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Jones is right about Johnson

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Keeping Up With Mr. Jones (6:43)

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones discusses a wide range of topics from not drafting Johnny Manziel to his thoughts on how he has performed as general manager and his feelings about former coach Jimmy Johnson. (6:43)

Lord knows I've often criticized Jerry Jones in this space and on "First Take." I've even concluded the man has become a caricature of his hillbilly-huckster self, now savoring wildly entertaining "moral victories" (last season's Peyton Manning 51, Tony Romo 48 at JerryWorld) as much as he does forgettable wins.

Yep, keep winning those TV ratings with your wildly loved/hated 8-8 team, Jerry! Keep minting money while flashing that increasingly antique Super Bowl ring! Keep lopsided-grinning about how America's Team is by far the NFL's most valuable team!

That's my view of Jerry Jones now.

This is about Jerry Jones then, in the early 1990s.

This is about why I do NOT blame Jerry Jones for telling ESPN's Don Van Natta he will NOT enshrine Jimmy Johnson in the Cowboys' Ring of Honor. No doubt most people see this as just another reason Jones should fire himself. No doubt the outcry from Cowboys fans is: Come on, Jerry, quit holding such a petty grudge. We fans deserve to have Jimmy in our Ring of Honor!

In my view, there's nothing petty about this grudge.

Before that first Super Bowl season, in 1992, I decided to write a book about a year inside a young, talented team on the verge and the edge, run by two outrageously cocky upstarts who played football together at the University of Arkansas. When I had finished researching and writing "The Boys," I was left wondering how Jones hadn't fired Johnson already. In Jones' shoes, I probably would have.

No man should have to put up with the mean-spirited humiliation Jimmy often inflicted on Jerry in front of front-office staffers, assistant coaches and players. Jimmy all but dared Jerry to fire him, and after they won their second Super Bowl together, following the 1993 season, one final insult at a restaurant finally sent Jerry over the edge. He fired the coach who had won two straight Super Bowls and who, to the NFL world, appeared poised to win two or three more.

Impossible ... unless you knew the way the coach had treated the owner for much of the previous three seasons.

I took a lot of heat for detailing in "The Boys" why Jimmy wouldn't last much longer with Jerry. After all, Cowboys fans, celebrating their first Super Bowl in 15 years, had been brainwashed by four years of myth-building stories about how "the best friends who were teammates, roommates and co-captains at the University of Arkansas had reunited to knock the NFL on its butt."

One afternoon in the middle of that '92 season, when Jimmy was in a particularly foul and nasty mood, he confided that he and Jerry were road roommates only because of alphabetical order (Johnson, Jones) and co-captains only because every senior was a co-captain. So why hadn't he set the media straight from the start, in 1989?

My view: Jimmy had played Jerry for a fool, leading him to believe they were lifelong friends who shared a be-true-to-your-school bond. Jerry, from Little Rock, Arkansas, does bleed Razorback red. Jimmy, from Port Arthur, Texas, pretty much just supports the University of Jimmy. Yet even though Jimmy had won a national championship at the University of Miami, he had zero NFL experience in '89. Only one man was going to hire him to succeed the great Tom Landry -- the one man who was naïve or brazen enough to fire the great and powerful Landry.

Jerral Wayne Jones. So Jimmy humored Jerry into believing they would make perfect NFL partners -- even though he despised the fact Jerry was buying his way into the NFL and naming himself general manager.

For the record, Jerry did start at offensive guard for Arkansas' 1964 national championship team, while Jimmy was an all-conference defensive lineman. But while Jimmy inched his way up the coaching ladder, beginning as an assistant on an 0-10 Picayune (Miss.) High School team, with assistant coach stops at Wichita State and Iowa State, Jerry plunged penniless into the oil and gas business, talked his way up that ladder and twice lost his shirt before striking it very rich.

But the joke ultimately was on Jimmy, who underestimated Jerry, who told me he retained contractual final say on all football moves. Jimmy thought he could "handle" Jerry. When he couldn't, Jimmy turned on Jerry with a vengeance.

Many Cowboys staffers told me stories of how Jimmy, sometimes fueled by his beloved Heinekens, profanely ridiculed his owner and boss in front of others. Again and again Jerry managed to grin and bear the verbal abuse, telling me it was just part of managing "the Jimmy package." No coach I've ever covered could create a locker-room force field the way Johnson could. But it couldn't last long because its intensity often consumed its creator. Johnson's psycho side was always a hair trigger away. He was able to motivate by fear because even his stars were afraid of him. When they least expected it, Johnson could fly into a rage often born of the pressure eating him alive. While Johnson thought he was winning in spite of Jones, the players on those two Super Bowl teams often felt they were winning in spite of the coach they hated more than they loved.

Yet Jerry, no dummy, knew that from Jimmy's happy/mad force field Super Bowls could spring ... as long as Jimmy could hold himself together. Assistant coaches told me that a couple of times during that first Super Bowl season, Johnson told them he was going to quit. My view: That was as much because of the pressure he felt as his disgust for Jones. No doubt Jones' cockeyed optimism was sometimes the perfect antidote to Johnson's monstrous Mr. Hyde.

Yet Jerry ultimately realized he had been deceived and betrayed by a fellow alum he thought was a friend. That's why he momentarily choked up on camera when Van Natta asked if he's going to put Johnson in the team's Ring of Honor.

Jerry composed himself and said: "I lost my tolerance for having an associate, a friend, not be loyal."

Of course, in front of others, Johnson often belittled Jones' football knowledge ("My girlfriend knows more football!"), treated him like an uncool bumpkin and raged if Jones was given even a sliver of credit for building the Super Bowl teams. No doubt Early Jerry, in '92 and '93, could get insufferably full of himself and his status as owner/GM of the Super Bowl champs.

BUT: With Johnson's encouragement, Jones did pull off the near impossible, acquiring Charles Haley from San Francisco after the 49ers had deemed him uncoachable and unmanageable. No way those Cowboys win that first Super Bowl without Haley's often unblockable pass rushing.

AND: Against Johnson's wishes, Jones went solo and acquired safety Thomas Everett, a veteran leader and hitter, from Pittsburgh. Everett became a key final piece to what in July had looked like an unsolvable puzzle.

And of course, if Jones hadn't managed to sign Deion Sanders away from the 49ers, Johnson's replacement, Barry Switzer, probably wouldn't have been able to win Jones a third ring.

Jones did -- and does -- deserve some credit for the three Super Bowls. After all, it all started with his decision to fire Landry and hire Johnson.

It ended at the league meetings in March 1994, when Jerry stopped by a table of Cowboys coaches and staffers and their wives and proposed a toast "to the Dallas Cowboys." Everyone raised a glass except Johnson. Jones tried again. Johnson just glared at him. Last straw. Ballgame.

So condemn Jerry if you must for keeping Jimmy out of the Ring. After all, Jerry's now the easiest target in sports (and just might have the thickest skin). But I can't blame the man for refusing to put the name of the coach who betrayed him on the wall of the stadium known as JerryWorld.

Why give Jimmy one last chance to insult him by refusing to show up for his enshrinement?