Jerry Jones and the Last Crusade

Happy Birthday to Jerry Jones.  He turned 70 years old last week.

Jerry Jones owns the Dallas Cowboys.  That is to say that he owns part of me, my childhood–my very soul.  Too dramatic?  Perhaps.  A real Cowboys fan will relate.

I am 50 years old.  I was 8 when I became a Cowboys fan.  Roger Staubach was the hero of my youth.  My other sports heroes had feet of clay but not Roger.

This photo adorns my office wall.

I dressed my two oldest sons in Aikman and Emmitt jerseys.  My youngest son, too.  He even got to meet the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Like many fathers, I lived vicariously through my son.

The Cowboys are like the New York Yankees–loved or hated.  If you love them–like I do–you think the rest of the world hates them.  If you are a hater, you’re convinced you’re the only one and everyone else loves them.  The reality is that few football fans are neutral about them.  We Cowboy fans love that.  Cowboys haters hate it.

Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Too Tall Jones, Tony Dorsett, Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin–all football fans know these names.  Cowboys fans know names like Clint Longley (aka The Mad Bomber), D.D. Lewis, Ralph Neely, Jim Jeffcoat, Efren Herrera, Gary Hogeboom, and many, many others.

Everyone knows that Jerry Jones owns the Cowboys.  Everyone.  We Cowboys fans know that Clint Murchison owned them, too.  So did Bum Bright.  We curse Bum Bright for his financial distress which caused him to sell the Cowboys to–you guessed it–Jerry Jones!

Jerry Jones fired Tom Landry.  I’ll say that slowly.  Fired. Tom. Landry.  I’ll admit that Coach Landry was at the nadir of his coaching career at the time.  But you don’t fire Tom Landry.  Jerry did.

Jerry hired Jimmy Johnson as coach.  Johnson was Jones’s college teammate at Arkansas and a successful college coach at Oklahoma State and the University of Miami.  Through free agency and the infamous Herschel Walker trade, Jerry and Jimmy stockpiled players.  They also inherited a young roster with such players as Michael Irvin already in place.  Add to that the drafting of Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, and the turnaround was quick and dramatic.  Johnson’s first year was a disastrous 1-15.  Two seasons later, Jerry and Jimmy hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

Jerry and Jimmy in happier times.

Jerry and Jimmy weren’t geniuses.  Yes, they took Troy Aikman with the first pick in the draft.  Good move.  They also picked Steve Walsh and Russell Maryland No. 1.  Walsh, a quarterback from the University of Miami was picked in the Supplemental Draft in 1989, the same year Aikman was picked, making the Cowboys the first team to ever use consecutive No. 1 picks on quarterbacks.  They did salvage that pick by trading Walsh to the Saints for draft picks.  Piling up draft picks and players rebuilt the Cowboys.

Alas, it is part of Cowboy lore that Jerry and Jimmy couldn’t stand success–at least not together.  After winning a second Superbowl, they parted company.  Neither was better for the parting.

Somehow, some way, Jerry is now bigger than the Cowboys.  How the hell could that happen?  Simple.  He pushed them to permanent mediocrity.  He is the Show.  For example, the new Cowboys Stadium is, by most accounts, the most fabulous football stadium on the planet.  What do they call it?  Jerry World.  It’s Jerry’s world, and we just live in it.

To be fair, Jerry had  success in Dallas.  Great success.  Unparalleled success.  It only took him six years to win three Super Bowls-more than in the entire history of the franchise.  What went wrong?  Jerry’s success was the start of his decline:

  • Jerry is a successful man.  Wildly successful.  His business judgment is usually spot on.  He trusts himself.  He applies this to football just as he does to drilling oil.  His ideas are the best. Folks like him don’t have much experience with being wrong, and they have a hard time recognizing it when it happens.
  • The Cowboys’ early success under his ownership convinced Jerry that they were his creation.  He famously declared that 500 men could win a Super Bowl with the Cowboys.  In the two decades since uttered that famous line, he’s done his best to try to prove that anyone can coach a football team.
  • Jerry and Jimmy  couldn’t co-exist.  As men of substantial ego, neither could give the other credit.  Each believed himself responsible for the team’s success to the exclusion of the other.  That neither had the same success after they parted company shows how wrong they both were.
  • Barry Switzer:  As if to prove that anyone could win with the Cowboys, Jerry hired Barry Switzer to replace Johnson.  Switzer was out of football after a long, successful–if controversial–career at the University of Oklahoma and zero professional football experience.  In his first two seasons, Switzer took the Cowboys to the NFC Championship game and won a Super Bowl.  Unlike most Cowboys fans, I’m not a Switzer detractor.  He won a Super Bowl, which is quite an accomplishment.  Besides, if I trash Switzer, then I’m agreeing with Jerry that anyone could have won with that team.  I will not do that.  Also, there is something likable about him.  I just liked him.  Jerry still holds to the notion that if he builds the right team, anyone can be the coach.  Barry proved that.

