EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The bead of sweat did not move. It was stuck to Jerry Jones's necktie, right around the collar, a safe harbor from the towel that Jones kept using to wipe the rest of the sweat from his face. A Cowboys employee handed him a second towel. They could have taken the towels away and put a furnace next to his cheek and it would not have mattered. Jerry Jones was standing in the middle of the winning locker room and he was not going to leave.
The Cowboys' season-opening win over the Giants was just one game. Jones said that repeatedly. But it was a win he craved, because it was on national TV, and the Giants had ended Dallas' season last year, and because it was New York, the big stage, the bright lights.
Jones lives for those moments. A lot of owners don't. They like the cache and the victories and the revenue streams and the ego trip, but they don't really like to be in the thick of it: sweat on the necktie, reputation on the line.
Jones made news at the opening of training camp when he said "Y'all should come to Cowboys Stadium and watch us beat the Giants' asses." That is not really what he meant. Oh, he meant the part about beating the Giants' asses. But he got the venue wrong.
"I really was referring to the fact we were opening against the Giants," he said Wednesday night.
He did not want to think about what a loss would mean. The Cowboys put so much on this game, more than most contending teams put on an opener. Jones called it a "significant win for our franchise," and some reasons for that are obvious. The Giants are the Super Bowl champions. It was an NFC East game. But the biggest reason was that the Cowboys had to find out if they were legitimate.
The story has been consistent in the Tony Romo era. From September to December the Cowboys would compete with the top teams in the league, but they never got hot at the right time, never made a January run. They won games, but they never seemed like true winners. They looked like if they jumped in your foxhole, they might pull out a cell phone and call their secretaries for help.
"You wonder: Do you have the right chemistry?" said Stephen Jones, Jerry's son and fellow executive. "You have those concerns when you don't finish."
The Cowboys have looked like the embodiment of every criticism of Jerry Jones. They have flash and dazzle, Tony Romo and Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. They play in the most lavish stadium in the league. They are always a big story. But they have won one playoff game since 1996.
"Would this team have the courage to play against a quality team like that on the road?" Jerry asked.
The Cowboys faltered late in games, and it seemed to be a crack in the team's soul. The team decided it was something else: They had a lousy interior line, which meant they couldn't pound the ball up the middle to run out the clock, and they had weak cornerbacks, which meant opponents could pass and catch up.
"It's a good recipe not to keep (leads)," Stephen Jones said Wednesday.
They went out and signed free agent cornerback Brandon Carr. They traded way up in the draft to pick LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. They solidified the interior line. They thought they licked the problem. But there were the Joneses at MetLife Stadium Wednesday night, in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, and ... well, maybe that is when the sweat crept down to the necktie.
"I really was concerned there late in the game, that we're kind of fooling around there and let them get back in it," Jerry Jones said.
The Cowboys won anyway, despite a ridiculous number of pre-snap penalties and a Romo interception.
"A win like this can be inspirational," Jones said, and he seemed happy enough to tip Dez Bryant's babysitter.
Now he could stand in that locker room and sweat gleefully. He answered questions no other owner would ever be asked in a postgame locker room. He said he is encouraged about Los Angeles finally getting a team. ("I see some significant meat on the bone.") He said he didn't think this game would get better TV ratings than Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention, but "I'm a great fan of Bill's speeches." He addressed a report that the Cowboys are the most valuable team in pro sports. ("We'll never know what it's worth," he said, because he won't sell.)
He shook offensive coordinator Bill Calllahan's hand ("Hey, Bill! Bill! Gimme some of that!") and repeated the same lines over and over about Romo and tight end Jason Witten, who played despite a lacerated spleen. After he had held court for a while, Jones even delivered the same lines in a one-on-one interview with a Japanese TV station.
He has made his share of mistakes in his Cowboys tenure, but Jerry Jones loves everything about this so much. You think you're excited that football is back? You should have seen the guy with the smile on his face and the sweat on his tie.