He stood down on the field after the game, shuttling from television interview to television interview. His players were already in the locker room celebrating their first victory, one they had begun to believe might never come. Jerry Jones wanted to be in there with them, of course, but those darn TV people kept grabbing his shoulder and smiling, and, well, you know, it's just a shame to say no when a man with a minicam grabs you ...
This was the moment the Dallas Cowboys owner had waited for, the dizzy moment for which he had sunk all his fortune into a pro football team and picked up his feet and moved from Arkansas to Texas and endured all those jokes about him being a no-shoes hillbilly come to town and his team being so stinking bad. Did you hear the one about Jerry Jones showing up at a black-tie dinner with only one shoe on? "Lost a shoe, Jerry?" someone asks him. Jerry shakes his head. "Naw," he says, "Found one."
Now he was standing down in the end zone shuttling between the TV people and there were a couple of hundred Dallas fans up there in the stands shouting at him and waving their arms in celebration and throwing programs at him to autograph. It was too much for him. It really was. Too much. "Cowboys!" he suddenly shouted, staring up at them with his arms upraised, as though he were Joe Frazier and Ali had just hit the floor in the 15th round.
He turned to the TV man nearest him, getting his attention with a latex-white smile and a firm hand on the shoulder (note the University of Arkansas national championship ring sparkling in the stadium lights). "At least now," he said, "maybe they won't say we're the worst team in the history of the NFL."
Jerry Jones, the villain of Dallas and recent laughingstock of the National Football League, brought one home Sunday night. His gosh-darn little football team showed up in Washington, "right here in the nation's capital," he said, "on just a wonderful night for football," and stuck it to the Redskins, 13-3, all but assuring that the Redskins can't show their faces in public for the rest of the year. And so just who is laughing now?
"This is for all the folks back in Dallas who paid their good money and came to watch us play and sat through everything when we were so disappointed and they were so disappointed, too," he said. "To be 0-8 and step up here in the nation's capital and beat such a fine football team, it just feels so great. We know we have a lot of work to do. But you have to win your first."
There were those who were beginning to wonder if it would come this year. Jones had lopped off Tom Landry's football head and roped in his famous coaching buddy, Jimmy Johnson, as a replacement, and there had been a lot of big talk in the beginning about how things were going to be better. But then the season started and everyone realized that this team was not just bad, it was awful.
Sunday night's roster included 23 players who were not with the team last year. Eleven rookies. Eleven players who were not with the team at the start of training camp. It had been a long first two months of the season. The Cowboys had scored the fewest points in the league and allowed the most. Their running game would not run. Their pass defense did not work. Their players had to introduce themselves to each other in the huddle.
"We've made a lot of changes, you know," Jones was saying last night. "We could have stuck with what we had and probably had a better team and shown more results in the beginning, but we knew this (house-cleaning) was something we were going to have to do sometime, so we decided to proceed. It hasn't made it easy." They traded Herschel Walker because he did not fit into the offense. He wanted to score.
By now Jones was up in the locker room hugging all the coaches and every player he could grab, and some friends of his were standing in the middle of the locker room with happy-silly grins. Jones put his shoulder around one man with horn-rimmed glasses.
"I didn't come down to the field tonight until there was a minute or two to play," Jones said. "The only reason I've been coming down is to show them (the players) that I'm with them when we're in trouble. We were all sitting up there in the box that (Redskins owner) Jack Kent Cooke had provided and when it was beginning to look like we had a shot I didn't dare come down, because I've been coming down all season and we haven't been winning. I'm superstitious. I'll drive all the way around Dallas to avoid a black cat."
Everyone had a big laugh and Jones hugged me (I was the only one left) and then he was off into the shower, looking for his coach and the other players he had not hugged. If a man does not appreciate the wins, there is not any use being in the business. "I don't think this is like winning the Super Bowl," the man said, "but it sure does feel good."