NFL: Money man Jerry Jones as Hall of Fame pick defies logic

By Ira Miller, The Sports Xchange  |  Aug. 18, 2016 at 11:57 AM
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They call the facility in Canton, Ohio, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and a special selection committee this week made it clear which part of that title was the most important.

It's pro(fessional). Not football, unfortunately.

The nomination of former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue for the Hall by the contributors committee will, no doubt, generate the most controversy because of Tagliabue's disdain for the media, whose members are the voters, and his failure to recognize player health issues, which reverberated after his retirement in the nine-figure concussion case.

But it was the nomination of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that made it clear at least a group of Hall voters have joined with league management in putting money front and center. Jones knows how to make it, no question, but he runs a team that has not even played for a championship in two decades.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear right here. I am one of the 48 voters who will determine the Hall of Fame class of 2017 next February. And I am open-minded on both Tagliabue and Jones, waiting to hear the arguments both pro and con, and there will be plenty of both.

If Jones is elected, he would become the second modern era (joined the league post-1970 NFL-AFL merger) owner in the Hall of Fame, after San Francisco's Eddie DeBartolo, who was chosen last year. And the contrast between the two of them could not be greater. DeBartolo was criticized by fellow owners for spending too much money. Jones is lauded for making money.

There is nothing wrong with making money. Although Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney had it right many years ago, when he arose at a league meeting and chastised his fellow owners for arguing over television revenue, pointing out that all they were doing was collecting it to pass on to the players, anyway.

Nonetheless, it seems strange that should be a Hall of Fame criteria.

Yes, Jones' Cowboys won three Super Bowls in his first few years after buying the team, but those surely were more the handiwork of Jimmy Johnson, the coach Jones fired in a middle-of-the-night drinking rant at a league meeting.

Nonetheless, if you care about such things, Jones deserves credit - or blame - for much of today's NFL marketing.

He was the first to show fellow owners how to unlock hundreds of millions of dollars through sponsorships and merchandising. When he bought the Cowboys, for $140 million in 1989, virtually all a team's income came from ticket sales and television revenue. He met resistance from some old-timers when he began acting like a European soccer titan, doing everything but putting billboards on the players. But today, it's all big business, and two-thirds of the teams in the league have built new stadiums that include a significant amount of facility space devoted to high rollers.

The Cowboys now are estimated to be worth $4 billion, a return of more than 2,800 percent on Jones' initial investment.

Jones also was among the leaders of the charge that installed Tagliabue, an attorney by trade, as commissioner when old guard NFL owners wanted Jim Finks, a general manager who later was elected to the Hall of Fame. The arguments at the time also centered around economics, not football.

In putting forth Jones and Tagliabue - they each will need approval by 80 percent of the voters in February for Hall of Fame selection - the contributors committee, which included just 5 of the 48 Hall voters, eliminated anyone who actually was involved in the football end of the game as opposed to the business end.

And, yes, I know Jones functions as the Dallas general manager, so you could say that he is involved in the football end. In case you wondered how that was working out, in the last two decades the Cowboys have finished a season with a winning record just nine times and won only three playoff games.

If you're looking for another owner for a bust in Canton, a better choice would have been Denver's Pat Bowlen, who was heavily involved in league activities before stepping down two years ago due to Alzheimer's disease. In recent years, Bowlen was the NFL's most influential owner in television dealings and his team hasn't done badly, either: Four Super Bowl appearances including three championships since Dallas last won one, and only five losing seasons in the 32 years Bowlen has owned the team.

But an even better choice would have been a football man instead of a money man, and many of us were surprised that long-time executive Bucko Kilroy was passed over for nomination. Kilroy, who died nine years ago, spent 64 years in the NFL including 13 seasons as a player and 36 years in the front office of the New England Patriots.

The Boston Globe once called him "the man who helped create the science of pro scouting." It added, "In a football sense, he is a genius."

Of course, scouting costs money. In the NFL today, and apparently at the Hall of Fame, too, it's all about making money, not spending it. And give Jerry Jones credit. He knows how to make money. You kind of think, however, the fans in Dallas might wish he knew more about how to make a team.

--Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than six decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.

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