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(Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on August 2, 2021 before former head coach Jimmy Johnson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.)
they sat quietly at a picnic table at jimmy johnson’s favorite italian restaurant along highway a1a in the florida keys on a saturday night in early april.
Reading: Jimmy johnson how bout them cowboys
The pro football hall of fame coach was with his hall of fame quarterback troy aikman, three of his former assistant coaches: defensive coordinator dave wannstedt, offensive coordinator norv turner and coach offensive lineman Tony Wise, his agent, Nick Christin, and the head of public relations for the University of Miami and the Dallas Cowboys, Rich Dalrymple. some of his wives were also present.
After a day on Johnson’s boat, fishing and telling stories, there was one more story to tell.
It was about the 1992 NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, and what Dalrymple called the Cowboys’ Finest Moment, borrowing the term from former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
dalrymple presented attendees with a double-sided framed photo and on one side is a photo of johnson smiling, holding a towel with the words “how about those jeans?”
as johnson prepares for his hall of fame induction in canton, ohio on saturday, many will remember how he led the rebuilding of team usa with the help of the herschel walker trade: recruiting aikman and running back emmitt smith and they inherited michael irvin when they formed the famous “triplets” and led the cowboys to two consecutive super bowls. others will point out his calculation methods and his bravado.
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“During that period of time, personally, I was so motivated to not only be the best, but to get better,” said the 78-year-old Johnson, who spoke with ESPN in several interviews.
“because of that, we probably didn’t enjoy it as much as we should. as soon as the game is over, of course, we’re going to play in the super bowl, and as soon as the super bowl is over, over, you’re trying to get ready for the next season and preparing for the draft because I was in charge of the personnel. I had to rebuild the team and prepare for next year. We were very motivated to continually improve.
“I never took the time to enjoy the profits.”
now, he can. And you can savor every moment before and after that game in 1993. During Saturday’s walk around the field at Candlestick Park, he traced on a piece of paper the slippery spots where the new turf was laid. He told Turner, Wannstedt, and special teams coordinator Joe Avezzano where to avoid certain runs, blitzes, or returns.
in san francisco, it was supposed to be the coronation of 49ers quarterback steve young, who replaced hall of famer joe montana. The ghosts of Dwight Clark’s capture still haunted the Cowboys from the 1981 NFC Championship Game.
But this was a different time for these cowboys, who were 1-15 just four seasons earlier.
this was the day “how about those jeans?” was born.
“I wonder where the coach got that because he had it in his pocket,” Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin said. “That was in his pocket like, ‘If we win, I’m going to say this.'” It was also the perfect time.”
the gang is back together: how about those jeans; thanks jj @jimmyjohnson @troyaikman pic.twitter.com/im2s0oxgb8
inside the locker room
players suit up inside the visitors clubhouse which was used by opponents of the san francisco giants. A photo of Roberto Clemente was on the wall near the entrance just as a reminder. since it was built for a baseball team, there was barely enough room for a larger football roster. it was even more packed with the coaches, support staff, athletic trainers, and assorted people who came into the locker room to celebrate.
“It was a little mud shack,” said former cowboy Nate Newton, a five-time professional guard. “You would expect the 49ers, Candlestick Park, a better facility than that. But it was a ballpark, like [Washington Stadium] RFK. Not many guys could fit in there.”
after the game ended and inside the small locker room, aikman held teammate jim jeffcoat’s son, jackson, in his arms before johnson addressed the team.
“When jimmy called everyone, no one gasped,” said aikman. “He made it clear from the beginning. When he got up to speak, it was important that everyone settle down. Jackson came running, Jimmy was screaming, I just picked him up to make sure he wasn’t running.”
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To this day, those inside the locker room remember the feeling of euphoria. Former fullback Daryl Johnston is 55 years old. Every time he sees a replay of Johnson standing at that little table, he instantly turns 26 back.
“The locker room went crazy afterwards because it was just, I mean, you’ve got a lot of young guys in that situation for the first time,” johnston said. “That’s your dream when you were a little kid growing up playing football and wondering if you’d play in a super bowl. Well now you can go.”
“And you can’t lose sight of the fact that just four years earlier we were 1-15. There were a lot of people wondering if Jimmy had the guts to be an NFL coach.”
said newton, “man, when he blurted that out, we roared and you thought we had 100,000 people in that room.”
darren woodson was a rookie safety for the cowboys in 1992.
“I was in a situation where I didn’t go to a bowl game in college [in Arizona],” Woodson said. “so you can imagine being a rookie at 22, whatever. being in the locker room with those guys and having jimmy say it, it just blew up… to have that energy in that locker room and the alpha dogs in there, led by an alpha dog head trainer, that was awesome.”
Former cornerback Larry Brown was in his second season with Dallas. Three seasons later, he would become the Super Bowl XXX MVP against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Jimmy was always talking about what they said we couldn’t do,” Brown said. ‘They’re not old enough. They’re the youngest team in the NFL. They’re not good enough. There’s no way they’re going to beat the 49ers on candlestick. There’s no way they’re going to beat Buffalo. So he never said,’ how about those jeans?’ before, but we understood what he meant when he said it. [It was] ‘what about these guys everyone says there’s no way?'”
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“How’s a kid who’s never seen cowboys in a super bowl, he’s 25 years old, 22 years old, yelling, ‘How about those cowboys?’ That’s what gets me,” Newton said. “I mean, yeah, how about those cowboys? They haven’t won in 25 years.”
As much as it has been repeated to johnson, it has never been done in a negative way to his face.
“No”, laughed the coach, “I don’t think anyone would dare say that.”
hope is always just around the corner when the nfl season begins. Every time Irvin listens to Johnson’s speech, he is transported back to the visitors’ locker room inside Chandelier Park.
“And then it makes you want to hear it again in the same light you heard it the first time,” Irvin said. “you see, it’s got a lot of iterations. they use it when we’re not doing it right… but the original iteration is what you expect to hear again.
“seriously, ‘how about those jeans?'”
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was born a little over six months (July 29, 1993) after Johnson’s famous comment, but he grew up a Dallas fan and knows what it means.
“Obviously, you said that after winning a big one, right?” Prescott said. “For me, that has always stayed with me. When I sign autographs a lot of times, I get asked to say, ‘How about those ‘guys?’ on them. And I think that’s kind of been an etiquette for cowboy fans. Every team has their saying, and that stuck. And I think it means a lot.
“I know I want to be in the locker room and say it the same way he said it. Then it will mean a lot more to me.”