Editor’s note: This story was originally published on February 26, 2017.
The photos tell the story.
Jimmy Johnson beams. If he didn’t have a sports coat on his back and shoes on his feet you would swear he just landed a 57-pound mahi-mahi in the waters of the Florida Keys.
Across from him is Jerry Jones. As the two men laugh and reminisce, the Cowboys owner pulls Johnson close then throws his left arm around his former coach for an embrace.
This was not a staged moment for the media’s benefit. Members of the Cowboys 1992 championship team on hand for Saturday night’s reunion and fund raiser for the United Way got the sense that Jones and Johnson were genuinely happy to be around each other. One went as far as to say the atmosphere was comparable to the postgame party after Super Bowl XXVII this event commemorated.
Nate Newton was the starting left guard on that championship team. He said the celebration at Gilley’s reminded him of the early ’90s when Jones and Johnson “were boys, drinking the same suds.”
Jones and Johnson will never be as close as they were in those early days of ’89 when the Arkansas businessman purchased the Cowboys. They will never be as distant as they were five years later when egos and hard feelings led to an acrimonious split after two consecutive championships.
Many relationships experience a natural ebb and flow. This was a volcanic eruption that took its toll on both men and the franchise.
But now, in their 70s, both men have made peace with what happened.
“Yes, it is good with Jimmy Johnson,” Jones said. “It’s very good.
“Jimmy and I really understand the circumstances. To some degree, we have a good feel for each other. I’ve always had to overlook his foibles, but he’s had to overlook mine, too.”
That’s easier to do when you’re not around each other every day, pushing each other’s buttons. Differences and annoyances tend to melt with each passing year. What remain are the accomplishments, the shared friendships and the celebrations like the one that took place over the weekend.
When Jones purchased the franchise, he declared that Jimmy Johnson was worth five No. 1 picks. A few years later, he pointedly proclaimed that 500 coaches could have won that second Super Bowl with the players in place.
Both were exaggerations. Time has given both men a perspective that didn’t exist in the aftermath of the separation that rocked the NFL.
“Anytime you have two individuals who are as competitive as they are who are successful as they are in about anything they touch, you’re going to have times where you bump shoulders, you bump heads or do things like that,” chief operating officer Stephen Jones said. “They have nothing but tremendous respect for one other.
“I know I ran into Jimmy at the Super Bowl before we knew whether Jerry was going to get into the Hall of Fame or not and it was such a sincere, best wish from Jimmy that he hoped that Jerry would get in the Hall of Fame.”
Johnson made the same point to the media in the days leading up to the announcement that Jones would be a member of the Hall of Fame class of 2017. On several occasions Saturday, Johnson spoke about the owner’s passion, work ethic and accomplishments.
“He deserves to go in there and I’m happy for him,” Johnson said.
The two have experienced ups and downs, but it hasn’t been nearly as tense in recent years as some believe. Johnson was a guest at the 50th wedding anniversary party of Jerry and Gene Jones a few years ago.
You don’t receive that invitation – and you don’t go – if the wound is still open.
Jones and Johnson have come to terms with the consequences of their actions back in March of ’94. Both men express an acceptance of what took place more than a lament.
“Well, who knows,” Jones said when asked if the Cowboys would have won more championships if the two had stayed together. “Who knows how those things go? I don’t want to revisit.”
Neither does Johnson.
“I’m just happy for what we did,” he said. “We had a great, great thing going.
“I look back on those years and I appreciate what we did.”
Jones and Johnson have not always liked each other. But respect and admiration, no matter how grudging it was at times, has always been the foundation of their relationship.
“I know this,” Jones said. “Jimmy is a brilliant individual. I knew that. He’s not only that, he’s inspiring to be around.
“There’s no question the contribution he made to the success that this reunion is celebrating is undeniable and unqualified.”
Newton noted that Jones and Johnson are always “going to be connected whether they want to be or not.” He’s right.
That reality isn’t as onerous for either man as it was once.
“The main thing is I love the fact he’s getting to do what he wants to do his way,” Jones said. “I’m proud for him in a way the Cowboys helped him get to spend his life the way he wanted to spend it. And the Cowboys made me get to spend a life beyond anything I ever dreamed.”
Tears begin to well in Jones’ eyes.
“Now, I don’t want to get emotional,” he said. “But in that way this reunion, these men, our experiences here with the Cowboys…
“If you want to look at that, it let us both live a life we couldn’t have dreamed about.”
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