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."

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