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Cowboys’ Jerry Jones ends legendary decades-long feud with Jimmy Johnson

Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Cowboys

The stories of Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson are deeply intertwined, and not just with the Dallas Cowboys. The path of one life sheds light on the other. Their successes are both immense, and yet they invite the teasing, tormenting question: What might have been?

One could say that Jones and Johnson, responsible for winning two Super Bowls and resurrecting the Cowboys in the early 1990s, had already made peace with each other in the recent past, but on Thursday, just before Dallas’s NFL preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL Hall of Fame Game, this legendary feud truly came to an end for good.

Jones, appearing next to Johnson on FOX’s pregame show before the Cowboys took the field against the Steelers, announced that Johnson’s name would finally go into the team’s Ring of Honor at AT&T Stadium.

Johnson, feisty as ever, couldn’t resist a dig at his former boss with the Cowboys:

It has been said many times that everything is bigger in Texas. The Cowboys are certainly bigger than most things in Texas. Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson certainly had Texas-sized appetites for victory, and their two Super Bowl wins in the 1992 and 1993 NFL seasons represented the fulfillment of their ambitions.

Yet, as much as they achieved — and as successful as they have been in situations removed from the Cowboys (Jones as a businessman, Johnson as an NFL TV analyst) — there is an undeniable sense that they should have been able to create a Patriots-level NFL dynasty in Dallas.

The Cowboys, having just won Super Bowl XXVIII in January of 1994, were on top of the NFL world, winners of back-to-back Lombardi Trophies. Their core was young, too — Dallas fleeced the Minnesota Vikings and built the foundation for its ascendance in the Herschel Walker trade. The ‘Boys really could have dominated the NFL for a decade if they wanted to.

Jones and Johnson, however, fought for control of the Cowboys. Jones didn’t let his coach do whatever he pleased. Johnson bristled at Jones’ invasive and meddling ways and wouldn’t put up with them, even with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and the rest of a loaded roster in place.

The feud was that nasty, and it led to a divorce before the Cowboys’ 1994 season.

The bitterness which consumed Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson — driven by Jones but not ignored by Johnson — is so striking because these guys had won together well before they teamed up with the Cowboys and restored the franchise a few years after Jones pushed out the iconic Tom Landry at the end of the 1980s.

Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson were teammates on the 1964 Arkansas team which went unbeaten and captured the college football national championship. When Jones hired Johnson to bring the Cowboys back to greatness, he wasn’t hiring an outsider. He was hiring someone he knew really well.

The depth of animosity between the two men was reflected, in part, by Jones’s decision to replace Johnson on the Cowboys in 1994 with Barry Switzer. Why was Switzer, of all people, chosen for a job other men would have done far better?

Switzer was an assistant coach on that 1964 Arkansas team. It was as though Jones told Johnson, “If you aren’t willing to do what I want, I’ll find another Razorback to do the job… even though this is someone you defeated in a national championship game.”

That game was the 1988 Orange Bowl, in which Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes beat Switzer’s Oklahoma Sooners, 20-14, for the national title. Jones’s hire of Switzer was a way to bust Johnson’s chops one more time.

All these years later, the Cowboys haven’t returned to the Super Bowl since Switzer won it in January of 1996. It’s impossible for Jones to ignore how badly he messed up during a period of enormous prosperity. The fact that it took 27 years since Johnson left Dallas for the organization to finally give him a spot in the Ring of Honor is ridiculous… but that captures the extent to which Jones could not let go of his ego.

Finally, though, Jimmy Johnson will get his due from Jerry Jones, a fitting way to celebrate Johnson’s official enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.

As Johnson said after beating the San Francisco 49ers in the 1992 NFC Championship Game, “How ’bout them Cowboys?” Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones have finally made up. It was long overdue.