How Jerry Jones nearly owned the San Diego Chargers
Anyone with an overbearing father can understand why Jerry Jones gave in, but if it hadn’t been for his father, Jones would still own the world’s most valuable sports franchise, but it would be located in Southern California, not Dallas, Texas.
In 1964, Jones was co-captain of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ National Championship team. His roommate on the team for road trips was Jimmy Johnson, later the Super Bowl-winning coach Jones hired for the Cowboys because rooms were assigned by the last name.
Though the family business was an insurance agency run by his father, Jones maintained his passion for football. He believed in the future of the sport. After all, the NFL was a nationwide passion since before Jones was born and the new league, the AFL, had proven successful since it was launched in 1960.
In 1966, San Diego Chargers owner Barron Hilton, owner of the Hilton hotel chain, decided to sell the team. Lamar Hunt, eager to make sure the sale of the Chargers didn’t dilute the strength of the AFL owners, suggested that Hilton speak with Jones. The former Razorback player had become such a regular at AFL and NFL owner meetings that he was offered a minority ownership share of the Miami Dolphins by Joe Robbie, but Jones declined, knowing he wasn’t a person who could take a backseat when it came to his football team. He wanted to be the majority owner.
Hunt knew this and urged Hilton to take the young man seriously. Even though Jones was just 23 years old, he managed to secure the $1 million guaranteed line of credit that Hilton demanded of any suitor of the Chargers.
There was only one problem. Jones didn’t have any money. He was a great negotiator and salesman, but he was just a couple years out of college and had nowhere near the money it took to complete the deal. To keep his 90-day exclusive negotiating position, Jones needed to produce $50,000, which he didn’t have.
Jones turned to his father, J.W. “Pat” Jones, who laughed at the idea.
“He said something that can’t be repeated in the newspaper,” Jones recalled later.
Jones was forced to remove his bid for the Chargers and returned to selling insurance. Two months later, Hilton sold the Chargers to Eugene Klein, a film and theater multimillionaire, who paid $10 million for the team. Back in Missouri, Jones fumed and for the rest of his life claimed he learned to listen to his own opinions and not those of even his father.
“He [his father] talked me out of an investment that doubled in price in six months,” Jones said. “It substantiated that I wasn’t nuts in chasing the Chargers.”
In 1984, Klein sold his share of the Chargers for $40 million to current majority owner, Alex Spanos.
In 1989, Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys for $140 million from H.R. “Bum” Bright.
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