TEMPE, Ariz. — Jerry Jones is talking to me, something about revenue sharing or marketing ideas, but it isn’t the conversation that holds me, it’s his look. His eyes are wide, bigger than they need to be, his mouth is curled up in the corners as he speaks. His neck is tight above his expensive white shirt collar, his complexion is ruddy, and, to me, he seems slightly crazed, his words appear to fly from his own mouth straight into his ears, fueling him with energy. He enjoys listening to himself. And when he stops talking, he just stares with that crooked smile, never blinking, never breaking contact, as if waiting for me to applaud. It is then that I wonder if what some people say about Jerry Jones is true.

He is the devil.

On the other hand, to be fair, some folks say he’s a genius. And more than one person whom I trust says Jones is misunderstood, that he is a decent fellow, that he does things no one hears about, kind acts, charitable acts.

Maybe that’s true. I’ll tell you this much. He could sell you broken eggs and convince you they’d be chickens one day. Jones, who owns the Dallas Cowboys, is unabashed when it comes to business, and unintimidated by status. Heck, six years ago, he burst into one of the world’s most exclusive clubs, the NFL owners, and immediately began kicking his spurs into its side.

Today, he runs the meetings.

Jerry Jones. Jerry Jones. You don’t go anywhere in football without hearing his name — followed by some quick analysis. He a lucky son-of-a-dog. He’s ruining sports. He’s got an ego the size of a Winnebago. He’s a shrewd investor. He wants to be coach. He wants to be a player. He is misunderstood. He is the future of sports.

How big has he made himself? I’ll tell you this. I have been coming to Super Bowls for 14 years. I have never before seen an owner set up his own table at the player press conferences. Jerry Jones does. He sits behind his name tag as if he were a star quarterback.

I’m not really sure anyone believes a word he says. But they all gather
’round to hear it. Game a serious business

“Do you secretly want to coach this team?” I ask Jones. After all, he did fire Jimmy Johnson and bring in Barry Switzer — a guy who had never coached in the NFL — then suggested that any one of 500 people could coach the Cowboys and win, thanks to the talent that he, Jones, had assembled.

“No, I don’t actually want to coach the team,” Jones says. “I will say this. Had I not gone into business, I would have been a coach. But there are more qualified men than me to coach here. I’m not amongst the 500.”

He answers me seriously.

It was not a serious question.

But football is serious business to Jones. He tells me “other owners need to think more creatively . . . they need to become the sexy thing in their cities . . . merchandise themselves better.”

Of course, as Wheatina might remark to Wheaties, “That’s easy for you to say.” Jones tells the other owners they should do what he does — shell out
$40 million in signing bonuses in a single year — but they don’t all own the Cowboys. Jones makes private deals with Nike and Pepsi — while the league has a collective deal with Reebok and Coke — then says, “Hey, you guys can do it. Go ahead. I won’t say anything.”

Except Pepsi doesn’t want the Tampa Bay Bucs, it wants the Cowboys. When Jones talks about the rest of the league needing to work harder, he sounds suspiciously like the millionaire who says, “Those folks on welfare can be just like me — if they weren’t so lazy. . . . ” He, uh, paid his dues

Maybe some of this comes from Jones’ roots. He was born with the proverbial silver spoon, the son of a businessman who ran a profitable insurance company. Jones always figured he would take over one of his dad’s businesses, and he did. And while he made fortunes far beyond his father’s wildest dreams — mostly as an oil tycoon in the ’70s — he did not exactly pull himself up by the bootstraps.

Football was a part of his life early on, and he played at Arkansas, where he roomed with a fellow named Jimmy Johnson. Neither was a star player.
“There were many times I asked myself, why am I going through this?” Jones recalls of his football days, “but it was for those handful of times when I played. They were all worth it.”

True, he sounds suspiciously like a man trying to buy back his macho. True, he is everywhere on the sideline. True, he has, in the past, hired a personal photographer to follow him and record every moment of his day.

But then, what kind of owner do you expect at a Super Bowl? He is sassy, confident, and comfortable in front of the camera. To listen to him is to either hear a crazed egomaniac, or a shrewd investor.

Of all the stories I have heard, here is the one that stays with me: Back in college, when Jones was dating his soon-to-be wife, a former beauty queen, he tried to win her a teddy bear at a carnival. He kept missing the targets. So he ran behind the curtain and made a deal with a worker.

He paid for a teddy bear.

Then he gave it to his girl.

He is here, at the Super Bowl, with the hottest team in football, and all that really matters in his mind is that. He’s got the girl, he’s got the teddy bear, and the fact that he had to pay for it is only a minor inconvenience, isn’t it?

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