I don’t know if Barry Switzer was a good coach or not, but he was a wild man. I couldn’t help but like him.

  • Plan B:  There used to be something called “Plan B” free agency in the NFL.  Oddly, but as far as I know, there was never a Plan A.  Regardless, when Jerry bought the Cowboys, there was no salary cap and teams could, through Plan B, stockpile players.  That’s what the Cowboys did. I’m not sure Jerry ever realized that was the key to their success.
  • Deion Sanders:  Deion was Jerry’s free agent prize.  He signed Deion, and Deion shined.  The Cowboys won their fifth–and last–Super Bowl.  Jerry seemed to take this a validation of his generalship.  If he ever doubted his abilities, he didn’t after that.  Of course, you could point out that signing the greatest defensive back of his era didn’t require any football acumen.  You could point that out, but it would be lost on Jerry.

In no area was Jerry’s lack of football genius more apparent than his never-ending quest for a quarterback after Troy Aikman retired:

  • Rather than retain Randall Cunningham, Jerry reached in the draft to take University of Georgia quarterback Quincy Carter in the second round.  No one in the league was going to take Carter that high.   He had been inconsistent in his college career and rumors about off-field problems swirled around him.
  • The Pitchers:  Jerry signed not one, but two, baseball players:  Drew Henson and Chad Hutchinson.  (Actually, it’s three:  Carter also played minor league baseball).
  • Ryan Leaf:  After Leaf cemented himself as the worst draft choice in history, where did he end up?  Dallas, of course.

We expected a decline under Switzer, and that’s what we got.  Undaunted, Jerry hired Chan Gailey and then long-time assistant Dave Campo without success.  Desperate again, he hired Bill Parcells who righted the ship with good personnel decisions.  Under Parcells, the Cowboys acquired serviceable veteran quarterbacks, Vinnie Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.  It was Parcells who identified undrafted players Tony Romo and Miles Austin.  On the other hand, Jerry signed Terrell Owens.  Parcells brought the Cowboys back to respectability.  Then, as we all knew he would, Parcells quit.

Jerry was sure he’d done it again, this time with Bill Parcells starring as Jimmy Johnson.  Anyone could coach the team Parcells put together.  To prove that point, Jerry replaced Parcells with Wade Phillips, an affable fellow well-known as an outstanding defensive coordinator and mediocre head coach.  The Cowboys were his third head coaching job.  He had never won a playoff game as head coach.  In Jerry’s world, Jason Garrett would be the offensive coordinator, and  good old Wade would take care of the defense.  Since Phillips’ hiring in 2008, the Cowboys have gone from 13-3 to a .500 team.  Of course, they have played .500 football since they last won the Super Bowl in 1995, so one can reasonably argue that Phillips’s one successful season was just an anomaly.

When Jerry finally gave up on Wade–well after the fans and team had done so–he hired Jason Garrett as head coach.  Cowboys fans had expected this move for some time.  Jerry is smitten with Garrett.  Garrett was a Dallas back up quarterback, best known for a spectacular Thanksgiving Day performance against Green Bay in place of an injured Troy Aikman.  More importantly, he’s Jerry’s creation.  If he’s a success, he’ll be Jerry’s success.

Garrett was the perfect choice for Jerry.  Garrett could be the coach, but Jerry would hire the assistants and find the players.  Jerry would be the Man.  All Jason had to do is show up and coach.  What Garrett got is a team cobbled together by Jerry which does its best to win half its games.

Jerry has achieved one thing that no one in Cowboys’ history could do before.  Not Coach Landry when he dumped Danny White in favor of Gary Hogeboom.  Not Roger Staubach’s surprise retirement.  Not Michael Irvin’s career-ending neck injury.  Nor Jackie Smith’s heartbreaking dropped pass in the Superbowl.  Not Dwight Clark’s famous catch in 1981 NFC Championship.  Not the arrests and scandals during the 1990’s.  Now, I just don’t care anymore.  Nope.  I don’t.  I watch the games, but I rarely get excited or even a little agitated.  I expect mediocrity and that’s what I get.  Week in, week out, every season.

