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Deep Into His Job
Ed Hinton
September 07, 1992
Jimmy Johnson dived headfirst into coaching the Cowboys, and he won't come up for air until he wins a Super Bowl
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September 07, 1992

Deep Into His Job

Jimmy Johnson dived headfirst into coaching the Cowboys, and he won't come up for air until he wins a Super Bowl

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Jimmy went home to bed, but then the girl's father phoned. "When Jimmy came to the phone, he said, 'Hello,' and then 'aaagghh,' like he was going to throw up," says Allene. "That was when I knew he'd been drinking. I just sat down and cried."

Wayne, who hadn't even seen Jimmy earlier that evening, walked in on the commotion. "I said, 'I know the girl. I'll take care of it,' " says Wayne. "And Daddy turned and said, 'Oh, you're the one.' "

"Jimmy had convinced us that Wayne had made him drunk," says C.W.

"I never blamed Wayne," says Jimmy. "I don't lie. They assumed it was Wayne's fault, because there were very few times I was ever bad."

"Jimmy was a con artist. Probably still is," says Wayne, without malice. Now a refinery maintenance foreman in Baytown, Texas, Wayne speaks of his little brother with pride.

C.W. doesn't recall exactly what Jimmy's IQ test score was but says that "160 rings a bell." Jimmy made good grades and played his heart out as a guard and linebacker for Buckshot Underwood, an old buddy of Bear Bryant's, at Jefferson High. Once, in a game, "Jimmy was running downfield and pointed to his mouth and hollered that he'd got a tooth knocked out," says C.W. "Buckshot hollered back, 'Keep goin'! We'll get you a new one!' "

Maxfield thought Scar Head's speed and strength came naturally, but C.W. says that "all one summer, while he was working for me at the dairy, he wore lead weights around his ankles." Most of the Southwest Conference schools plus Alabama joined the chase for the squat-bodied kid with the shocking quickness and the ferocious forearm. But his parents were Arkansas folks still, and Jimmy went where he knew their hearts were.

Jimmy Jumpup On the practice field at Arkansas, a few teammates called Johnson, a 5'11", 195-pound noseguard, Jimmy Jumpup because "when he'd get knocked down, he'd be up so fast," says Jerry Jones, a Razorback guard who would not forget that trait in Johnson. Jones would go on to become an oil and gas wildcatter, which is as pure a high-stakes gambler as you'll find in business. Nobody plays hunches harder than a wildcatter looking for a lock, a hole card, a secret advantage in searching out oil deposits. Nobody is better at keeping his edge to himself until the right moment. It turned out that Jones was pretty good at it, and he became a multimillionaire by the mid-1970s.

When Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989, he promptly fired Landry and played his hole card by hiring Johnson away from Miami. And he caught hell from the Texas media for buying a plaything for his old Arkansas roommate to coach. Says Jones, "To think that I would spend $140-something million—everything I'd ever worked for—and make a decision based on a friendship, is unfair to Jimmy, and it demeans me." What he had done was to keep track of Jimmy Jumpup through the years, the way a big investor tracks a promising little company.

In truth Johnson and Jones were paired in a hotel room on Friday nights before Arkansas road games, but that was about the extent of their rooming together. Both married as undergraduates and lived off campus. And they weren't nearly as chummy as they have been made out to have been. "We haven't done half a dozen things socially since we've known each other," says Johnson, who was a year behind Jones at Arkansas. And neither ever thought the other would wind up in football after college. Johnson, a psychology major, meant to take his people skills into business, as an industrial psychologist.

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