CANTON, Ohio -- To understand how Jerry Jones got to where he will be Saturday night, as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you have to go back to North Little Rock, Arkansas.
You have to hear about Little Pat. You have to hear about the bow tie. You have to hear about Pat's Super Market. You have to hear about the bandstand. You have to hear about a Seventh-day Adventist.
Then you will gain a better understanding of Jones, the owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, and how he was able to join the most prestigious team in the history of football.
Jones' father, Pat, owned a grocery store in North Little Rock. Jones' mother, Arminta, would have Jerry -- or "Little Pat," as his father's friends called him -- wear a bow tie and greet customers. Arminta would give Jerry a wink if she knew one of the customers was a good tipper. He would carry their basket around, help the person shop and carry their bags out of the store in hopes of landing some spare change.
To draw more people to the store, Jones' father had a highly rated radio show broadcast from there on occasion and even held amateur talent contests. Little Pat took it all in.
"They passed a blue law in the city. Blue law meant you couldn't stay open on Sunday. The only way you could stay open on Sunday is if you were a Seventh-day Adventist and you closed on Saturday," Jones said. "Well, Dad went to the Adventist church and he closed on Saturday and opened on Sunday. Became very controversial but it was a way to make it work. I'm serious. I'm serious. Well, you grew up basically figuring ways to be different and get to where you want to go."
How long did his father remain a Seventh-day Adventist?
"Until they did away with the blue law," Jones said with a laugh.
No wonder Jones can sell like no other.
No owner has changed the NFL's business model more than Jones, but his Hall of Fame résumé is complete because of his team's three Super Bowl wins. He didn't change religions, but he challenged the status quo. He fought owners willing to give a rebate back to the television networks in the early 1990s and helped sell a TV deal that now is considered the best in sports.
He fought the NFL by signing Texas Stadium sponsorship deals with competitors of league partners. It forced teams to market better, to grow the pie, as he likes to say. The Cowboys are the most valuable sports franchise in the world at $4.2 billion, according to Forbes. When he bought the Cowboys in 1989, Jones said, the team was losing $1 million a month.
Donald Trump looked at purchasing the Cowboys and passed. Billionaire Richard Rainwater looked at the team as well and said no. When Jones looked at the Cowboys' books, he had concerns. Friends and business associates told Jones to pass.
"You go down the list, there's a lot of people that had looked at the Dallas Cowboys and said it was a piece of you-know-what financially," Jones said. "And it was. And what was rough, when you looked at the game, you looked at the league -- it had gone three straight negotiations over a period of six or seven years where the rights fees were flat. There were no increases over a period of seven or eight years. I'm talking about for the whole league."
Since Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker knocked on the hotel room door the day before Super Bowl LI in Houston to inform Jones of his selection, Jones has been thinking about his past.
In 1966, Jones, then 23 and working in insurance with his father, wanted to buy the AFL's San Diego Chargers for $5.8 million. His dad told him no. He admits he would have "been over my skis," but all he ever wanted to do was get into pro football.
By the time the Cowboys came on the market, "I thought it really passed me by, my dream," Jones said.
On Feb. 25, 1989, Jones agreed to spend $140 million to purchase the Cowboys and Texas Stadium. There hasn't been a day off since.
The firing of Tom Landry. The 1-15 record in 1989. The drafting of the Triplets: Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith. The three Super Bowl wins in a four-year span in the '90s. The split with Jimmy Johnson. The hiring of Barry Switzer. The staggering depths of three straight 5-11 seasons from 2000-02. The hiring of Bill Parcells. The luck of finding Tony Romo as an undrafted free agent. The building of AT&T Stadium at a cost of $2.1 billion during one of the worst economic downturns in American history.
Saturday night, Jerry Jones stands with the greatest in pro football history.
"It starts with his father. It's just in him, he's not going to accept failure," his son, Stephen Jones, said. "One of his sayings: If you're willing to work hard enough at something, you can always make a bad deal an OK deal. But if you're really willing to work really hard on a good deal, then it becomes a great deal.
"Forty feet in the ground at AT&T [Stadium], I never saw him, [he] never gave me the impression we had a huge problem. Looking back, we had a bigger problem than I understood," Stephen said, referring to the state of the economy at the time the stadium was being built. "He's always been optimistic, and he's that way, he has a unique way about him."
Jerry turns 75 in October. The Cowboys have gone 21 years without a Super Bowl appearance, but expectations this season are as high as they've been in years. Just as he lucked into Romo, he lucked into Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick in 2016. The Cowboys have a roster on the rise.
"We need to win," Jones said. "We need to continue to build on this foundation, this base that we've got right now. We can't rest on our laurels as a team. I, for sure, can't rest on any laurels in my position. And so that when I look at the opportunities ahead in the future, not only for the team but for the NFL, I see a brighter future than I did 29 years ago and I want to be a part of it."
As he makes his speech Saturday night, hundreds of family and friends, teammates and business associates, will be in the audience. His wife, Gene, will serve as his presenter. His children, Stephen, Charlotte and Jerry Jr., will be watching proudly. His nine grandchildren will be there as well.
Pat and Arminta will be there too -- in Jones' mind and in his heart.
"They should have thrown me back had I not amounted to something," Jones said. "I had some great coaching from family. That's the way you live."