I knew that I had a great idea for my first book. In the spring of 1994, the public blowup between Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson occurred at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando. This conflict had been simmering below the surface for two years. Jerry believed that Jimmy was not giving him enough credit for the back-to-back Super Bowl victories, and Jimmy thought Jerry was a meddler.
I thought the entire story was outrageous. I knew them both from the 1970s when Jimmy was an assistant coach at the University of Arkansas, and Jerry was making his way as an oilman in Little Rock, where I grew up. I had covered them as a newspaperman and radio reporter and talk show host from the day Jerry bought the team in 1989. I was ready to write a book on them both.
So where did I begin as a rookie author? I was introduced by fellow author and friend Carlton Stowers to rookie literary agent Jim Donovan, who was almost as fired up as I was about the project. We failed to attract a New York publisher, and I felt certain it was due to my lack of experience. Donovan managed to find a Boston publisher named Adams Media.
By the time we had a publishing date, Jones was threatening to file a lawsuit to stop the book, titled King of the Cowboys. He hired the biggest libel lawyer in Washington, D.C. He was so worried about the contents of the book that he had his secretary call the office of Prime Sports Radio each morning. Our receptionist always said that I was unavailable because I was on the air.
Why was Jones so concerned about hunting me down? Because in the book I had written extensively about his widespread womanizing. He offered me $250,000 to either delete the dirt on his women or to trash the book altogether. We had a summit meeting in the lobby bar of the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Colinas. Upon sitting down, Jones said, “Stand up. I’m going to pat you down. Then you’re going to pat me down.” You could imagine what the bar patrons were thinking when they saw us patting each other down.
Jones wanted to make sure I was not concealing a tape recorder or wearing a wire. I wasn’t. Then he said, “Just imagine there was a sack in the corner with a quarter-million dollars in it. What would you do?”
I did not hesitate. “I wouldn’t take it,” I said.
I was too much of a journalist. I was still young, idealistic, and way too stubborn. Plus I loved the book I had written on Jerry. But if I had known then that my publisher, Adams Media, would chickenshit out on me, I would have taken the bribe from Jones.
I am convinced that Jones would have increased his bribe to a half-million if I had been willing to burn the manuscript. He might have gone higher. I had an impeccable source who was filling up my notebook with dead-eye on-the-record dirt on Jerry’s philandering. He was Tommy Robinson, the former sheriff of Pulaski County, which includes Little Rock.
Regardless, I was not accepting the Jones offer. I believed that if enough people read the book that my career would take off like a rocket.
Things were getting complicated. When Jerry knew I was not going to back down, he tried to scare the hell out of my publisher. He was going to sue if they ran more than 25,000 books off the presses. Before long, I was onto Jerry’s plan.
The book was published in October of 1995 and quickly sold 22,000 copies. Jerry hated it. We did not speak to each other for 15 years. The last time we had conversed was at the 1996 NFC Championship Game party. The Cowboys would play the Packers the next day for the title at Texas Stadium. Late in the night, we spent a lot of time yelling at each other. A lot of “chickenshits” were thrown around.
In 2011, the bridge was haphazardly rebuilt when I published a coffee table style book on the Super Bowl played at Cowboys Stadium. Jones was one of four people I dedicated the book to. I arranged to meet him at a Cowboys practice, and when I handed him his autographed copy of Super Bowl Texas Style, he seemed thrilled.
“Brother Jim,” he said. “I always liked you. I never hated King of the Cowboys.”
I do believe that Jerry liked me before King of the Cowboys. We had much in common. We had both grown up in Arkansas. He was from Rose City, a section of North Little Rock. His dad, Pat, owned a grocery store in Rose City. My parents shopped at Pat’s store before moving a few miles away to Sylvan Hills, where I was born. I watched Jerry play at North Little Rock High. My family attended every Arkansas Razorback game in Little Rock. Jerry, a guard, was a star on the 1964 National Championship team. Jimmy Johnson played defensive tackle and was also captain. Seeing Jerry again, I could not wait to fire a couple of questions his way.
“Jerry, my book about you really sold well,” I said. “But I never could find anyone who read it.” I paused, then said, “Jerry, did you buy all of my books?”
The famous smirk curled up along the left corner of his lip. His eyes lit up like a Las Vegas slot machine.
He could not wait to say it. “Yes, I did buy all of your books, and I warehoused them for you.”
I laughed. We laughed together. To my relief, he told me that he had not shredded them. In fact, copies of King of the Cowboys are trickling out of that warehouse and straight to half-priced bookstores. I never figured Jerry would take a total loss on the book. In fact, he’s now making a small profit. The book is selling for $9.95. It only took 20 years to get it on the shelves.
Read more about the high life and fast times of Jim Dent.