How did Jerry accomplish this?  It’s been gradual torture:

  • The coaching carousel.  From Switzer to Gailey to Campo to Parcells to Phillips to Garrett, the Cowboys have no stability on the field.  There is no chance to build anything.
  • Drafting:  Jerry the GM has done a horrible job in the draft.   He consistently reaches for picks or trades down for no particular reason.  Occasionally, they will hit the mark with a Demarco Murray, but that’s countered with Martellus Bennett, Felix Jones, Shontae Carver, Dez Bryant and countless other misses.  While other teams draft starters in the late rounds, Jerry fills out the practice squad.
  • Team building:  Like a fantasy football owner, Jerry looks for playmakers.  Unfortunately, more mundane positions like offensive and defensive line are ignored.  The offensive line now would embarrass a good college team.  The defensive line is still made up of players brought in under Parcells.  Every season, there is a glaring weakness, unaddressed in either the draft or through free agency.
  • From Alonzo Spellman to Tank Johnson to Pacman Jones to Terrell Owens, the Cowboys have become a half-way house for troubled players, without regard to team chemistry or productivity.
  • Jerry seems intent on wanting all the team success to be his.  A general manager or strong coach will take that away.  That won’t ever change.

Don’t take any of the above to mean that I don’t think Jerry has his strengths.  His life story is one of phenomenal success.  He is passionate about the Cowboys and will spend any amount of money for their success.  He isn’t an owner crippling his team by penny-pinching.  He also is one of the leaders of the NFL owners, helping lead the league to unprecedented success.  I don’t hate the man.  I’m too old now to hate on people over sports.  Besides, if I were the owner, I’d act just like him.

Many sports pundits have observed that the best NFL teams have the least intrusive owners.  Certainly, that’s true of the Giants, Steelers and Patriots, the three most successful franchises in recent years.  Teams like the Raiders, Bengals and Cowboys don’t get over the top.  The Cowboys, sadly, have become a glamorous version of the Cincinnati Bengals with their key football decisions made by an ownership with little clue about what needs to be done next.   Indeed, Jerry and the Bengals’ Mike Brown are the only owners who also act as their own general managers.  Their results are not coincidence.

Jerry turned 70 on October 13, 2012, less than a week ago as a I write this.  He’s in the homestretch now of his ownership.  I truly believe he will do whatever he thinks it takes to bring a another Super Bowl Trophy to Dallas.  His problem is that he is takes advice only from Jerry.

This is Jerry’s last ride, his last crusade.  Some Cowboys fans hang all the current woes around Tony Romo’s neck.  Be carefully what you ask for.  Remember what we had at QB when Jerry was doing to the picking. Does anyone else envision Tim Tebow or Michael Vick wearing the Star?

I suspect that Jerry will tire of Jason Garrett and move on after this season.  Never, ever could there be a problem with upper management.  The hope–the only hope–for Cowboys fans is that Jerry will go to well once last time for a real coach.  Not likely, but we can hope, can’t we?

For me, the question is whether I can regain my old fervor for The Star.  Maybe.  Then again, I suffered through the decade of the ’80’s without reaching this point, so maybe not.  I hope so, but I’ve come to believe that my fandom is just nostalgia now.  I also believe in what I call the Curse of the Fedora.  Since Tom Landry was fired in 1989, the Cowboys have one exactly one playoff game with a team that didn’t include at least one player who played for Coach Landry.  One.  Between that and Jerry being Jerry, there is little reason for optimism.

Lest we Cowboys fans think that Jerry will ease into retirement soon, I don’t see that happening.  I think he’ll stay right where he is until he can’t function.  Besides, he has three children.  And they all work for the Cowboys.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

Flaming the Fans

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto has banned alcohol in certain tailgating areas for football games.  Why?  Because a group of drunken idiots got in fights at a recent game.  Of course, the idiots are apoplectic about this, because that’s how idiots react.

President Capilouto also banned DJs in those same areas. They may not have anything to do with the fights.  Maybe it’s just a nod to good taste.

(Apropos of nothing, I should note that a friend of mine and I always refer to the President as “Doctor Copulate-O.”  Oh, how we laugh when we say that)

This recent edict got me thinking about my own history as a fan and various fan personalities.  I don’t have much to say about fans acting like fools.  My friend, Meisterblogger, wrote an excellent piece on that subject.  I have nothing to add to that.  It does, however, make me ponder the behavior of fans, behavior in which I have engaged on some level my entire life.

