Nov 142009
 

Jerry Jones and the Way We Were

Landry's Long Shadow

Landry's Long Shadow

Can it already be twenty years? Is it really possible that it was two whole decades ago that Jerry Jones informed the disbelieving Dallas Cowboys nation that he would be involved in (and in charge of) everything regarding the team, right down to the “socks and jocks?”

It has not been easy for old school Cowboys fans to accept the brash, swashbuckling, micro-managing owner’s ways. This isn’t the way we were taught a successful team was built and managed.

Clint Murchison, The beloved and long-since passed original owner of the Cowboys, the man who gave the team life and then entrusted it to the tender loving care of Tex Schramm and Tom Landry, was the antithesis of Jerry Jones. Murchison loved football, obviously, but never fancied himself a football man. Instead, he identified a man with a personality as big as the state after which he was named and a reputation for knowing the game, hired him, and gave him the reins.

Schramm immediately went after the young defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, a man known for his steady ways and extraordinary football acumen, a man destined to become one of the NFL’s most recognized and recognizable figures, the Fedora-wearing, sharp-dressing, seldom-smiling, franchise cornerstone, Tom Landry.

Together, Murchison, Shcramm, and Landry carved out a legacy. They built what would become one of the NFL’s flagship franchises, a team that NFL films would one day dub “America’s Team.”

And then along came Jones. (Of course, there was the Bum Bright interlude, but it is hardly worth remembering, so we will just pretend it wasn’t there, for argument’s sake.)

Jerry Jones and His Coaching Carousel Versus Clint Murchison, Tex Schramm, and Tom Landry

Twenty years is long enough for Jones to have established a legacy. Since Murchison only owned the team four years longer than Jones has at this point, it is not too early or unreasonable to compare eras and try to answer the nagging question: which was better?

Old timers will answer without reading another word. “Of course the Murchison years were better! Jones is a total idiot. He couldn’t carry Murchison’s jock strap.”

The kids will say, “Who the heck is Murchison? When were the Cowboys great? They haven’t won a playoff game since I was like 5 or 6. They suck, man.”

The thirty-something crowd will say, “Three Super Bowl Rings, Holmes! Jones wins, hands down, even if he is an idiot.”

Inside the Numbers

But what do the facts say? If we compare the two eras side by side, how does one measure up against the other?

Glad you asked.

I have compiled some data for your consideration. We will look at winning percentages, playoff appearances, Conference championship appearances, Super Bowl appearances, and Super Bowl wins.

  1. Winning Percentages. Each regime got off to a slow start. The Murchison era because it was an expansion franchise with little on-field talent, and the Jones era because it was an aging team in decline when he bought it and subsequently blew it up to essentially start from scratch.
    • The Murchison Record: 223-126-6. That is a winning percentage of 64%
    • The Jones Record: 179-149-0. Winning percentage of 55%
    • Edge: Murchison by a healthy nine percentage points.
  2. Playoff Appearances.
    • Murchison, Schramm, and Landry: 17 playoff appearances in 25 years (68% of the time), including one streak of eight consecutive years (1966-1973) and another of nine straight years (1975-1983). Those streaks were only separated by one aberrant season, meaning they made the post-season 17 times in 18 years.
    • Jones and Company: Eleven playoff appearances in 21 seasons (53%), including a streak of six consecutive years (1991-1996), and eight times in nine years.
    • Edge: Murchison, Schramm and Landry (and not even close.)
  3. Conference Championships.
    • Murchison (Old School): Landry’s teams appeared in a whopping twelve conference championship games in those first twenty-five years, winning five of them (42%).
    • Jones (Old Fool): Jones’ teams (most would correct this to Jimmy Johnson’s teams) made four consecutive conference title games, from 1992 to 1995. They won three of the four (75%).
    • Edge: Murchison for the sheer numbers, but Jones’ teams had an incredible success rate in the big games, so that narrows the gap some, but not enough to give Jones the nod.
  4. Super Bowl appearances.
    • M-L-S: Five Super Bowl appearances in the 1970s.
    • JJ: Three Super Bowl trips in the 1990s.
    • Edge: Murchison, et al.
  5. Super Bowl wins.
    • Murchison, Schramm, and Landry won three of their five Super Bowls (40%)
    • Jones, Johnson, and Switzer won all three of theirs. (That is 100%, if you are keeping score.)
    • Edge: Jones and Company.

So, out of five major categories, Murchison and the dream management team he assembled win four of them. Jones, many might argue, more than redeems himself with three Lombardi Trophies in four years, and that is a valid consideration. However, the current twelve year drought without a playoff victory would seem to dilute that argument just a little.

Outside the Numbers

When you consider intangibles, such as structure and stability, the scale tilts even more in favor of the Murchison team. For its first 28 years, the Dallas Cowboys had one coach, and that coach led them to 12 conference title games and five Super Bowl appearances. In Jones’ first 21 seasons, the team has plowed through five head coaches and is now on its sixth.

On the business side, Jones may be peerless in the NFL. He took one of the great sports brands and built it into a franchise which Forbes Magazine has valued at somewhere around 1.5 billion and rates the number one professional sports franchise in the world.

Confusion of Biblical Proportions

When I think of Jerry Jones and how confusing it can be to determine whether he is one of the best or one of the worst owners in the NFL, I am reminded of a story in the Old Testament, in the book of Ezra. Zerubbabel led a group to rebuild the temple, which had lain in ruins for many years. When it was done, there was a celebration.

Ezra 3:11-13 describes the scene. It tells us that the young men were shouting for joy while the old men, the ones who remembered the glory of Solomon’s temple, wept. The shouting and the weeping mingled together, so that you could not distinguish one from the other.

That is kind of how it feels to be a Cowboys’ fan. You shout for the joy of those unforgettable, magnificent teams of the nineties, but you weep for the glory of the past, a glory that may never be duplicated or restored.

Twenty years of Jerry Jones, and I still don’t know whether to laugh or cry.