“Jerry Jones is the rainmaker. He rode into town on a real dry day. And he dazzled everyone with the force of his personality … Jerry Jones is brash. He is the living, working personification of balls.”
- Dallas radio talk show host Jody Dean, as quoted in “King of the Cowboys: The Life and Time of Jerry Jones”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has already hosted his alma mater in his new stadium three times, but on Friday, Jan. 6, Arkansas makes its Cotton Bowl debut there.
The Razorbacks play the Kansas State Wildcats in Cowboys Stadium, more than 47 years after the 1965 Cotton Bowl, Jones’ last game in a Razorback uniform.
The 182-pound, 6-foot-tall guard, a co-captain, gave up nearly 40 pounds to each of the Nebraska defensive linemen against whom he repeatedly crashed. Still, Jones was quick and determined enough to blast open holes for his teammates. In the end, Arkansas won 10-7, securing its only national championship in school history.
Jones never lost his appreciation for the offensive lineman, a position most fans typically overlook. His sons played for Little Rock Catholic High School, and Arkansas political figure Paul Suskie teamed with Jerry Jones, Jr. there in the 1980s. Suskie recalls Jerry Jones waiting to greet the Rockets after each game of the season, and taking the offensive linemen aside to praise them on the technique he’d seen them using on specific plays.
Although he no longer battles on the gridiron, Jerry Jones still knows how to open paths. He made millions of dollars by backing innovative techniques in the oil and natural gas business, and has developed new revenue streams in pro sports to transform that industry.
Nothing has pushed the envelope quite like the $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium, which opened in 2009 in Arlington, Texas. The world’s largest domed structure is a standard setter. At nearly 3 million square feet and with a seating capacity of nearly 110,000 people, it is more than three times larger than the Texas Stadium it replaced.
Its two big screens are seven stories tall, and extend from one 23-yard line to the other 23-yard line.
The stadium is so tall that if the Statue of Liberty were placed in the middle of its field, the roof could close without touching the top of her torch’s flame.
But perhaps even more impressive than these dimensions has been Jones’ ability to develop the stadium into a non-stop source of profit. It banks off a constant stream of events, everything from corporate flag football games and lacrosse to Jonas Brothers concerts. It has a dozen luxury clubs (one includes eight Playstation consoles) and more than 300 luxury suites. Around 30 of those suites are at field level, a place no other NFL venue’s suites have yet ventured, according to my guide on an early December stadium tour.
Around 500,000 visitors tour the stadium each year, bringing lucre even on days without events. Before touring the Vatican of American sport, these pilgrims are urged to wait in its 18,000 square foot gift shop. There reside every manner of Lone Star-kissed paraphernalia imaginable, including a signed portrait of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, priced at $1,200.
No wonder Forbes estimated the Cowboys’ worth at $1.85 billion. Only Manchester United, an English soccer club, is more valuable among sports franchises.
All in all, Jerry’s World is an ode writ in steel and concrete, sung to the spirit of American competitiveness and filled with some of the nation’s most ostentatious displays of commercialism.
It can evoke awe, admiration and repulsion.
Not unlike Jones himself.
The extravagance traces back to dad.
For years, J.W. “Pat” Jones worked in insurance and on the side ran what might have been the nation’s largest drive-through wild animal park. The 400-acre Exotic Animal Paradise, located in southwest Missouri, included thousands of animals and a petting zoo.
Some of those critters ended up roaming or decorating the Dallas Cowboys Learjet, wrote pilot Todd Cawthorn, who worked for Jerry Jones 1990-1993. “They obviously spent a small fortune on taxidermy. Bearskin rugs, things with large heads, and every color, shape and size of creatures with horns,” Cawthorn wrote in “Jerry Jones and the ‘New Regime.’”
Pat Jones’ start in sales involved opening a fruit stand in the mid 1940s in Rose City, Ark., a working class community then east of North Little Rock.
Through the next decade, Jones added a meat market and dairy, eventually developing one of the area’s first grocery-based retail stores. His family lived above the Rose City store, and worked seven days and nights a week.
As a child, Jerry spent hours at the store’s entrance near the corner of East Broadway and what’s now the Old England Highway.
"I used to stand right outside this building with a little bow tie that my mother put on me and greet the customers that would come in the grocery store,” he told “60 Minutes” in 2010. “And the ones that'd tip you, I'd be sure and push their cart for 'em and move 'em around the grocery store."
Pat Jones drummed up business by staging live on-site radio shows that mixed music and hillbilly acts with heavy endorsements for the store.
“Every Saturday was reserved for a country and western band, and the customers danced in the aisles between the fresh okra and the pork chops,” sportswriter Jim Dent wrote in “King of the Cowboys: The Life and Times of Jerry Jones,” which was published in 1995.
Pat Jones used radio to help poor and unemployed people. Over the airwaves, he often asked customers to bring clothes for the needy into the store, wrote Dent, who reported for the Dallas Times Herald and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Decades later, the Jones family, through the Cowboys, donated national television air-time to increase exposure for the Salvation Army’s annual fundraising efforts. That airtime led to additional hundreds of millions of dollars for the Salvation Army, according to the Dallas Cowboys’ Web site.
Jerry and Gene, his wife of 49 years, are often praised for their loyalty and generosity.
They have helped spearhead fundraising efforts for many non-profit organizations, including the Y.M.C.A. and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Jerry Jones donated money to set up a statue of George Tribou, the longtime principle of Catholic High, at that private Little Rock school, Paul Suskie says.
