Label This ‘Bonehead’ Champion : Switzer, Who Could’t Get a Job, Was Handed NFL’s Best


The spunky Sparky Mortimer, playing reporter, put his CBS-TV microphone up near Barry Switzer’s chin and asked a good question. When Switzer shouted, “We did it! We did it! We did it!” what did he mean by that? What was the message to the bazillion television viewers and the thousands of rattlesnakes kept awake by the Super Bowl hoo-hah in the Arizona desert paradise of Tempe?

“Your mike working? You jerking me around?” Switzer said happily to Mortimer, who is 10 years old and who is David Letterman’s man at Big Sports Events, having achieved fame at the 1995 World Series by being the first preadolescent told, “Get outta my face,” by the winsome Albert Belle.

Then Switzer said to Mortimer, “You’re not old enough to remember this, but when I became the Dallas Cowboys’ coach, I told Jerry Jones, ‘We’re going to do it our way.’ And now we’ve done it.”


When Jerry Jones, after a drink or two, stopped by Jimmy Johnson’s restaurant table in the spring of 1994 to toast the Cowboys’ second straight Super Bowl victory, there began events that led to Johnson’s disappearance. “Five hundred coaches could win a Super Bowl with this team,” were words Jones came to utter later that liquid evening.

Well, of Jimmy Johnson’s possessions, his favorite is a belief he is one of a kind, not one of 500. He’d already been crossways with the owner. So he took a million or two in mad money, walked away to Miami and waited for Don Shula to implode. Meanwhile, what would poor ol’ Jerry Jones do for a coach now that he, in a fit of egomania, had chased away the brain who’d restored the Cowboys to greatness?

He would make one phone call.

It took one day.

Astonishing, what Jerry Jones did. To replace the legend Jimmy Johnson, who had replaced the legend Tom Landry, the owner hired a pariah. He gave the NFL’s best job to a man who couldn’t get a job. Colleges wouldn’t touch the rogue whose players ran riot. He’d never been in the pros. He hadn’t been on a football field in six years.

Barry Switzer said yes in a heartbeat, goodgawdamighty yes, yes, yes, Jerry, whatever you say, Jerry, and folks can say whatever they want to say, but, Jerry, we’re going to do it our way.

As a freshman at Arkansas in 1962, a slow-footed running back named Jerry Jones came under the eye of a young coach named Barry Switzer, a bootlegger’s son, a hustler up from nothing.

“Barry’d been in the Army and when he came back to Arkansas, he told me to stay where I was,” Jones says. “He said, ‘After six months in the Army, this is heaven.’ ”


Then, as Jones built an empire on Oklahoma oil, Switzer built an empire on Oklahoma University football. And when Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989, his second choice as coach was Barry Switzer. “He’s a great communicator, a great motivator,” Jones says. “And loyal, loyal. That’s important, that you have a back-to-back relationship with the coach.” Left unsaid, this: Jones no longer trusted Jimmy Johnson.

Last season, Switzer’s first, the Cowboys lost the National Football Conference Championship Game to San Francisco. Before this season, Jones created a cauldron of pressure by saying, “Anything less than winning the Super Bowl is unacceptable.”

Two losses to Washington and one to Philadelphia--that one famous for Switzer’s failed gamble on fourth-and-1--were enough for soap opera authors to imagine dissension and stupidity, all blamed on Jones and Switzer.

“I’ve seen our graveyard services,” Jones said five days before the Super Bowl. “But we’re still alive.” It was vindication, he said, of his management style. And who can argue? Maybe there aren’t 500 coaches who could win with these Cowboys. But the boss certainly knew one.

“No redemption, no vindication,” Switzer says. “No, I don’t care. I just reload again when I stumble. That stuff’s not important to me. I just want to be a team guy. All I want to do now is go to Dallas, sit on the curb and watch Jerry and the players go by in the parade.”

We go now to Michael Irvin, the great wide receiver, maybe the Cowboy most disturbed by Jimmy Johnson’s expulsion, and now we hear Irvin almost singing of his third Super Bowl victory. . . .

“It’s by far the sweetest one of them all. You can put the other two together and this one outweighs them. Because of the times people counted us out. Every time somebody counted us out, I looked to my right and looked to my left, I saw my boys to my right and my left, and we got a little bit tighter and we got it done. No matter how rocky the waters were at times, the bottom line was we brought the ship in.”

Brought it in with Switzer at the helm, the pariah Switzer, the bonehead who went for it on fourth down and lost to the Eagles: “Let me tell you about that fourth-and-1,” Irvin continues. “Everybody said, ‘Bonehead.’ But we needed that from Coach Switzer. That was the turning point. It was Barry saying, ‘Fellas, I got faith in y’all.’ That made all the difference the rest of the way.”

On a gorgeous desert winter day, this Super Bowl again succeeded in exceeding all previous wretched excesses. There was a train robbery on the stadium floor. There was Diana Ross carried away, literally, by a helicopter. There were 25 folks from the Dallas Morning News on hand with, as one reporter put it, “marching orders surely more detailed than Eisenhower’s on the invasion of Europe.”

And when it was all done, the Dallas man mountain Nate Newton, the team’s left guard, said, “I had my doubts about Barry, but he let us be our own men, he gave us money, and we won, man. Now we’re going to go back to Dallas and set the place on fire, literally.”

The way these Cowboys have delivered on their promises so far, someone should, perhaps, advise the fire department folks of Nate’s plans.