ARLINGTON, Tex. — The Dallas Cowboys’ home locker room after a game is suffused by a bright halo of light from a wall of TV cameras encircling the central figure in the room. It’s not Tony Romo,DeMarcus Ware or some other critical player bathed in all that false sun, but owner Jerry Jones, who beats his own team to the microphones just minutes after it comes off the field. Which is when it becomes apparent that the largest column-free structure in the world is not Cowboys Stadium, but rather the self-sustaining ego of the man who built it.
Most NFL owners exist more in the abstract than in our vision. We glimpse them sitting deep in the shadows of their skyboxes, surrounded by retainers, or traveling by black-windowed limo to a private tarmac, seldom obvious unless they hire or fire a head coach. Then there is Jones, who is so indelibly ever-present, sometimes standing on the sideline late in a game in his titan pose, arms folded in judgment, or milling about the locker room amid players stripping off sweaty gear, as if he too just played the game. He is always available for his close-up, and for his weekly radio show, the main actor in the psychodrama that is the Dallas Cowboys.
No other owner, no matter how meddling, is such an up-front, vociferous factor on his team. Make no mistake: Jones is potentially a difference maker when the Cowboys meet the Washington Redskins on Sunday with the NFC East title at stake. Among the things we will see is whether the Cowboys can ever succeed with an owner who leans on them so heavily, and insists on being not just their general manager, but their principal face, in-house critic, motivator and backseat driver. The Cowboys have talent, and they are all his creatures, from his anointed coaching prodigy Jason Garrett, to his star wide receiver Dez Bryant, for whom he has been a famously patriarchal babysitter. If the Cowboys win the NFC East they will be a team on a roll with a meaty roster packed with superstars cleverly amassed by the proactive owner. If they lose, they are yet another shiny but underachieving rich man’s plaything — and it will be interesting to see just how many others the owner holds responsible for his own decisions and disappointments.
Jobs do not seem to be on the line — yet. Last Sunday, when the Cowboys lost to the New Orleans Saints to fall to 8-7, Jones was suave and restrained seeming, with a low polite drawl as he spoke to the cameras and microphones. But his well-chosen words were so non-specific they could also be heard as ominous.
It’s obvious that Jones is discontented by the Cowboys’ record and their situation, that he believes the roster he personally built is monstrously talented, and he’s not entirely happy that they should be in danger of missing the playoffs. Nor is he willing to accept injuries as an excuse, though the Cowboys have lost five of their best run defenders and are somewhat patchwork on the defensive side of the ball.
Jones claims, “We’ve got what everybody wants.” What’s unclear is the extent to which Jones will blame his coaches if the Cowboys don’t make the playoffs. Is Garrett too pass-happy as a head coach and under-using the running game? Is his defensive coordinator Rob Ryan too much of a bloviator?