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SUCH GOOD FRIENDS
Skip Bayless
July 12, 1993
DURING THEIR SUPER BOWL SEASON, THE COWBOYS WERE NEARLY UNDONE BY THE FRICTION BETWEEN COACH JIMMY JOHNSON AND HIS FORMER TEAMMATE, COWBOY OWNER JERRY JONES
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July 12, 1993

Such Good Friends

DURING THEIR SUPER BOWL SEASON, THE COWBOYS WERE NEARLY UNDONE BY THE FRICTION BETWEEN COACH JIMMY JOHNSON AND HIS FORMER TEAMMATE, COWBOY OWNER JERRY JONES

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Jones figured that, at 27-0 after three quarters, the celebration had begun. But, especially after Richards's second fumble, Johnson couldn't stand to see Jones and his entourage basking prematurely in the glow of a 13-3 record. Johnson's world begins and ends with football, and Jones had invaded it. Bandar was the straw that broke the camel's back.

"First team. Get ready!" Johnson yelled.

Emmitt Smith, having clinched his second straight NAFL rushing title, had retired for the day, taking off his shoulder pads and putting on a baseball cap. Quarterback Troy Aikman thought he was safely done for the day too. For the first time as a pro, Aikman had made it through a season without a serious injury. But with Johnson's command Smith and Aikman threw their pads and helmets back on. "Everybody was wondering what the hell was going on," Wise said after the game. Did Johnson really want to risk sending Smith and Aikman back into a game that had no bearing on the Cowboys' playoff situation? Johnson ordered some first-teamers onto the field, but reason prevailed; Smith and Aikman remained on the sideline, and the Cowboys won 27-14.

Before the media were allowed into the locker room, Johnson blasted the team for its sloppy play in the fourth quarter. Then he marched across the hall to meet with reporters. For the third straight week the usually voluble Johnson ended the session quickly and heatedly. When Johnson is agitated in front of the media, his extraordinarily blue eyes dart from side to side. He smacks his lips as if he has just tasted something sour. His face, rounded by nachos and Heinekens, grows danger-zone red. A neatness nut who lives alone in a house with white carpeting, Johnson vented his wrath to the press: "I was not happy with the sloppy play. I'm never happy with sloppy play. I'm never happy when we go out there and flop around." Johnson's eyes darted, his lips smacked, his face reddened. Next question: "Coach, are you glad to get your personal record up to .500?"

"No," Johnson said and stormed off, leaving reporters shaking their heads.

Johnson steamed upstairs to Texas Stadium's Sam Houston Room, where he and his assistants always go to share beers and thoughts on the game. But he didn't stay there long. He took off for Jones's suite. Johnson despises small talk and socializing with people he doesn't know. Normally, the last place he wants to go after games is Jones's suite. But he was going to give his boss a piece of his mind. Maybe he planned to quit. His assistants feared Johnson would cross the line with an insult that would force Jones to fire him.

Moments later the Cowboys' director of college scouting, Larry Lacewell, arrived at the coaches' gathering, where he was told that Johnson had gone to see Jones. Lacewell, who says that he often serves as a buffer between Johnson and Jones, knew he would have to play that role again now. Johnson constantly complained to Lacewell that Jones had cut scouting budgets and manpower until the Cowboys couldn't realistically compete with other NFL teams, and he groused that his coaching staff was underpaid. "But what can I do about the budget?" Johnson would say. "That's not my area." No, it was Jones's.

No doubt all of this had brought Johnson close to the boiling point when he confronted Jones in his suite after the Bear game. Johnson fumed about the grand entrance made by the Jones-Bandar entourage, but his anger at Jones had been building all season. If Johnson, the control freak, had been able to control every inch of his world, the Cowboys would not have played an extra exhibition game in Tokyo in August; wideout Michael Irvin, tight end Jay Novacek and center Mark Stepnoski, all holdouts, would have been signed early in training camp; and Johnson would have a "football man," not Jones, serving as his pro personnel director. If Johnson had total control, he would have an unlimited budget and an owner who would leave him alone. He would not have to tolerate a Jerry Jones bringing princes to the bench area during games.

Later Jones would say that, as usual, he rode out Johnson's storm, assuring Johnson that the last thing he wanted to do was interfere with his coaching. He would call the whole episode "just part of the Jimmy package."

Yet Lacewell says, "When I walked into Jones's suite, their noses were about three inches apart. I felt it was pretty heated, so I tried to make some jokes. Then I said, 'Jimmy, you did win 13 games. That's pretty damn good. Nobody around here has ever done that.' I think Jerry appreciated that I was there. But all Jimmy would do was clench his teeth and say, 'Lace, I'll smile tomorrow.'

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