It’s a shame the Pro Football Hall of Fame waited so long to include two-time Super Bowl champion coach Jimmy Johnson among the immortals in Canton. It’s backwards that he’s going in after so many of his players were inducted first and so long after they won those two championships. And it’s sad that he’s being inducted on some special “centennial” ballot. But it’s right that he’s in.
Jimmy Johnson was an incredible force for five years in Dallas, the architect of a dynasty who took the Cowboys from 3-13 to Super Bowl champions in four years, a team that dominated the NFL for much of the 1990s. Johnson was the genius who orchestrated the Herschel Walker trade, the originator of the three-inch headline, the founder of the asthma field, and the haircut known around the world.
Jimmy is the one who first and most famously declared “How ’bout them Cowboys!” after the team’s 1992 NFC Championship victory over the 49ers at Candlestick Park. The Cowboys were on their way to their first Super Bowl in 14 years — at the time, this was the team’s longest ever championship drought — and the cherub-faced Jimster was at his best exalting in a glorious title. The final line of his locker room speech has become an iconic catchphrase for all Cowboys fans ever since. Even the ones who haven’t seen their favorite team win a divisional playoff game in 24 years. You’ll love watching the video below. Check out Troy Aikman’s Logo Athletics gear. And take special notice of Jerry Wayne in the bottom right hand corner, raising his hand in the middle of Jimmy’s speech, wanting to say something, trying to steal some of the thunder. Priceless.
Jimmy made national news almost exactly one-year later when he was driving from Valley Ranch after practice and heard Randy Galloway on WBAP arguing with Dan Reeves about who was going to win the 1993 NFC Championship game that coming Sunday. Reeves believed Dallas would win and Galloway disagreed. So Jimmy called into the “Sports at Six” hotline, producer David Hatchett put him through, and Jimmy proceeded to declare almost giddily that “We will win the ballgame; you can put it in three-inch headlines!” And they did. Easily.
Johnson calls ’em like he sees ’em and doesn’t have much use for a filter. I’m reminded that on Thanksgiving Day 1989, following a shutout loss to the Eagles, Jimmy told reporters that Philly coach Buddy Ryan had put $200 bounties on Troy Aikman and Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas. He said I “would have said something to Buddy but he wouldn’t stay on the field long enough; he took his big, fat rear end to the dressing room.”
In his first mini-camp as Cowboys coach in that dreadful ’89 season, Johnson called out a rookie kicker who wasn’t participating fully in the running drills. When the kicker explained that he had asthma, Jimmy exploded. “Asthma! The asthma field is over there!” and he pointed to the main parking lot. And cut the kicker the next morning.
Here’s what I remember about Jimmy Johnson as the head coach of the Cowboys. He was fully involved in every single aspect of every single practice. He was in every huddle. He was running around yelling, jumping, encouraging, teaching, and coaching every minute of every practice. He was in the defensive backfield helping explain coverages. He was with the offensive linemen talking technique. Constant energy. Continuous presence. I remember covering those early training camps at St. Ed’s in Austin. I would step out of my truck in the university parking lot, a quarter mile from the practice fields, and I could hear Jimmy coaching. You could hear the chatter, you could feel the energy. It was a completely different story once Barry Switzer was brought in. I’d be standing on the sidelines with other reporters during a training camp practice and one of us would say, “Where’s Barry?” And it would take all of us several seconds to spot the Cowboys head coach. Typically he was in a golf cart signing autographs for young ladies or hobnobbing with corporate executives behind the kickers. You always knew where Jimmy was during practice. Right in the middle of it. You were drawn to his presence. You never had to guess. You always knew. By contrast, you could never find Switzer. I don’t know what Jerry was paying Barry to do, but it wasn’t to coach.
This video is typical of a Jimmy Johnson practice. It’s awful video, it’s like fourth generation lifted from a bad VCR tape on a 90-year-old TV. But this perfectly depicts what I’m talking about.
The day Jerry Wayne fired Jimmy Johnson and brought in Barry Switzer was the day I began rooting against my favorite team. I couldn’t handle it then and I still can’t handle it now. While searching for the videos in this post, I came across this ABC World News Tonight footage of their coverage of that day. Reporter Armen Keteyian was a prophet when he said, “The aftershocks of today’s action may rattle the club for years to come.” (7:59 mark)
Ha. How about 24 years now and counting?
Congratulations to Jimmy Johnson on his inclusion into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Cowboys Ring of Honor at AT&T Stadium is a joke until Jerry Wayne puts Johnson’s name up there next to Tom Landry’s.