25 years ago today, Jerry Jones shocked the world and forever changed the face of Dallas Cowboys football and the Dallas/Fort Worth sports scene when he emerged from total anonymity to buy the team from owner Bum Bright.
In a way, it seems like yesterday.
In another, it seems like a lifetime ago.
It was one of the biggest news events in Dallas/Fort Worth history, right behind the JFK assassination. It was made all the more spectacular because it included its own assassination. The first order of business for the brash Arkansas multi-millionaire (billionaire-to-be) was to hire Jimmy Johnson and fired Tom Landry. Yes, I know. That seems backwards—and it is—but that is the order Jones did it. Jimmy Johnson was part of the deal. Firing Landry was, as well.
Photographer J. Mark Kegans was a 24-year-old intern with The Dallas Morning News when he got the assignment of a lifetime. On the evening of Feb. 24, 1989, Kegans was sitting in the third-floor photo lab waiting for his shift to end when his boss told him to drive to a nearby Tex-Mex restaurant and photograph little-known oil man Jerry Jones and Miami Hurricanes coach Jimmy Johnson.
As Kegans bolted out the door, his photo editor said cryptically, “Your life depends on this.”
As Kegans drove down Lemmon Avenue, it occurred to him that he didn’t know what either man looked like. He walked in the door with his camera and a host smiled and nodded his head toward the room in which Jones and Johnson were seated. Jones would purchase the team the next day and name Johnson coach, replacing Tom Landry.
Former News staffer Ivan Maisel, who had spotted Jones and Johnson while eating at Mia’s, pointed Kegans in the right direction. Kegans walked up to the table and said, “I’ve got to take a picture of you, so just keep talking.”
J. Mark Kegans/DMN
THE BIG PICTURE: Jerry Jones (right) and Jimmy Johnson dine in a Dallas restaurant the day before Jones purchased the Cowboys. This photo, taken by Dallas Morning News intern J. Mark Kegans, was the lead picture on the front page of The Dallas Morning News on Feb. 25, 1989.
After five clicks, Johnson said, “I think that’s enough.”
“I’d never seen the guy,” Kegans said of Johnson. “But he had this natural authority.”
Back at the office, Kegans fed his film into a machine while the same reassuring photo editor said, “You better pray there is something there.”
Fortunately for Kegans, the picture turned out well and was added as the lead photograph on the front page of the Feb. 25 Dallas Morning News. According to Kegans, the same picture has shown up in Sports Illustrated at least three times.
“It was like getting a picture of Big Foot and the Abominable Snowman,” said Kegans, who eventually became a full-time staff photographer and is now a freelancer in Des Moines, Iowa. “I don’t guess I’ll ever top that.”
Along came Jerry Jones and nothing would ever be the same again. This week, I will examine the Jones era (thus far) in Dallas Cowboys history from various angles. Hang on to your hat. It’s quite a ride.
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