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Jones' derring-do in building stadium offers NFL inspiration

DALLAS -- Jerry Jones knows a thing or two about big expectations. In a part of the country where thinking big is a way of life, the Cowboys' owner has experienced firsthand how visions of grandeur at once can be something to live up to and a humbling equalizer.

Jones began the season with two visions. First, that his palace in Arlington, Texas, affectionately known by some as "Jerry's World," would set the standard for football stadiums around the globe. And, second, that it would host his team in the Super Bowl, thus making the franchise the first to play the NFL's signature event in its own building, in front of its own fans.

And although Jones' football cathedral -- complete with its 160-foot high-definition video screen, retractable roof and 100,000-plus capacity -- has lived up to every expectation, his second vision never came close to reality as the 6-10 Cowboys fell woefully short of the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. And as Jones watched his team sputter to a 1-7 start, he learned a thing or two about resetting some rather Texas-sized expectations.

"I think I crossed that bridge after about six or seven games with the Cowboys this year," Jones said Tuesday. "So I had my expectations set early.

"We had a league meeting with all the owners, and I told them early in the fall ... the way we're stinking it up on the football field there in Dallas, I know the idea of being the first team to have ever played in its own Super Bowl has passed me by now."

Jones' dream of having the perfect team in the perfect home never materialized -- this season. But Cowboys Stadium seemingly exceeded every expectation set for it as host for one of the world's most popular sporting events. Even in the face of a rare ice storm the week of the game.

"When I was thinking about building this stadium -- the fact that we're sitting here today with some sleet on the streets, yet we know the kind of football game we're going to have for the world to see and for the 100-and-some-thousand-something fans to see -- the fact we know what's going to happen ... says what this is all about," Jones said. "And that stadium needed to be enclosed. It needed to come as close to being enclosed but feeling like it's outside as you can do, which was a goal. And all of that as a vision had the Super Bowl in mind."

Jones was, as always, able to hold his head high as he discussed not only what he thinks Cowboys Stadium means for Super Bowl XLV, but also what it bodes for the NFL's future.

Jones emphasized that his $1.2 billion stadium was constructed in the face of a recession. But instead of limiting the scope of what he could build, Jones chose to go bigger in much the same way the NFL is pushing forward with the idea of expanding to an 18-game regular season with a potential work stoppage on the horizon.

"Rather than scale back, I pushed the gas pedal and basically increased the scope of the stadium and increased the cost of the stadium," Jones said. "I did that -- you can say crazy -- but I did that because I really do feel like there is a huge future, not only economically in the country, but there is a huge future in the NFL. So that stadium represented that."

Jones hopes his success in a time of economic uncertainty can serve as a metaphor for the current labor strife between players and owners -- that out of adversity can come a model for success.

"I built this stadium not based upon the system that had been in place," Jones said. "I based it on just common thought and a gut feeling that we will re-do the business model that we have. And when we re-do it, doing things like building this stadium make a lot of sense. It wouldn't make a lot of sense doing it in the system we're in."

Ever the forward thinker, Jones believes the NFL can think bigger, as he did six or so years ago, when plans for Cowboys Stadium's construction began.

"It is incumbent on us to recognize that what we have in place is not a good model," Jones said of the current collective bargaining agreement. "And rather than waiting until we're in the shape the country's in or the world is in, when things have gone to hell in a handbasket economically, that we make some of those changes we'd love to have made 10 or 15 years ago in this country. You do it before you're off the cliff rather than as you drive off."

Jones' lessons from this season -- those of both great success and failure -- certainly can be applied to NFL ownership's attempts to reach a compromise with a players association that's content with the league's economic structure as it stands.

"I've done my worst work when I thought I had a pretty good hand," Jones said. "I started the season off saying, 'What's not to like where we are?' And to me, that has always been not the kiss of death, but certainly an idea that you're not quite in the position you think you are."

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) rushes during an NFL football game between the between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

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