Still, it appears Pat Jones left another, less savory legacy.
Dent wrote Jones frequently indulged in “late nights of revelry” which spilled into the Broadway Motel coffee shop at 2501 East Broadway. One morning, according to a cafe regular, Pat Jones’ wife found him there, cracking jokes in the company of two ladies.
She shared her displeasure with her accompanying son, then a child: “Jerry, if you were wondering where your father was last night, he was right here, with these you-know-whos. Son, I don’t want you to grow up to be this way.”
Dent also interviewed Tommy Robinson, who had been friends with Jerry Jones for decades.
“His dad was one of the biggest womanizers you’ll ever see. Jerry learned from the master,” Robinson said, according to “King of Cowboys.”
Jerry Jones inherited his father’s love of women. In Little Rock, Hot Springs and Dallas, he has been seen drinking and flirting with younger ones, according to Dent’s multiple sources.
Those claims are backed by Jerry Jones’ former pilot, Todd Cawthorn, who said that one of Jerry’s closest female friends, Susan Skaggs, was also his employee. In “Jerry Jones and the ‘New Regime,’” Cawthorn recalled Skaggs and Jones “mixing more pleasure than business” in the back of a Lear 35A before departure. “We could feel the airplane moving and shaking. It didn’t move and shake that long; talk about a two-minute offense.”
In a February 2011 interview with the New York Times, the 68-year-old Jones compared architectural aspects of Cowboys Stadium to a beautiful women —“it has curves in all the right places.”
Pat Jones also spent long hours in the 1950s at the White Pig Inn, a barbecue joint that doubled as a place for customers to pound Falstaff beers while listening to live Oaklawn Park races over a large RCA radio. The owner “took cash bets over the counter, even from cops, then turned the wagers over to his bookie by phone,” Dent wrote.
Joe Calva had grown up with Pat Jones in Scott, Ark. and was likely one of the friends he saw at the White Pig Inn.
By the 1970s and 1980s, Calva was a sports and horse-racing bookmaker running the Checkmate Club, a smoky singles bar in the basement of a former church in downtown North Little Rock. The bets that Calva accepted were either paid or collected at the Checkmate, Dent wrote.
Calva said in the 19 years Pat Jones lived in Little Rock , he often showed up at the Checkmate with a regular group of prominent friends. Calva and Tommy Robinson told Dent that Jones made bets up to $1,000, and often backed the Cowboys.
Baseball was Jones’ favorite childhood sport, but by the time he entered North Little Rock High School he had another passion. He nurtured it all afternoon long with his friend Jerry Sisk on a barren lot next to Pat’s Supermarket.
“We would get out there and just knock the sh*t out of each other without any pads on,” Jerry Jones told Dent. “That’s what football is really about, just knocking the sh*t out of each other.”
That non-stop motor turned him into one of Arkansas coach Frank Broyles’ prized recruits, as well as an impressive young entrepreneur. As a student-athlete, Jerry sold shoes from his car trunk, sold life insurance policies on campus and would make up to $700 selling student tickets before his college football games.
“He often dashed from the locker room in full gear just fifteen minutes before kickoff to make sure his customers got through the players’ gate,” Dent wrote.
Jones hit the ground running after college graduation, first in his family’s insurance company before borrowing to invest on multiple fronts - real estate, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a pizza franchise.
He was soon paying out $125,000 in interest despite an annual salary of $25,000, Peter Golenbeck wrote in “Cowboys Have Always Been My Heroes.”
Jones kept rolling the dice and kept winning when he entered the oil and gas exploration business in 1970. He leased land from oil companies and drilled between the holes where nothing was found.
Dry holes could cost investors hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Jones struck oil 12 of his first 13 attempts, according to “Playing to Win” by David Magee.
He built a vast fortune and spent much of it in 1989 to afford the $150 million price tag for the Cowboys franchise and a stadium lease.
Circumstances weren’t ideal. A real estate boom fueled by a rapidly growing savings and loan industry had burst, sending Texas into a depression, and the Cowboys had been losing a million dollars a month, according to “60 Minutes.”
Jones, as owner and general manager, cleared house. He replaced revered Cowboys coach Tom Landry with his college friend Jimmy Johnson, then the Miami Hurricane’s head coach.
This led to severe backlash from local fans and media.
“It had seemed like a Beverley Hillbilly from Little Rock had bought the Dallas Cowboys. Everybody was aghast,” says John Brummett, then an Arkansas Gazette reporter who interviewed Jones many times. “I remember being struck at that time that he was supremely confident that he knew what he was doing. He was not deterred by this ridicule he was getting in Dallas and nationally.”
The Cowboys haven’t reached the Super Bowl in 16 seasons, and the criticism is mounting again.
But the eternal salesman deflects it all with a smile.
Sure, a fourth title for the Cowboys would be nice. Maybe another Cotton Bowl win for his alma mater, too.
But whatever Jones sees accomplished, he’ll soon seek something bigger and better. More money, more attention and yet more pleasure. Let the seasons keep coming, one after another. There are never enough trophies for this man to hoist.
He is the world’s foremost Cowboy—always on the go, yet eager to stop for the limelight. He proudly preserves his independence, while encircling wide open spaces with walls that nearly touch the sky.
This article originally published in Sync magazine. For more on Jerry Jones, Cowboys Stadium and Arkansas sports, visit thesportsseer.com