Jerry’s dream: Long wait for 4th ring ends at home

Jerry Jones has three Super Bowl rings, each representing
something special: the first, the repeat, the new coach.

If he gets another this season, it might mean more to him than
all the others combined.

While every NFL team wants to win the title every year, to Jones
and the Dallas Cowboys, there’s more at stake this season.

It starts with the wait since the last championship, 15 years
and counting, the longest drought the franchise’s storied history.
As owner and general manager, Jones has been blamed for letting his
ego get in the way, from firing Jimmy Johnson after back-to-back
titles to refusing to hire a ”football guy” to run the front
office. But now he’s steered them back on course.

The Cowboys have won the division twice in three years under
Wade Phillips and have a roster filled with guys in their prime,
like Tony Romo and Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff.
Sure, Bill Parcells brought in those players, but he’s been gone
long enough to be a footnote if Dallas wins in February; plus, you
can almost see Jones smiling, winking and pointing out who hired
Parcells.

Then there’s the big reason this is a big year.

The Super Bowl is coming to Cowboys Stadium, the $1.2 billion
palace Jones built basically because he could. No team has played a
Super Bowl in its home stadium, and for this team to play the game
in this stadium – well, it’s almost too much to process, even for a
dreamer like Jones.

”I will make a deal with whoever is listening: If we win, it’ll
be the (Super Bowl) ring I wear,” Jones said, laughing during a
recent interview with The Associated Press. ”I joke that before
the last one, I said, ‘If you’ll just let this one happen, I’ll
never ask again for anything of this nature.’ And we got it. So
I’ve been trying to figure out how to make another deal all these
years since.”

Jones won three titles in his first seven years in the league.
It’s an incredible feat under any circumstance, but especially
his.

An Arkansas oil man, he sold practically everything he had to
buy a sinking organization. His first move was firing Tom Landry
and replacing him with a former college teammate who’d never worked
in the NFL. OK, so that guy was Johnson and Troy Aikman was there
for the taking with their first draft pick. The Cowboys went 1-15
that season, which many figured would be typical under their
unusual new regime.

Jones had the last laugh when Dallas won the Super Bowl
following the 1992 season. And again after the ’93 season, when he
refused Emmitt Smith’s contract demands until the club lost its
first two games and a frustrated Charles Haley put a helmet through
a wall. Jones had an extra dose of satisfaction after the ’95
season, when he won with another coach – Barry Switzer, who’d been
an assistant coach when Jones and Johnson were in college and had
been Johnson’s rival as a college coach.

The years since have been agonizing for Jones. There were
seasons doomed from the start because of salary cap woes. Other
years provided false hope.

”You could’ve owned a nice piece of this team betting me that
it would be that long before we had (another) Super Bowl team,” he
said.

A breakthrough came last season. The Cowboys won a playoff game
for the first time since 1996.

Although they were eliminated the next week – ”Such a lost
opportunity, as healthy as we were,” Jones still regrets – that
taste of postseason success provided something solid to support the
owner’s infectious optimism about the upcoming season. Dallas fans
have been happy to catch the fever.

”I would have to say right now there’s more anticipation and
joy in thinking what we had ahead of us this year than at any time
since I’ve owned the Cowboys,” Jones said.

Part of it is the minimal turnover of the roster and coaching
staff. However, there also are plenty of obstacles. The offense has
struggled all preseason. Injuries are already mounting. There’s
also a schedule that Jones says ”will sober you up quick” – road
trips to Minnesota and Green Bay and consecutive, late-season games
against last year’s Super Bowl teams (New Orleans at home on
Thanksgiving, then at Indianapolis).

Still, there’s a quiet confidence in the locker room indicating
this club is embracing those high expectations. Unlike the
in-your-face swagger of the 1990s Cowboys, these guys don’t mention
the Super Bowl. Their attitude is that they’d prefer others saying
it for them.

The organization itself is happy to point out why this would be
a great year for another Lombardi trophy.

The Cowboys are making a big deal out of this being their 50th
anniversary season, wearing commemorative jersey patches and
honoring former captains at every home game. Those patches would go
from novelty to part of team lore if they wind up on a Super Bowl
highlight reel. And you can be sure those old-timers will pass
along words of wisdom when they visit the locker room.

There’s also the unpopular reality that whichever team wins this
Super Bowl could have a long reign because of the unsettled labor
contract.

Worst-case scenario, there wouldn’t be a Super Bowl in February
2012. It’s no coincidence Jones landed the Super Bowl for this
season and not the next one.

”I sure didn’t want to wait, knowing what we had coming up,”
Jones said.

Jones certainly knows all about it.

As part of the executive committee for the league’s management
council, he’s ”directly involved in the strategies and
decision-making,” and has been for two previous rounds of labor
talks. He’s also part of the NFL broadcasting committee and
chairman of the NFL Network committee.

”Every attempt will be made not to have a work stoppage,” he
said. ”We have no way of knowing whether we will or not.”

Jones also is quick to note that no matter what the new system
looks like, ”we’re ready for it.” In other words, there won’t be
a repeat of the harsh salary-cap payback for trying to squeeze out
one more title run in the late 1990s.

The glory days of Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith seem
like forever ago to Cowboys fans. In football terms, they were. The
Triplets have been retired long enough to be reunited in the Pro
Football Hall of Fame.

Smith’s ceremony was just last month. It’s possible Jones could
get a gold blazer himself one day; he’s been nominated before. And
think about how much it means to the NFL that he’s revived the
prominence of ”America’s Team.” You can even quantify it: Forbes
magazine last week valued the club he bought for around $150
million as now being worth $1.8 billion, tops in the league and a
team that got more valuable in a bad economy.

Weeks away from turning 68, Jones has few regrets and one wish –
a fourth ring to cinch his legacy.

”I’m well aware,” he said, ”if you win a Super Bowl, or Super
Bowls, that’s an important part of how you’re viewed in
sports.”