It took a Netflix documentary deal and a two-hour meeting organized and mediated by Troy Aikman, but Jerry Wayne is finally putting Jimmy Johnson into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor. Where he belongs. Where he has belonged since the day Jerry ran him off less than a month after winning back to back Super Bowls in March of 1994. Jerry introduced Jimmy as the Cowboys coach when he bought the team in February 1989, telling us that Johnson as coach would be worth more than five number-one draft picks. He was right. Following that second consecutive Super Bowl championship, Jerry told reporters that any of 500 coaches could win a Super Bowl with his team. He was wrong. So, so, so very wrong.
It’s hard to explain this to anybody younger than 40, but in 1989 the Cowboys had suffered three straight losing seasons and Cowboys fans were losing their minds. It had been six years since Dallas had played in an NFC Championship game. Unheard of. This wasn’t going to cut it. Something drastic had to happen. The Dallas Morning News conducted a readers poll asking if Tom Landry, the architect of five Super Bowl teams, the legend who engineered 20 consecutive winning seasons, should be fired. From the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, the Cowboys had never gone more than two seasons without playing in the conference championship game. Yes, it was time. Nobody thought otherwise.
We hated the way Jerry did it, but we all knew Landry needed to be let go. So he was. And Jones brought in the anti-Landry to replace him.
Jimmy made his mark on the Cowboys. He took Dallas from 3-13 and 1-15 to championship dynasty in five years. He gave us the asthma field, personally ignited the Cowboys-Eagles rivalry, and engineered the Herschel Walker trade. He was self-deprecating about his helmet hair and cherub cheeks and he brashly told Galloway to “put it in three-inch headlines!”
Jimmy didn’t invent “How ’bout them Cowboys!” He just took what he heard Cowboys fans saying all over Dallas, what we and our parents and uncles and grandads had said for decades, and repeated it in front of the national media after beating the 49ers in that first title game. That’s what made it so great, that’s what endeared us to Jimmy, that he picked up on a Dallas thing and adopted it himself.
Jimmy Johnson gave the Cowboys their swagger back. He put them back at the top of the NFL and kept them in front of the national attention. By winning. By setting incredibly high standards. By refusing to accept anything less than everything.
It’s a blasted shame that it all ended when it did and the way it did. The worst part is how Jerry has kept Jimmy out of the Ring of Honor all these years. I hate that it took a Netflix deal to make this happen. I hate that Jerry is going to use tonight’s halftime ceremony as the ending to his ludicrous self-serving film. When Jerry and Jimmy announced before the Carolina game that the date had been set for Johnson’s induction, it felt like watching a hostage negotiation video. They each heaped praise on the other and swore they never disagreed about anything–and the Netflix cameras rolled. It’s poetic, I guess. For the man who cares much more about the production and the entertainment and the sponsorship dollars than he does winning championships, how else could this have happened?
I’m anxious for it to just happen. Let’s just get this over with and make it official, finally. Knowing what we know about Jerry, I wouldn’t be shocked if they pull back the curtain on Jimmy’s name tonight and it’s in a 9-point font. Or if Jerry surprises everyone by unveiling Barry Switzer’s name right next to Jimmy’s. Jerry will find some way to royally mess this up tonight.
But once Jimmy’s name is up there where it belongs with Landry and Staubach and Lilly, with Aikman and Irvin and Emmitt, I’ll have some closure. We can all finally close the book on the Dallas Cowboys as we knew them, a public trust in which we could be proud, a football franchise that put winning first and represented all of Texas, something big and great that brought us together, something excellent we could brag about. Jimmy understood that and wouldn’t settle for anything less.
Congratulations to Jimmy Johnson on a long overdue honor. He has always belonged in the Cowboys Ring of Honor.