Jimmy put life and work in perspective for those of us watching at home; he admitted that when he was offered the job with the Cowboys, his commitment to the team was so total that he ditched his wife of 26 years.
"Put your wife on waivers?" asked the interviewer, Forrest Sawyer, and Jimmy did not demur.
And his kids? "I know if it came down to life or death, me or football, I think he'd choose me," said Brent Johnson, one of his sons.
"You're sure?" Forrest Sawyer asked.
"Pretty sure," Brent answered. "It'd depend on the game."
This exchange came to mind when David Williams, an offensive tackle for the Houston Oilers, was threatened with disciplinary action by team management for aiding and abetting childbirth.
The happy result was Scot Cooper Williams, born to David and his wife, Debi, a week ago Saturday evening, roughly 18 hours before the Oilers took the field in Massachusetts to play the Patriots.
Whether the fog at Logan Airport made him believe he couldn't get there on time, or the thrill of making someone out of nothing made him insufficiently concerned with getting there at all, David Williams didn't make it to the game.
The Oilers management responded by threatening to suspend him and dock him $125,000 in pay. And the offensive-line coach was moved to remark, "This is like World War II, when guys were going to war, and something would come up but they had to go."
Those of us who do not immediately discern the link between keeping the world safe for democracy and sacking the quarterback can only respond, "What a weenie!"
Professional sports now has more black marks than a Dalmatian. Accusations of gang rape, of gambling, of drug use. Lawrence Taylor said in his book that he used crack constantly during one football season, and that everyone knew about it. Bill Parcells said in his book that during his first years as head coach of the Giants, he knew 20 to 30 players on the team who had used drugs.
Darryl Strawberry got drunk and roughed up his wife. Vince Coleman threw a firecracker at fans. I could go on and on, and that's without even mentioning Mike Tyson.
If Charles "I spit on spectators" Barkley doesn't want to be a role model, he ought to buy himself a sports bar and a car dealership and get out of the basketball business. Whether we like it or not, whether they like it or not, athletes still set some sort of standard for that amorphous thing called masculinity. The standard they set is often a very low one, self-indulgence and mouth and machismo.
And along comes David Williams, standing for the principle that the goal of life is something more than the end zone. The Oilers should put him on commercials, send him to high schools, make him a poster boy for the revolutionary concept that professional athletes -- and professional men -- can learn to put their work in its proper place.
"My family comes first," David Williams said. "That's the way I've always been, and that's the way I always will be, long after I'm finished being a football player."
The good news is that the tide is turning. In Houston, callers to radio stations ripped into the club for how it was treating David Williams. One man said he'd shredded his season tickets. Another said he regretted having missed the births of his own kids.
But the tide hasn't turned enough.
At least four teen-agers across the country have been killed or seriously injured imitating a scene in the movie "The Program," in which a star quarterback lies down in the middle of the road. It's so hard to tell the difference between macho and manly when you're 17. Especially when you're learning the difference from the guys in pro sports.
David Williams knows the difference.
"It was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen and I wouldn't have missed it for anything in the world," he said, after coming to practice with baby pictures and cigars. Here is a guy whose son will never have to wonder, "me or football," what his dad would choose.
"You're sure?" Forrest Sawyer would ask, and Scot Williams could someday answer, "Yep."
Anna Quindlen writes a column for the New York Times.