DALLAS (AP) — Jimmy Johnson moved from one interview to another, smiling plenty and comfortably addressing questions about his relationship with Jerry Jones in a rare offseason appearance to celebrate the 1992 Dallas Cowboys, who won both their first Super Bowl.
They were in the same building on the 28th anniversary of Jones buying the Cowboys, firing the only coach America’s Team ever had in Tom Landry and hiring Johnson, his former college teammate at Arkansas.
And it was about a month shy of 23 years since Jones and Johnson had an acrimonious split after winning a second straight title. The event Saturday night, pitched as the 25th anniversary of the team that started the Dallas dynasty of the 1990s, wasn’t a time for bitter memories.
“I’m just happy for what we had,” said Johnson, who forced his way out after Jones infamously suggested that 500 coaches could win the Super Bowl with the Dallas roster. “We had a great, great thing going, and so I’ll look back at those years and appreciate what we did.”
At least a couple of times, Jones reminded reporters what he said the day he hired Johnson — that the coach who won a national championship and almost had two more at Miami was worth five first-round draft picks.
The brash owner didn’t mention the comment that finished off a relationship that was already deteriorating.
“Jimmy and I really understand the circumstances and to some degree we have a good feel for each other, and so I’ve always had to overlook his foibles, but he’s had to overlook mine, too,” Jones said. “We just absolutely had five years together that you just can’t write a book and make it any more rewarding.”
In five seasons under Jones and Johnson, the Cowboys went from 1-15 to two-time Super Bowl champs. Eventually, Dallas became the first franchise to win three Super Bowls in four years, but the third was with Barry Switzer as coach.
Switzer attended the event engineered by Troy Aikman, the quarterback on those three Super Bowl winners. It almost goes without saying that the other two Hall of Fame “Triplets” — all-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith and receiver Michael Irvin — were there.
Johnson, who rarely leaves his home on the Florida Keys in the weeks after the Super Bowl, made it as a favor to Aikman. He told his former quarterback “a long time ago” that if a reunion happened, he would be there.
Jones beat his former coach to the Hall of Fame, getting elected in Houston the night before the Super Bowl. The billionaire former wildcatter will be inducted in August.
Johnson said he saw his former boss there and congratulated him — and made it clear during the reunion that Jones deserved the honor.
“You look at what the impact he has made on the NFL since he’s been in the league, the value of every franchise can be attributed really to Jerry Jones,” Johnson said. “His passion, his work ethic, and what he’s done for the league, he deserves to go in there and I’m happy for him.”
Smith has never been sure about the public portrayal of the breakup that some players believe cost the Cowboys a chance to win three straight Super Bowls, something that still hasn’t been done. Dallas lost to San Francisco in the NFC championship game in Switzer’s first season.
“A lot of the things that was mentioned, yeah, it was bad at the time,” Smith said. “But time heals things. And plus, the real skinny, people may not know the real deal. It may have been time for Jimmy to go ahead and say, ‘I had enough.'”
After two years away from coaching, Johnson replaced Hall of Famer Don Shula with the Miami Dolphins. Four years, a 2-3 playoff record and no more Super Bowl trips later, he left the sideline for good and has been a popular TV studio analyst ever since.
Jones turned the Cowboys into the first pro sports franchise worth $4 billion , according to Forbes magazine.
“They’re going to be connected whether they want to be or not, because of what they did in bringing the Cowboys back,” said Nate Newton, an offensive lineman for those Super Bowl winners.
Jones seems to understand that.
“In a way, the Cowboys helped him get to spend his life the way he wanted to spend it,” Jones said. “And the Cowboys made me get to spend the life beyond anything I ever dreamed.”