One by one, members of the Jones family arrived on a red carpet Wednesday night, there to celebrate the patriarch who is at the center of their family and, more famously, the NFL.
Jerry Jones received Sports Business Journal's Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor previously bestowed upon former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, and the late United States Ambassador to Ireland the Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney. The award is meant to recognize contributions to sport that extend off the field and there are just a few people who have had as great an impact on the business of football as Jones has had since he purchased the Cowboys in 1989 for $140 million and became one of the game's most influential owners, and certainly its most recognizable.
"The opportunity, I'm going to tell this audience, I was a walk-on in college terms, that's without a scholarship," Jones said before receiving the award. "The NFL inspired me and it made me dream and want to be more than I could have ever dreamed. The other part is to have gotten to have done it with my family and associates. I am truly being recognized for what couldn't have happened without a great team and my immediate family being the ones closest to me. That is really a celebration for all of us tonight."
While Jones' teams have had mixed results with him acting as a de facto general manager - the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the early 1990's, but have not gotten out of the divisional round of the playoffs since -- Jones is widely credited with a business vision that has led to a great deal of the league's financial success. He recognized before almost anyone else the value in building his own brand. He helped Fox get the television contract for NFC games -- opening a new avenue for lucrative television rights -- at a time when others were willing to accept a cut in rights fees, he carved out an agreement with the league that allowed the Cowboys to market its own apparel and he built a billion-dollar stadium that is considered the best in the league. Most recently, Jones was a powerful force in the league approving the Rams' relocation to a new stadium in Los Angeles and the Raiders' move to Las Vegas.
"He's obviously built up the league in terms of just the public, and the interest, he talks about football in such a passionate way, the growth of the game, he's been a large part of that," said Mark Wilf, the co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings.
Not surprisingly, Jones' pitch for hosting the NFL draft centers on how big the interest in football is in Dallas.
"Philadelphia was a great draft, a real bonus for Philadelphia," Jones said. "On the other hand, Texas is as hot a place for football as there is in the United States. There are a lot of great places we're so proud of in this country, but none more football-oriented or football-enthusiastic than the DFW area of Texas."