I’m a sports fan.  Always have been.  When did it start?  I can’t really remember, but I know it started with baseball cards.  The one I remember best was a 1966 Willie Mays card.  For some reason, I loved that card.  I kept it under the desktop glass of a desk in our house.  I would sit and just look at it.  I loved it right up until my little brother managed to get it out from under the glass and tear it in half.  It was then replaced by a 1969 Willie Mays, which I kept in my pocket for safekeeping.

I carried the Say Hey Kid in my pocket for years.

I’ve cheered my teams.  I’ve screamed myself hoarse.  I’ve also cried.  Yes, cried.  Literally.  Who are my teams?  At various times, I’ve been fanatic about:

  • Los Angeles Lakers:  I’m not talking about the “Showtime” Lakers of the ’80’s.  These were the Lakers of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Why?  Wilt Chamberlain.  Wilt was the first basketball player of whom I was aware.  He was bigger than life.  Headband; knee pads (on his shins!); tape and rubber bands on his wrists–he had swag before there was swag.  In those days, there was only one NBA game a week on TV.  The Lakers and Knicks dominated.   I remember when the Lakers won 33 games in a row.  The starting line-up was Wilt, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Happy Hairston and Jim McMillan.  Wilt retired, then West, then my interest in the NBA.

There was only one Wilt.

  • Kentucky Colonels:  After Wilt retired, my interest shifted to the American Basketball Association.  Kentucky had a team.  Dan Issel, Artis Gilmore, Louie Dampier, Darrel Carrier and many others.  We rarely got to see them on TV, but I followed their every exploit.  The ABA was great.  Red, white and blue ball; three pointers; big Afros.  I loved it.  A couple of times, ABA barnstorming teams came to Harlan and played exhibition games.  We’d get Dampier, Carrier and a few other stars.  They were great guys.  They even let one of our local basketball coaches, John D. Wilson, play in one of the games.  Great stuff.  When the ABA merged with the NBA, the Colonels folded.  THAT was a sad day.

Artis Gilmore was everything cool about the ABA

  • Cincinnati Reds:  When I became a baseball fan, it didn’t take long to become a Reds fan.  Everyone in Kentucky was a Reds fan in those days.  You didn’t have much choice in the matter.  Johnny Bench was my icon.  He could do no wrong in my eyes.  I followed the Reds as closely as one could during the 1970’s.  I listened to the games on the radio.  I cut the box scores out of th paper. When they finally won the World Series in 1975, I was as happy as a kid could be .  My fandom continued in earnest through the mid-1990’s.  I’ll confess that it burned off through a combination of things.  One, free agency in baseball took away the concept of “my” team.  Rosters change too much and too quickly. Second, I’m one of those who never got his passion back after the 1994 players strike.  I still follow it, but I don’t live and die with it.
  • Dallas Cowboys:  From Craig Morton to Tony Romo.  Calvin Hill to Demarco Murray; Bob Hayes to Miles Austin; Bob Lilly to DeMarcus Ware, I’ve followed the Cowboys.  Roger Staubach was the hero of my youth.  I’ve reveled in the salad days of the 1970’s and 1990’s and suffered through the 1980’s and 2000’s.  Jerry Jones is the bane of my existence, but I still watch and hope.  Mostly, I long for the day when the Jones family dies out.
  • The University of Kentucky:  I save this for last, but it is certainly not least.  This is the one where my fandom has not waned.  Oh, being older, I’m not as psychotic as I used to be, but I’m still a card-carrying member of Big Blue Nation–basketball and football, of course.  I’m a two-time alum, but that doesn’t really matter.  You don’t have to be a grad to belong to BBN.  Hell, you don’t even have to ever set foot on campus.  It’s bigger than that.  It IS Kentucky.  My obsession with all things UK has evolved, but it has never died.

Against this backdrop, I’ve learned a lot about fans.  I am one.  Who are they?

THE DRUNK

I’ve been this guy.  He shows up at 9:00 a.m. to tailgate for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.  He drinks and drinks and drinks.  He’s loud and obnoxious.  He freely uses foul language.  He’ll insult opposing fans.  He’ll insult his friends. He’ll pick fights.  He’ll randomly vomit.  He watches the game–maybe.  It doesn’t matter if he does or not, because he won’t remember it.

