By contrast, Johnson says money isn't that important to him. That's why, he says, he could make a great living at the blackjack tables, if he chose. "I have no fear of losing money," he says. After the season Johnson takes his assistants to the Bahamas, "and for the guys who don't make much money, I'll play for them and .win them $5,000 or so," he says. Those who have watched Johnson gamble insist that it is almost as if he wills himself into an unbeatable state. Of course, associates of Jones's note that the owner paid Johnson about $550,000 for '92, and with the security of a 10-year contract, it is easy for Johnson to say he doesn't care about money.
Jones puts a slightly different spin on Johnson's high-rolling image. At Arkansas, where Jones earned a master's in business while completing his football eligibility, he studied a principle called tolerance for ambiguity. "What this means," Jones said before last season, "is that some people work better when they don't know what's going to happen, and some don't work well unless they know exactly what's going to happen. I've known Jimmy Johnson for a long, long time, and he's fine as long as he knows exactly what the rules are. You tell him he has 60 players or he has 30 players and that's it, he'll accept it and go on. You tell him it's fourth-and-a-foot with the score 10-7 in the seventh game of the season, and he'll take a calculated risk and go for it. But he and I operate in different worlds. He has his thumb on everybody in his world. He completely controls it. I can't control my world. I make deals that often require a high tolerance for ambiguity, and I've been making them since I was 16 years old.
"We've got all these [unsigned player] negotiations coming up," he said before last season, "and sometimes the worst thing you can do is set a deadline. Jimmy's going to get impatient, and fans aren't going to understand. But this is my world. I look down that list, and I don't see an Emmitt or a Troy. If, God forbid, Michael Irvin gets thrown in jail and is lost for the year, that wouldn't in any way make us think about calling off the season. I'm not going to say, 'Michael, I love you, how much do you want?' There probably will be a salary cap, and that could cost us a key player or two down the road."
Jones grinned, then summed up: "Jimmy's in the right job, and so am I. If we switched, it wouldn't work."
Way back before the April '92 draft, Jones had said, "I'll try to be very subtle in my influence." But his essential message was not so subtle. "I have the last word," he said.
During the '92 season that fact often drove Johnson nuts. Johnson doesn't want to share the stage or the credit with anyone, especially someone whose football knowledge he doesn't respect. A few days after the Bear game, Johnson indicated that he was winning in spite of Jones. What tormented Johnson was the image that he and Jones were buddies. Drinking buddies. Football buddies. Partners. "I don't know where those [buddy] stories started," Johnson said at the time. "I didn't do anything to kill them. I don't know, maybe you don't want to hurt somebody's feelings. We never went out [socially at Arkansas]. We were both offensive guards as sophomores. We did room together maybe 20 nights on the road, but that was because of our names [rooms were assigned in alphabetical order]. And we were co-captains as seniors—every senior was a co-captain.
"I guess our wives got to know each other watching games together when we were on the road [both men were married in college]. And yes, we did stay in touch, because I was at Oklahoma State and Jerry did a lot of business in Oklahoma City. But it was never this buddy-buddy thing.... Neither of us ever talked about our futures. Jerry was going to make money, and I was going to become an industrial psychologist."
Yet from the day Jones bought the team, the legend of Jimmy and Jerry has grown. Jones never directly said that he and Johnson had lain awake nights in an Arkansas dorm room discussing how, together, they one day would dominate the NFL. But Jones didn't say anything to dispel that myth, either. When he spoke of his coach—"Jimmeh" is the way the name rolls off Jones's Arkansas tongue—it sounded as if they were close.
So the JJ image spread, in Johnson's view, like a plague through America's sports sections. Johnson sometimes overheats at the thought of coaches he respects reading that he was assisted on a trade by Jones—by this rich guy who wants so badly to be cool and doesn't quite know how. Johnson was even irked that many Cowboy fans seemed to forget that he is a native Texan, born and raised in Port Arthur.
Johnson fumed after reading quotes from Jones in which the owner took credit for playing a key role in making draft picks and trades and rebuilding the Cowboys so quickly. Johnson says that Jones is "a frustrated football coach, everybody can see that." Johnson couldn't stand it that a guy who had not paid a nickel of coaching dues could buy an NFL team for $150 million and immediately think that he was one of the boys, one of the coaches and players. Johnson had spent a year as an assistant coach for a Picayune, Miss., high school team that went 0-10, then was an assistant at Wichita State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Pitt and Oklahoma State. Johnson says, "I can X and O with anybody." Bitterly he adds, "The owner, president and general manager of the Cowboys doesn't even watch any tape [game film]."