Never say never, because eventually never might somehow evolve into obviously. Such is the case for the Dallas Cowboys, who have been bearing the cross of the infamous split from head coach Jimmy Johnson in the mid-1990s, and after two Super Bowl wins, no less. Fast forward to 2021, and owner Jerry Jones has mustered just one additional championship and even that’s argued as a nod to the roster Johnson helped build — his replacement Barry Switzer being accused of simply keeping the Ferrari on the pavement during the 1996 season. And as Johnson readies to be immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he and Jones officially buried their decades-long hatchet on national television.
On Thursday night, only minutes before the Hall of Fame Game kicked off in Canton, Ohio, between the Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, Jones sat next to Johnson on the Fox Sports pregame show and announced the latter would be inducted into the coveted Ring of Honor in Dallas. It’s a moment no one ever thought would arrive, especially given just how toxic their divorce was and how much venom has been thrown in both directions in the years since.
That is now, officially, water under a very long bridge.
Excited for the new Cowboys season? We are too! Follow along on the CBS Sports app and get the latest insights from Patrik Walker, who’s on the ground in Dallas. Plus, get the latest Dak Prescott news, Ezekiel Elliott predictions, and much more from our team of experts. If you already have the app, you need to set the Cowboys as your favorite team for up-to-the-second news and analysis.
There were hints that this moment would arrive sooner than later, with an aging Jones becoming much more introspective than he’s been — ever. He recently did an uncharacteristic about-face when asked about Johnson, opting to shoulder the blame for the split as opposed to doing his best not to.
Speaking from the first press conference of Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, California, Jones got emotional about it all.
“The idea of being a part and coming to training camp goes to my mind, and of course Jimmy was involved [back] in those days. All of that comes to mind when I think of those times,” said Jones. “We actually were together here four-and-a-half years, and I had known him for 10 to 15 years before that, or 20 years before that, and thought the world of him or he wouldn’t have been the coach of the Cowboys.”
And speaking of Switzer, it was he who looked Jones in the eyes and called it like he saw it.
“When I look back at the time that we got to enjoy and what happened to us during that time, I go back to what Barry Switzer said,” Jones continued. “Barry Switzer came in the office and Jimmy had just left. Barry came down from Norman, Oklahoma, to talk about getting the job. And he comes in and he said, ‘Where’s Jimmy?’
“Now, Barry had coached us both. He said, ‘Where’s Jimmy?’ I said, ‘Jimmy’s gone.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s not right. Get him. Get him in here. Where’s Jimmy?’
“I said, ‘Barry, Jimmy’s gone. We’re sitting here talking about you being the coach.’ I said, ‘What in the world are you so anxious to talk to Jimmy about?’ He said, ‘I just want to get both you little a–holes on this couch and ask you both how could you f— this up.'”
Jones didn’t view it that way at the time, but with the benefit of age, experience and hindsight, he certainly does now.
“Well, I just think of those great times,” said Jones, as he began to fight back tears. “And Jimmy’s a great coach. Ridiculous, my role — it was my job was to keep it together. It was my job. Should have had deference to something that was working good.
“Those are the things that come to my mind. We had a great run of it. He’s a great coach, and I’m proud to have him as a friend, and proud to have had the times that we had. We just had a great experience.”
The Cowboys have never been able to regain the magic they possessed when both Johnson and Jones were in the building, just as the former couldn’t achieve similar success without the latter in his time spent coaching the Miami Dolphins in his final four seasons in the profession. But now, as both join each other in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jones wants to pay his penance and put Johnson’s name in the rafters in the near future.
“I’ve never been able to know why I f—-d it up,” confessed Jones at camp. “No, I can’t answer those questions.”
Well, at least a big one got answered on Thursday night.