Here’s how I used to do it.  Show up several hours before kickoff with a grocery bag full of beer.  Drink the beer.  Wander from the tailgate to tailgate bumming more beer.  Watch the football game.  Try not to pass out or puke.  Drink more.

I would find myself with people I didn’t know.  Drinking and cheering.  High-fiving and hugging.  Once, I was tailgating and a woman asked of me and a friend:  “Do you mother****ers wanna dance?”  We declined. That’s the crowd we were in.

Drunk Fan isn’t to be confused with his cousin, Drinking Fan, a mostly amiable fellow who occasionally goes over the edge.  He’s okay.

Fortunately, the strongest thing I drink these days is coffee.  The good news is that I remember all UK’s basketball games.  The bad news is that I remember all the football games, too.  Nothing is perfect.

THE DEMENTED

This guy believes he’s part of the team.  More accurately, he is the team, and the team is him.  They are one.  WE win.  He wears jerseys of his team.  He paints his face.  He names his kids after players.

If his team wins, this guy is a better person.  Not only that, he’s just better in general.  Healthier, happier, stronger.  Better.  He will gloat.  He will post things on Facebook like:

Cats win!  Yeah, baby, we’re rolling!  Suck it, Louisville!

Of course, he can also lose.  Losing is crippling.  He can’t face the light of day.  He won’t read the papers or watch TV, lest he be exposed to the terrible truth of his own failings.  Losing makes him a lesser person.  Unworthy.  Yet, he will tweet this:

U of L fans suck!  Chipstrapped losers!  Enjoy your one win, because we’re still BIG BLUE!! #UofLblows

The Demented Fan sees each game as a personal triumph or failure. It never dawns on him that he isn’t playing and has no stake in the outcome of games played by others who are not conscious of his existence.  Sadly, I’ve been there, too.  Why, oh, why, dear God, did they lose???  My cheering, my clothing, my very presence should have made the difference.  They did not.  I have failed.  Life sucks.

THE PSYCHOTIC

He rants.  He raves.  He yells obscenities.  He throws things.  He does all of these things just watching on TV.  I’ve been that guy, too:

  • Christian Laettner’s shot hits the bottom of the net to beat UK in the Regional Final.  In one seamless motion, I sweep a full ashtray into my hand and hurl it against the fireplace.  It shatters into a thousand pieces.  A stream of obscenities follow.  I can’t sleep for days. It takes 20 years for me to watch a replay of the shot.
  • Colt Jim O’Brien’s kick splits the uprights to beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl.  I cry.
  • Remember Dwight Clark’s famous catch against the Dallas Cowboys?  The “Catch?”  I screamed and fell to my knees.
  • LSU beat UK on a Hail Mary pass with no time left.  I was watching the game at home and drinking.  I stepped outside, pick up a basketball and hit it with a baseball bat.  Not understanding the immutable laws of physics, I did not know that the bat would fly back, instead of the ball flying forward.  The back cracked me in the middle of the forehead.  I immediately went into a swoon and puked up about 2 gallons of beer.
  • North Carolina beats UK in the regional finals.  I am so deranged, I don’t know what to do.  First, I punch the door.  A steel door.  Bad move.  Then, for reasons I don’t understand, I tore my jeans in half–while wearing them.  You know how the Bible talks about people “tearing at their robes?”  That was me.
  • I once spit on the TV screen.  By “once” I mean innumerable times.
  • I have used every foul word and phrase in the English language watching games–even when my team is winning.
  • In a futile effort to protect our possessions, my wife bought me foam bricks to throw.  Not enough heft to them, but I did shred one.

Remember what I said above about fans acting like fools?  Burning couches and fistfights are for fools.  My actions were acts of passion.  Fortunately, I’ve outgrown this behavior–for the most part.  Now, my wife acts worse than I do.  At least I get to see what an annoying pain in the ass I was.

THE CASUAL FAN

I really have nothing to say about this guy.  He is just one step above the contemptible Fair Weather Fan.  The Casual Fan only pretends to be a fan.  He never loses sleep or acts like a jackass over a game.  He doesn’t know the players’ birthdays or their hometowns.  He’s a fraud.  I’ve never been him, and I won’t be.

I have crawled from top to bottom of the Fan’s Tree of Life.  I’m now a passionate–yet mostly normal–fan.  I still get agitated and take it too seriously.  But, I tell myself that the sun will still come up tomorrow and life is good.  I even believe that sometimes.

So, what kind of fan are YOU?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012