Everyone has a “Not Normal” moment, too.

Players point to the media mob in the locker room, that inevitable moment when all cameras and all reporters descend upon the man in the middle, the man in the suit: Jones. “Why are they talking to him?” wide receiver Brice Butler remembers asking. Win or lose, the owner here simply relishes the opportunity to blast some headlines into the atmosphere. Eventually, players get used to this awkward sight. But one habit that Butler, and many others, did not appreciate? Jones butting into his head coach’s talks to the entire team.

Butler remembers Jones cutting Jason Garrett off with variations of, “Let me say something real quick” again… and again.

“Honestly, I never liked that,” Butler says. “You’re the owner, yes. Love you. You’re the man. But you’re not my coach. I know I work for you, but it’s football.

“Jerry made the franchise to what it is now and he likes to be hands-on — to a fault.”

Coaches, who we’ll get to in this series, face a pressure unlike anything they’ve ever experienced. Even the coordinators felt it.

Scott Linehan spent five seasons as the OC in Detroit before his five seasons as the OC in Dallas. And whereas he could go a month without the Lions being in the news locally, let alone nationally, he describes an “hourly pressure” in Dallas. It felt like Skip Bayless and all AM talking heads were ripping the team constantly and, the wild thing? His boss loved it. If the Cowboys were in the news, that was most important.

Other teams obsess and overanalyze PR. Not here.

Good headline. Bad headline. Didn’t matter.

“Nobody markets a brand to somehow, some way make the Dallas Cowboys relevant on a daily basis more than Mr. Jones,” Linehan says. “I think that works tremendously well. Every year when they show the franchises that are worth the most, the Cowboys double every year. … They haven’t won a Super Bowl in 25 years, but they’re still the most talked about pro football team there is. Which is amazing.”

Scouts remember some wild draft meetings. The key is to get to Jones alone. With one persuasive argument — away from the group — you can get him to tweak the board behind everyone’s back. That player you love can easily jump up a round because Jones’ opinion, one ex-personnel man assures, is “malleable.”

Legends know the man can still party, too. Jones turns 79 in October, but one longtime Cowboy jokes that he still has that “Michael Irvin blood” in him. He’s still having a good time and you bet it pays to join him for those drinks. This player says the Cowboys are an organization rooted in “friendships” more than straight “business.”  

Just about everyone has their own “What could’ve been” counterfactual, too.

Jerry should’ve kept Jimmy.

The Cowboys should’ve drafted Randy Moss.

Jerry should’ve given Bill Parcells full reign.

The Cowboys sabotaged Dez Bryant’s career.

And yet, through it all, this is an offense capable of winning a title in 2021.

This may be the best collection of pure talent this offense has possessed since it defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the Super Bowl in ’95. The defense is another story, of course. The defense was an unmitigated disaster in 2020, but Dallas is thinking Super Bowl again with Jones more desperate than ever. The Don said himself at the top of the summer that he’d “do anything known to man to get to a Super Bowl.”

Nobody entertains the concept of rebuilding around here. Such patience never exists.

With Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and (clears throat), uh, Mike McCarthy, he’s all-in.

This raw desire to win is relatable, too.

Hell, imagine if we became multi-billionaires and purchased an NFL team. The fantasy owner inside us all would be giddy beyond belief and feel a strong urge to be extremely involved. Maybe you’d be smart enough to hire a smart football man to be your GM. But unless you owned the team strictly to make money — and, yes, such apathetic duds do exist — part of you absolutely would want to draft players, sign players, give speeches and declare yourself the general manager as Jones has.

Jones has granted himself the freedom to do whatever he wants.

This was his purchase.

What are we to say?

“If he owns this house,” Butler says, “he can do whatever he wants. If you want to run it into the ground, you can run it into the ground. If you want it to look shiny and nice, make it look shiny and nice. You can do whatever you want to do. It’s your house.”

This series for Go Long subscribers steps right into that "“house” and guys aren’t kidding.

It is “not normal” here.

You realize it’s no coincidence this team has gone 25 years without a Super Bowl title and the pressure around this organization — into 2021 — has never been higher.

Read Part I right here:

Go Long
Inside Jerry's World, Part I: A twisted system
Miss the intro to “Inside Jerry’s World?” Catch up right here. The Dallas Cowboys are a masterful production. For 25 years, this franchise has resembled a never-ending, must-see drama more than a football team. That’s not necessarily a knock. That’s the genius of Jerry Jones…
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