Jerry Jones, along with former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, have been nominated for the contributor positions for next year’s Hall of Fame class. Pat Bowlen, now suffering from Alzheimer’s, was the other owner who was under serious consideration by the contributor sub-committee. Jerry Jones is a notable, famous, and notorious owner of one of the most popular teams in the NFL. He should get some consideration, but Jones going in ahead of Bowlen is, quite frankly, ridiculous for numerous reasons.
Jones’ case would seem to be based on being the owner of the most famous franchise in the league. You know what? They were America’s Team before Jones arrived. Credit him for seeing an opportunity during a temporary down period, but he didn’t exactly turn around the Little Sisters of the Poor from a business perspective.
This article from 1987, less than two years before Jones bought the team, notes that the Cowboys fell all the way to 3rd in merchandise sales (behind the two most recent Super Bowl winners), after having about 25% of the market share in the past.
Here are the records the Broncos and Cowboys since Bowlen (in 1984) and Jones (in 1989) took over, compared to before:
Denver, 1960-1983: 143-189-9
Denver, 1984-Present: 313-197-1
Dallas, 1960-1988: 250-162-6
Dallas, 1989-Present: 230-202-0
So while Jones gets credit for turning around an iconic franchise, it’s Bowlen who laid the framework for actually creating one. Denver was an afterthought during the AFL, mainly known for ugly uniforms. They were not one of the most popular franchises when Bowlen took over. They have been the winningest franchise since he bought the team, were 4th in popularity last year, in the poll taken before the Super Bowl win, and my guess is there is not going to be much separating Dallas and Denver in terms of popularity when the next Harris Poll is released next month. Denver is the Mountain Time Zone team and has national appeal.
Jones’ record as Dallas owner has been mixed. With Jimmy Jones, the Cowboys quickly turned things around, and won three titles. For the last two decades, they have been the definition of mediocrity, with Jones pulling the strings. The Cowboys had a better record before Jones than after.
Sure, Jones has been heavily involved in league negotiations, and was just one of the central figures in the Rams’ move to L.A. Bowlen was a key figure as the chair of the television committee, and was behind the move to Fox, which opened up more competitive bidding, as well as taking Sunday Night Football to NBC.
And then, there’s the timing. Why now? Jones–who in the last year has made comments about Greg Hardy being a leader, and made curious comments about CTE (that drew Jake Plummer’s ire)–doesn’t seem like a pressing add. The Hall of Fame selectors, whether you agree with it or not, seem to apply a first-up, first-in standard, often putting in older players over clear cases among recent retirees. Bowlen would seem a clear case. There have been only five owners put in since the merger: Lamar Hunt and Ralph Wilson with there strong influence on the AFL and merger, Al Davis, Dan Rooney, and this year, Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. Bowlen would be right in line with that group. Jones doesn’t have the consistent on-field track record of the latter three, nor the outsized historical impact of the first two.
It seems a curious choice. I know Denver fans feel like they are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, and in this case, I agree with them. Bowlen should have been the choice.