Jerry Jones: Al Davis 'a great friend'

IRVING, Texas -- The memories came flooding back to Jerry Jones' mind Saturday afternoon, from the first time he met Al Davis to one of the last times he talked to the Oakland Raiders owner.

"You might go as far as to say I loved him," the Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager said.

Davis passed away Saturday morning in his Oakland home. He was 82.

To Jones, Davis was a mentor, role model and competitor, but mostly he was a trusted friend.

"I'm really saddened by his passing," Jones said. "He was a great friend. He was someone that I admired. He was very loyal and very passionate about football. Gene [Jones' wife] and I were invited to his 70th birthday in Las Vegas, and we were the only people there -- period -- that were not Raiders. It was a real point of pride with me."

Not long after purchasing the Cowboys on Feb. 25, 1989, Jones heard from Davis. For the next 15 to 20 years, Jones said, "very few weeks and certainly no month went by where we didn't have extensive conversations."

The first revolved around Lance Alworth, the former Arkansas wide receiver Davis lured to the AFL's San Diego Chargers in 1962. The most rewarding conversation, Jones said, came after the Cowboys went 1-15 in his first year as owner.

"He basically said, 'Don't get down. You're going about this thing the right way. Good things will happen,'" Jones recalled.

In 1992, the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVII to begin a run of three championships in four years, the first time such a feat had occurred in the Super Bowl era.

Another call came in 1990.

"Michael Irvin was coming off surgery and was really struggling," Jones said. "We had Michael on the depth chart as the fourth or fifth wide receiver, and it was because he was early in his rehab. I was talking to Al, and he said, 'Boy, whatever you do, don't even think about any alternative to Michael Irvin. He's the only guy you've got that's got the will to get to the end zone. You be wed to him at the hip.' That was the type of input and conversations we would have."

Irvin returned from knee reconstruction and developed into a Hall of Fame wide receiver, forming the Triplets with Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith to lead the Cowboys to glory in the 1990s.

After Jones made a trade to acquire Charles Haley from San Francisco on Aug. 26, 1992, Davis called again. At the time, Jones wasn't aware Davis was attempting to acquire the Niners' defensive end too.

"Al called me and said, 'You just won the Super Bowl,'" Jones said. "He said, 'That's your piece right there that you don't have. You've got it now with the pressure player.'"

Jones made 12 trades with Davis over the years, the most Dallas made with any organization. They talked before and during every draft. The teams practiced together during training camps over the years in California and in Austin.

"When he would come to camp, we'd eat dinner every night and then we would talk constantly during practice," Jones said. "He would step out and offer up a drill or stop it and say, 'That's enough. We're getting too physical. We're going to hurt somebody,' and we'd move on. But he'd actually do that on the practice field. I never went that far."

Jones is often compared to Davis because of their management styles, which Jones said was a compliment.

Like Davis, Jones had legal issues with the NFL. Over the years, Jones developed into one of the NFL's most important owners. Davis remained a renegade until the end.

"He's been called a maverick. He liked to drum to his own beat," Jones said. "What it was, was his interest -- almost to a fault -- in benefitting the Raiders. But make no mistake about it, he understood the value of a league, of all teams competing, and at the end of the day, he was a league guy as well."

Davis was involved in every decision made by the Raiders, like Jones is with the Cowboys. No detail was too small. The perception that he overreached into avenues owners should not never bothered Davis, nor does it bother Jones.

They each won three Super Bowls. Their teams became brand names. Both became larger-than-life personalities.

"I know he's had his critics relative to the record of the team in recent years, but that's what you ask for when you step up and get involved in the decision-making the way he was," Jones said. "It would've been unthinkable for Al to not be involved in the decisions on a player or certainly the hiring of a coach. It was his passion that in my mind really made the greatest contribution to the National Football League."

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.