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Cowboys followed Davis' blueprint to become NFL's top brand

The NFL's most valuable and identifiable franchise is owned by Jerry Jones.

That brand, the league's most powerful of 32, has Al Davis' fingerprints all over it.

Jones, like Davis, acts not only as principle owner of his club but also as its general manager. Jones, like Davis, took his franchise to new heights by challenging the authority of others, pushing back and forcing the league to think differently. Jones, like Davis, believed in his club's ability to take talented but troubled players and draw the most out of them.

In recent years, the old blueprint might not have worked in Oakland the way it did during the 1960s, '70s and '80s. But Jones' success on and off the field in running the Dallas Cowboys -- winning championships in the 1990s and driving the value of his franchise from $140 million in 1989 to $1.85 billion in 2011 -- is a powerful example of how Davis' legacy is living.

It is this way because Jones learned from Davis.

"We didn't agree on everything at all, but once we had agreement, you wanted him in your corner," Jones said on NFL Network when remembering Davis, who died Saturday at age 82.

Back in the summer of 1994, when the Raiders and Cowboys practiced together for a few days in Austin, Texas, Jones told Davis he was the NFL's Mickey Mouse. According to an account of the conversation from Skip Bayless in the San Francisco Chronicle, Jones explained to Davis, "Raider Mystique is to the NFL what the symbol of Mickey Mouse is to Disney. It's what everyone associates with Disney."

A year later, Jones negotiated a marketing deal with Pepsi, despite the league's existing deal with Coke. He negotiated another deal with Nike, despite the league's agreements with other apparel companies. As Davis had been in the past, Jones was sued by the league. Then, he counter-sued.

The real result, after the dust cleared, was that the NFL's revenues grew and grew, to the point where they now approach 11 figures in annual revenue.

Davis was at the forefront of the American Football League, the modern passing game and the marketing of a football team as an individual and iconic brand. Jones has been at the forefront of the business of the game's next generation.

"I could say (Davis' impact on me) was very influential," Jones said. "He had a significant success being involved in the decisions at the football level, the decisions at the business level, the decisions at the league level. He was involved in the whole gamut. ... What needs to be said by me is the way he reached out. The way he would literally take an associate, a player, a coach in need and basically give them a boost, a helping hand, give them encouragement."

And if there's one thing tying Davis and Jones together, it's that each does things his own way.

"Uniquely, he didn't conform," Jones said of Davis. "Consequently, he was a leader. He did do things that were unconventional."

In the regimented world of football, that kind of free thought isn't always encouraged. But for a league and a game to reach the heights that the NFL and football have in this country, it is necessary to have those who will challenge conventional thought, flip over the apple cart and be stubborn about it.

Davis opened doors for people like that. With folks like Jones serving as leaders of the new establishment in the NFL, the legacy of the Raiders icon still lives.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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