The last time the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl -- the fifth in franchise history -- the song "Macarena" was atop the Billboard charts and hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur was still alive. It's been all eyes on them ever since, as they continually struggle to reascend to the top of the NFL mountain after having created a dynasty in the 1990s. The toxic split from head coach Jimmy Johnson turned out to be the beginning of The Dark Ages in Dallas, a ring with Barry Switzer at the helm notwithstanding, and it's something an emotional Jerry Jones now readily shoulders the blame for -- from Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, California.
As the team readies to enter the 2021 season, it's now been 24 seasons since they've hoisted the Lombardi trophy, and Jones is feeling all sorts of anxiety about it. Considering he'll be 79 years old this October and "doesn't have time for a bad time," it's all about figuring out how to earn that elusive sixth franchise ring -- his fourth -- and it's about doing it sooner than later.
"I'd do anything known to man to get in a Super Bowl," said a teary-eyed Jones. "That's a fact. There's nothing, in my mind, that has a higher priority than that. As you know, sometimes you have to make decisions to go back to make to step forward. And we're faced with that in building a squad.
"You can't have it all. And you've got to -- you see several ways that you might be able to do something from my perspective to get better. But that will end up costing you down the road. That's the pragmatic part when it goes. I feel as driven as I was when we first bought the team. I was scared to death then, and I'm scared to death now."
Things weren't all peaches and cream when Jones purchased the team in 1989, seeing as they were coming off of three losing seasons on what turned out to be the swan song for legendary head coach Tom Landry, and didn't improve immediately in Jones' first season -- going from 3-13 the year prior to 1-15 as Jones worked to rebuild the club from scratch. Adding Jimmy Johnson proved a stroke of brilliance followed by yet another when Jones convinced the Minnesota Vikings to give up their soul for running back Herschel Walker, in a blockbuster trade that ultimately materialized into a roster that included several Hall of Famers; and led by first-overall pick Troy Aikman.
From there, with no salary cap to fret over, Jones used his ability to wheel and deal to add additional eventual Hall of Fame talent like Charles Haley and Deion Sanders, but times are much different now. For while the salary cap can be outright manipulated by the wisest of general managers, it's still not the equivalent of lacking one altogether. As such, the Cowboys must find ways to piece together a winning roster within the [fluid] confines of the cap, and they've struggled to do so -- for a variety of reasons.
That said, locking up two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott to a historic contract is a gargantuan step in the right direction for both the immediate and longterm competitiveness of the Cowboys, but without a defense to match serve, things will continue to run on a hamster wheel in Dallas. A usually patient Jones has all but run out of it, moving on from close friend Jason Garrett as head coach and firing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after only one year, replacing the latter with Dan Quinn and throwing the kitchen sink at the defense in the 2021 NFL Draft while also adding pieces in free agency.
Hell, the Cowboys even got fined by the NFL for being a bit too aggressive in OTAs and minicamp. And while the infraction was undisclosed, head coach Mike McCarthy hinted at what they did wrong, and why he doesn't think it was actually negative ---- the financial penalty aside.
"I actually had a very good conversation with the league office," said McCarthy. "I thought it was informative. I think they're in a very tough spot. Not as tough as my spot because it came out of my pocket.
"But I think first and foremost, we're doing it the right way. There's no question about that. Our players are trying to do it the right way. I think there were seven to nine plays that we looked at as a group, and frankly, the majority of them involved younger players, so to me it's a learning experience.
"I think like anything in life, if you're punished for trying to do too much the right way as opposed to not doing enough the right way, I think that's a healthy experience to learn from."
No one in the building has more experience at this point than Jones, who's been to the top of Everest on three separate occasions but who has also spent the last 25 years of his life failing to do so.
It's eating him alive inside, and if he could simply outspend everyone en route to his fourth Lombardi, he admittedly would. It takes more finesse nowadays, though, and as the Cowboys get back to some California love in training camp, Jones is hoping he's everything will finally go as planned in 2021.
So that the next time he sheds so many tears, it'll be on a podium in February.