Jones' facelift has Dallas looking good

John Steadman

January 27, 1993|By John Steadman

LOS ANGELES -- Taking apart a football team and putting it back together is not exactly like playing with an erector set. The Dallas Cowboys, to be brutally frank, are both good and lucky.

They have accomplished more in a shorter time span than any organization in the history of the NFL, from a 1-15 season four years ago to the Super Bowl.

It's an unprecedented attainment, enough to make you want to wonder if the entire scenario is more fiction than fact. But, no, it's not an illusion; it's reality.

The onetime illustrious Cowboys, perenially proud and successful, met with hard times and were down and virtually counted out in 1989. They were growing old.

The incoming rookie owner, Jerry Jones, who came in from Arkansas and paid $140 million for a franchise with dwindling player assets and an enormous office/training complex, achieved a quick-fix that turned around a club that no longer was a contender. Suddenly, they're back.

Much of the good fortune came as a result of other teams showing enormous stupidity, as happened when the Minnesota Vikings gave up five players and seven draft choices for an all-but-spent Herschel Walker, whose best football was behind him. Was it because the Cowboys were endowed with a touch of genius or the collective opposition having rocks in its head?

Then the New Orleans Saints donated first-, second- and third-round draft picks to Dallas for quarterback Steve Walsh. And to get a backup quarterback of the quality of Steve Beuerlein from the Oakland Raiders it only cost the Cowboys a fourth-round choice.

Give the Cowboys applause for their trading moves but certainly the other clubs involved in the transactions helped them with their self-destructing. Jerry Jones is more like Jesse James; he robbed 'em blind.

The distance the Cowboys have come in four years, with Jones acting as his own general manager, and

a former college coach, Jimmy Johnson, putting the pieces together, is astonishing. It should never be this easy because it hasn't been that way before in the 72-year existence of the NFL.

When a man pays $140 million for a piece of property, be it real estate or a football team, he has the inalienable right to do with it what he wants. Jones immediately dismantled the structure that had been so resplendent under the previous guidance of general manager Tex Schramm and coach Tom Landry.

It was a purge, instituted and carried out by Jones. Schramm and Landry went out the door. So did other fine professionals, such as scout Gil Brandt, public relations director Doug Todd and even the assistant equipment manager. The highly competent team trainer, Don Cochren, was reduced to a backup role.

There was, of course, indignation. But Jones, a former varsity football captain at the University of Arkansas, insisted on doing things his way. Again, was Jones good and lucky or did he just punch the right lottery ticket?

On the field, the Cowboys have been remarkably free of injuries. Running back Emmitt Smith, carrying upward of 25 times a game over a three-year period, has hardly been nicked. He's durable, no doubt, but to expose himself to combat over this prolonged a stretch, without being hurt, defies comprehension.

Jones and Johnson have no control over that. They aren't to the point of being omnipotent, but you start to wonder maybe they are. Let it be said with justification they have fooled the NFL as no combination owner-coach ever has, going back to the league's origin in 1920.

The Cowboys' owner says he believes in being decisive. Make judgments fast and move on, not hedging any bets but rolling the dice for the jackpot.

Instead of evaluating players on their potential, the Cowboys of the present rely on past performances. Johnson talks of having "play-makers" and bases opinions on what the record tells him, even reviewing how they played in high school as well as their college achievements.

One quality that's obvious -- Dallas has enormous team speed. That's to the credit of Johnson, in particular, who knows what he wants and has Jones to buy it for him.

On the positive side, too, is the way the Cowboys are suddenly making more money than the previous management. There are unofficial estimates the team has doubled its income.

For decades, the Cowboys sold more merchandise than any club in the league. Then, when they started to lose more games than they won, the purchasing of sweaters, shirts, caps, etc., fell off and the Cowboys were surpassed by the Raiders.

But in the next report from NFL Properties this will change. The Cowboys will be No. 1 again in souvenir sales, averaging around $100,000 per game.

The old reliable Cowboys enthusiasts have been replaced, in the main, by a different contingent of ticket holders. Younger and spirited. The customer base, as with the makeup of the squad, has undergone a dramatic change.

With the winning, the popularity of Jones and Johnson suddenly skyrocketed. The woeful past has been put aside. Dallas once shunned these upstart invaders from Arkansas but now, as you might imagine, they are revered.

If the Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in Super Bowl XXVII it can be expected Jones and Johnson will be mentioned right up there with Teddy Roosevelt, Davy Crockett and maybe even Moses.

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