Visitors to ESPN.com's home page earlier this week saw the Dallas Cowboys' Monday Night Football loss at the top of the site's news feed. But the crucial bit of information that the headline teased was not the final score, or Tony Romo's five interceptions. Nor was it the impressive play of the visiting Chicago Bears.
Instead, the feed showed this:
"Jerry Jones down after MNF debacle," was the headline on Calvin Watkins' actual story, which reported on the owner's comments during his weekly radio show on KRLD-FM.
"Let me say this ... I know this: I couldn't be more disappointed," Jones said. "Frankly, I'm surprised we didn't play better."
Because, of course, it is totally normal that the one person America always wants to hear from about "America's Team," is not the coach, the quarterback or the non-existent general manager, but the team owner/GM. And the football marketing-industrial complex, which has also brought us Jerry in a Papa John's commercial and Victoria's Secret in Cowboys Stadium, seems to like it that way.
The people who don't like it that way are actual Cowboys fans who want to see the team win games. But given the state of things since 1997, the owner is the blue star's biggest star.
"Look, as a Cowboys fan, I'd rather watch the actual team," observes/complains Grantland staff writer Bryan Curtis. "Yet it's Jones who commands our attention."
Curtis (who is also a Texas Monthly special correspondent), ticks off Jerry's latest exploits, from the pizza and the panties to his various TV appearances (including an upcoming cameo on FX's The League ) to his handling of Dez Bryant.
He also points out the existence of something called "Jerry Wipes," which benefit the Salvation Army, and are not as bad as you might think a product branded with the name of a 69-year-old man might be.
"Just think -- one day you're standing next to Jerry and he needs his glasses cleaned," the team's online store pitches. "Just pull out a Jerry Wipe and you'll look like a champ!" (As Curtis explained, the merch reflects a moment between Jerry and his son-in-law on national TV during the Giants game).
For Curtis, Jones—as well as Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Oklahoma State booster T. Boone Pickens—represents the apotheosis of the self-made Texas oilman as sports mogul.
When we used to talk about an utterly shameless, super-rich, "larger than life" Texan, we talked about an oilman. Now, we're more likely talking about the owner of a sports franchise. J.R. has given way to J.J. The Texas sports owner is the new über-Texan, the man who embodies the state's gonzo mythology.
Curtis makes the case that, like the wildcatters before him, Jones delights in going with his gut, thumbing his nose at East Coast old money and defying organizational authority (i.e. the NFL). Cowboys Stadium, a.k.a. Jerry World, is his modern-day equivalent to the massive family mansion, right down to the putting-on-airs art collection. And for all the ha-ha reactions to Jones' use of the apparent double entendre "glory hole," this past July, the term actually does come from the oil bidness.
"You’d like to think that if the show were on today, J.R. [Ewing] would own a Dallas sports team," this writer observed when Texas Monthly selected The Ten Greatest TV Texans" in October of 2010. Instead, TNT's new Dallas has been yet another pop culture pedestal for Jones, as well as Cowboys Stadium .
The New Oilmen are useful to Texas. For one thing, they're famous. For another, they keep alive the old notion that Texans are different from other Americans. As a Texan, I'm not sure this was ever true. But the New Oilmen make us think that Texans are not only different but also — in an interesting way — more fully realized.
This is probably a good place to note that Cuban has an NBA title, and Pickens has a Fiesta Bowl ring. Yet Jones's team — as no one needs reminding after Monday night — sucks. I think that's what's so strange about watching Jones hawk Jerry Wipes or rap on TV. Oilman swagger without success feels as odd as, well, the Dallas reboot.
Indeed, part of the fun of being America's Team was that in reality, most people outside of Texas (and in Houston) loved to hate the Dallas Cowboys. And the biggest reason for that hatred was the Cowboys won and won and won. Now all everybody hates is Jerry Jones. Including Dallas Cowboys fans.