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Super Bowl: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, but not his team, is at the center of it all

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 5, 2011; 11:51 PM

DALLAS - When Super Bowl XLV kicks off Sunday evening, there will be more than 75 people in the most important suite at Cowboys Stadium. Former president George W. Bush, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jamie Foxx, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Harrison Ford - they're all just extras.

The man in the middle of it all - the middle of the stadium, the middle of the nation's biggest sporting event, the middle of everything - is a larger-than-life character who created this stage and, as always, is eager to please his captive audience.

Jerry Jones knows exactly where he gets it from. His father, Pat, did a variety of things over the years, among them: selling insurance, opening Exotic Animal Paradise in Missouri and running a grocery store in Arkansas.

"I came from a combination sports and promotional background. My family were promoters, really in the grocery business," says Jones, 68. "They made it fun. My dad used to wear guns and put a hat on, walking down the middle of the store where people were buying his lettuce and his beans."

And out in front of that store, a young Jerry Jones, barely taller than his dad's Stetson, would wear a bow tie and greet customers. Six decades later, the venue is different and the tie more expensive, but Jones is still out front, still hoping everyone enjoys themselves. He lured the Super Bowl to Dallas with his mammoth $1.2 billion stadium and he's hoping for a game - no, an experience - that is bigger than anything the American sporting world has seen.

"He goes out of his way to make everything memorable and special for everyone," said Barry Switzer, who coached Jones in college and coached for him in Dallas. "And that's the same if we're talking about a football game or you're just sitting across from him having dinner. He wants everyone to have a special experience."

Still, the week leading up to the game has been marred by bad weather, and all of Jones's friends and associates are quick to note that there's one thing missing from the party.

"Knowing Jerry, this week means everything," says Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' long-time vice president of player personnel. "Jerry's a guy who thinks big. He's pleased to show off his facility, which is great and will never be duplicated. The flip side is, he'd love to have the Cowboys here."

Indeed, when Jones started dreaming about hosting a Super Bowl in Dallas, the hope was that his team would play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. But his Cowboys finished the season 6-10 and fired Coach Wade Phillips in November.

"We had our league meeting with all of the owners, and I told them early in the fall, I said, boy, I hope that each and every one of you can be here, be a part of it," Jones says, "and certainly I don't know the two teams that are going to be participating in it, but the way we're stinking it up there now on the football field, the idea of being the first team to have ever played in its own Super Bowl has passed me by."

'It's just who he is'

Perhaps no other sports owner is as recognizable as Jones. He's in pizza advertisements, popped up on HBO's "Entourage," and is as associated with his franchise as the star on the side of the helmet.

"I have yet to ever encounter Jerry when he is not representing or selling the Cowboys. He never disconnects," Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, said in an e-mail. "It's amazing. . . . What separates him [from other owners] is that he eats, sleeps , breathes the Cowboys. I haven't met another owner with the level of commitment that he has."

Jones is brash, outspoken and not scared to ruffle feathers. If he was an artist, he'd splash plenty of paint on the ground trying to make his masterpiece match his vision.

"I don't think he's intentionally a showman," says Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. "It's just who he is."

In Jeff Pearlman's meticulously reported and scandal-ridden book "Boys Will Be Boys," he describes an owner committed to both winning and partying with lurid tales of drinking and carousing.

The book even describes a deal Jones brokered with American Airlines to serve as the team's transportation provider, in which "airline supervisors were told to approach beautiful flight attendants, make certain they were single, and solicit them to work Cowboy charters." Team employees went so far, the book alleges, as to flip through a photo book of flight attendants and select which would work Cowboys flights.

"Jones was the type of man who looked at breasts first, rear second, breasts third, legs fourth, breasts fifth and sixth," Pearlman wrote.

His football decisions have also upset many. Jones is quick to note that football is in his blood. Unlike other owners, Jones played the game and was a three-year letterman at the University of Arkansas and co-captain on the 1964 national championship team. Even then, he was focused on both sports and business.

"I remember on Friday nights and weekends when everyone else was out at dance clubs and dance halls, Jerry was selling insurance for his daddy's company, selling people life policies," recalls Switzer, an assistant coach at Arkansas at the time who later coached the Cowboys from 1994-97. "He made a lot of money as a young football player. I knew then Jerry was a different kind of cat."

When Jones acquired the Cowboys in 1989 for $160 million, the NFL and all of Texas quickly learned just what type of cat.

No holding back

Bill Lively, president of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee, had a long association with the Cowboys and first met with Jones shortly after he bought the team. "I said hello and 45 minutes later I said my second word," he says. Lively could tell that Jones was as intent on improving the fan experience as he was on winning more games. "He was really smart and really, really intense and really, really in a hurry," says Lively.

Jones parted ways with team icons Tom Landry and Tex Schramm. He took a lot of heat but was determined to return the team to glory.

"He'll tell you that when he got there, I told him he was in way over his head," says Brandt, who was with the team from 1960-89. "He got angry with me. Later on, he finally said: 'You're right. I was in way over my head.' "

But he did turn around the franchise, and Jones's teams won three Super Bowls in a four-year period in the 1990s with him calling the shots the whole way.

His personnel decisions and coaching changes, of course, don't always work out, which is why the Cowboys have reached the playoffs just four times in the past decade. But his intent hasn't changed since the day he bought the team.

"I've always driven across the water. I've never laid up, in golf terms. So we go for it," he says. "I've gone for it. It looks ugly sometimes and we don't get there, for sure."

Fifteen years after Dallas was last in a Super Bowl, the Super Bowl is in Dallas. Jones seemed to be everywhere in the days leading up to the game and his itinerary allowed him few chances to catch his breath. Tuesday was a television shoot, a news conference and a party at the House of Blues. Thursday was a community appearance in which he donated $1 million, then a meeting with ESPN, and later he hosted a giant party at Cowboys Stadium that lasted until 2 a.m. On Friday he showed "Entertainment Tonight" around his stadium, threw an afternoon party at Dallas-area restaurant Mi Cocina and then attended the commissioner's party at the Hilton. Saturday had more parties on the agenda, including his own at the House of the Blues.

In many ways, the entire week has been a house-warming party for him and his stadium, which opened less than two years ago. It's a colossal thing, unlike anything in sports, and it very much represents Jones. He built the stadium just as the economy was beginning to fail and admits he could have easily built half the stadium for half the cost. In fact, the early estimates called for a stadium that did cost barely half the final price tag.

"Rather than scale back, I pushed the gas pedal," he says, "and basically increased the scope of the stadium and increased the cost of the stadium."

But as he watches the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers play, the Super Bowl will not be complete. He didn't build this shrine to excess to watch other teams play.

"There's one thing that is important," he says. "Stadiums are important. The most important thing is to win the Super Bowl . . . It's all about going and winning the Super Bowl. That's it."

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