35 Years Ago: Jones Buys Cowboys

Jerry Jones sits at a news conference after purchasing the Dallas Cowboys in 1989.
Jerry Jones sits at a news conference after purchasing the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. | Image by Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys have been a staple of Dallas sports since becoming the NFL’s first expansion franchise in 1960, and this week brings the anniversary of a critical moment in the franchise’s history.

Thirty-five years ago this Sunday, February 25, owner Jerry Jones bought the team from then-owner H.R. “Bum” Bright for $140 million, ushering in a new era of Dallas football that would include three Super Bowl titles in four years after five consecutive losing seasons, including a 1-15 mark in 1989.

Bright had bought the team in 1984 after 19 consecutive winning seasons as the franchise built itself up under owner Clint Murchison Jr. and legendary head coach Tom Landry in the late 1960s. Yet, his tenure as owner was marred with disaster, as the team saw just one winning season and plummeted in value before he sold it to Jones — who once told The Oklahoman he agreed to the $140 million price on a coin flip, despite resistance from his accountant.

“After a month of researching it all, I told Jerry point-blank this was ridiculously overpriced and buying the Cowboys would be financial suicide,” Jack Dixon recalled to DallasCowboys.com in 2019. “He could have gone dead-dog broke on this.”

Jones has been a polarizing figurehead for the team since the sale. His first move after buying the team was to fire Landry, who had led the team since its inception, and hire his former Arkansas teammate, Jimmy Johnson.

“I really couldn’t have handled all that much worse, and the really sad part of it is I idolized Tom Landry and everything he stood for,” Jones said in 2019. “It was because of him and what he accomplished and the way he accomplished it that I wanted to buy the Cowboys. I offered him a front-office position, told him he could name the position. He wasn’t interested, which I totally understood. I didn’t want to fire him. I just wanted Jimmy Johnson as my head coach.”

Johnson and Jones would help lead the Cowboys to multiple championships, but their relationship eventually became strained, and the team parted ways with Johnson after the 1993-1994 season.

Still, the early days of the Jones era had Dallas looking like a dynasty with its success and legendary players — like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Nate Newton, Charles Haley, and Darren Woodson — who brought immense pride back to the franchise after a lowly five-year period.

However, the Cowboys have faltered since winning their last Super Bowl — making the playoffs 13 times in the last 28 years but losing before the conference championship each season. At this point, many believe Jones cannot “stay out of his own way” and blame him for the failures of the last three decades, even going as far as to start petitions to encourage his removal or even the sale of the team.

Regardless of what you think of his ownership style and expertise in matters pertaining to the team on the field, Jones has helped amplify the team’s brand, building it into one of the world’s most valuable sports teams with a valuation of $9 billion, according to Forbes’ most recent report of the most valuable teams worldwide.

While he impressively turned the team around financially, all that would be easier to praise if the product on the field matched what it did in the early days of the Jones era, but like it or not, Jones helped bring the team out of despair and has built an “empire” from which he is not eager to depart.

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