Cowboy rides alone


IRVING, Texas -- When you walk into Jerry Jones' office, you say "hello" and then wait for the echo.

It's big, like everything else in Texas, decorated with brown leather furniture. A spacious wall unit is filled with game balls and pictures: Jones with President Bush, Jones shaking hands with President Clinton, Jones chatting with Elizabeth Taylor. All types of Dallas Cowboys memorabilia line the wall as one makes the long walk from one end of the room to the other.

And finally, here sits Jones, the latest NFL executive to strike out on his own.

"Jerry Jones could never replace Al Davis as the maverick owner in this league," said Art Modell, longtime owner of the Cleveland Browns. "Al wrote the book and will always be the 'Maverick,' but Jerry is now the 'Lone Ranger.' "

Jones disagrees with that kind of talk.

He has made millions in the business of oil and gas, where no one ever sat around and worried about getting a "fair share." Jones always has been a mover and shaker who put in long

hours to stay ahead of the competition, showing the same resolve that made him a nasty, undersized, 195-pound starting guard at Arkansas in the early 1960s. Even now, at the age of 52, he sleeps only about four hours a night.

"A maverick owner? A rogue? They say I'm not a team player," said Jones, referring to criticism from several other NFL owners. "What I am is inspired, motivated and willing to make changes.

"I believe that owners who have as much as $300 [million] to $400 million invested in teams should have an opportunity to run the marketing side of their business," said Jones, as the light occasionally gleamed off the $10,000 diamond Super Bowl ring on his left hand. "I believe the greater the risks, the higher the rewards. And once I get to the highest point, I'm persistent in taking it to another level."

As fast as you could say, "swoosh" (as in the Nike logo), America's Team has become America's Corporate Team.

Texas Stadium is Nike heaven. There's a four-story Nike banner outside the stadium, and another one hangs from the roof inside. There are swoosh emblems outside every entrance, and every stadium employee has the logo on a T-shirt, including ticket handlers. Even the cleanup crew.

Running back Emmitt Smith unveiled the "Emmitt Zone" last week, a new line of clothing that will compete against wide receiver Michael Irvin's en vogue apparel called "Masterpeace," and Troy Aikman has a deal with Coke, not to mention contracts with several sporting goods producers.

But the Cowboys aren't just popular with corporate executives. A number of players, present and past, have radio and television talk shows, and thousands of fans stand outside Texas Stadium hours before games just to get a glimpse of their stars.

The hysteria will hit prime-time status once the Sega, Nike and $35 Million Man, Deion Sanders, joins the team and can start parking his stretch limo next to Irvin's.

And then there is Jones, who has made more deals than Monty Hall recently while earning big bucks from Pepsi and Nike. An agreement with American Express is expected soon.

"The dynamics of the league are changing, and I think we should look ahead," said Jones, whose Cowboys meet the Redskins today at RFK Stadium in Washington. "Clearly, I want the Dallas Cowboys to be the most recognizable, the most distinguished franchise on Earth."

That's what has the rest of the 29 owners concerned. Some see Jones as a greedy egomaniac who is trying to undermine the revenue-sharing policy on which the NFL was built. Coke and Reebok were two of the league's sponsors, not Pepsi and Nike.

Pepsi paid about $2.5 million a year to Jones for the right to sell its soft drink at Texas Stadium, which is owned by Jones. Jones has a similar deal with Nike, which isn't licensed to sell NFL apparel. But Jones sold Nike the rights to Texas Stadium for $2.5 million.

"Jerry Jones is motivated by greed," said Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.

Modell said: "I think Jerry is creative, energetic, has good ideas and has done a very good job in Dallas. That's the positives. The negatives are he is trying to obliterate a revenue-sharing system that has turned the NFL from a mom-and-pop business into a multimillion-dollar operation."

No humbling

On Sept. 18, the league filed a $300 million lawsuit against Jones in federal court, saying the Cowboys were violating their agreement with NFL Properties, the league's marketing arm, and trying to prevent them from signing additional deals that undermine existing NFL contracts.

It also was an attempt to bring some humility to Jones.

It hasn't worked.

"This should have been worked out in dialogue. We now know the league has done a very dumb thing by making this litigious," said Jones. "Texas Stadium has become the Alamo. This is where the war is being fought. We're past the blinking stage; we're shooting."

Jones is still as flamboyant and defiant as the night he announced the Nike deal to the country on "Monday Night Football" by strolling out on the field at Giants Stadium during the second quarter with tennis star Monica Seles and Nike chairman Phil Knight for a sideline photo session.

"Nike is highly thought of for marketing, and it was appropriate to announce it that way," Jones said. "We have to have an aura and pageantry to fill these arenas."

The nation seems to be interested in Jones. He has a weekly column in the Dallas Morning News and holds a weekly news conference in which reporters gather around him for lunch -- the scene looks something like King Arthur and the knights of the round table.

People magazine reporters followed him around last week trying to find any extra tidbits about the man who was raised on the second floor of a drive-in fruit stand in Rose City, Ark., enjoys hunting and fishing, admires Lee Iacocca, Frank Broyles, Sam Walton, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, Lamar Hunt and Al Davis and paraphrases Bear Bryant.

The league has seen Jones' power first hand. He bought the Cowboys for $140 million in 1989. Jones immediately found himself in controversy, firing legendary coach Tom Landry, a fact rarely mentioned around Dallas anymore among younger fans.

Jones was one of the driving forces behind the NFL's salary cap two years ago; he was a key part of the blockbuster deal with Fox television that will net each team about $39.1 million this year, and he was one of the five owners who put commissioner Paul Tagliabue into power in 1989.

Big plans

Jones one day wants Texas Stadium to have a retractable dome, a seating capacity of 104,000, a theme park outside and a Cowboys Hall of Fame inside.

He wants to get his family involved more in the operation. His daughter, Charlotte Jones Anderson, and son, Stephen, already are club vice presidents.

Last week, he flew his father, Pat, 74, who has a heart condition, and his entire Missouri nursing crew to Dallas to watch the Cowboys play the Arizona Cardinals.

Perhaps fittingly, it is a recollection of family and business that causes Jones' emotions to surface.

"My father-in-law helped me get started," said Jones as a tear rolled down his cheek. "Only two years out of college, he helped get me a loan for $50,000. I don't deserve all the success I've had.

"But one thing I've learned through the years is that things like intelligence or a great idea doesn't make the difference, but an idea that is championed with hustle, vigor and persistence makes the difference."

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