‘It was highly contentious’: Why Jerry Jones bet Bill Parcells over DeMarcus Ware pick

Imagine growing up on food stamps and WIC and only being inspired to try football in the seventh grade because NFL and MLB legend Bo Jackson came to your school told you that scholarship athletes got free lunch in college.

With a mom as a cafeteria worker and eating many school lunches for dinner at home, it proved to be quite the enticement for DeMarcus Ware as a kid in Auburn, Alabama.

Fast forward 10 years and your dreams of eating well in college set the table for you to dine lavishly for the rest of your life as a possible first-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, only to learn that your draft position is the subject of a disagreement between Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and then-coach Bill Parcells.

It seems all folly now.

Ware has reached football immortality as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2023.

He and fellow Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley are set become the 21st and 22nd members of the America’s Team franchise to be enshrined at a ceremony Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

But Ware is the only one who began his career as a bargaining chip in a petty dispute.

“I feel like I’ve always had something to prove my whole life,” Ware said. “Coming from the projects. Is he capable enough to graduate high school? Is he capable enough to make the NFL because he came from a small school? Is capable enough to be a first round draft? It was always the doubters out there trying to create an image of who I was, but they just fired me up. It does not matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter in front of projects of you, or you have a silver spoon, and you’re given a silver spoon. You still got to put that work in.

“So this weekend is something that you can’t dream about. And you only got to wake up to a reality when you [are] up there on the podium and when you turn around and you say ‘I made it’ and you see all those other guys behind you with those gold jackets on. It’s a room you can buy into that you can’t just play into. You have to be great.”

Ware proved to be one of the all-time greats and will have that patented smile on his face with his dimples popping.

Jones and Parcells, members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Classes of 2017 and 2013, respectively, will sit in their gold jackets behind Ware smiling back at him and smiling at each other.

There is no doubt Jones, who will introduce Ware to the Hall of Fame, will sit up proudest and brightest like the cat that ate the canary as the winner of the bet.

Ware set a franchise record with 117 sacks in nine seasons. He further cemented his Hall of Fame resume by playing three seasons with the Denver Broncos, recording two sacks to key a 24-10 victory against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, before finishing his career 13th on the all-time sacks list with 138½.

Jerry Jones’ bet on DeMarcus Ware

But when it came to the 2005 NFL Draft, there was dramatic dissension between Jones and Parcells on what to do with the Cowboys’ two first-round picks, 11th and 20th.

Because the Cowboys were moving from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 defense, Parcells wanted to take LSU defensive end Marcus Spears. Jones wanted Ware, who played defensive end in college at tiny Troy University but was going to be moved to linebacker in the NFL.

”He was my obvious choice,” Jones said. “And it was highly contentious that day. In fairness to Bill, Spears could play both for the 4-3 and the 3-4. And so in the transition to the 3-4 from the 4-3, Spears was easier to work with and could go either way. And that really was driving him.”

Parcells, famously known for wanting the buy the groceries as well as cook the dinner when it came to picking and developing players, had sound reasoning for his point of view.

“I was trained in a system when I grew up in the league, that if a player was making a position change, you didn’t take him in the top 15 players in the draft. That’s all,” Parcells. “That was just my education from some real good draft people that taught me how to draft and cut down the margin of error. That’s where the difference of opinion was, not on the ability of the player. I was just trying to stick to what I had learned, growing up with adhering to the system that players making a position change and you haven’t seen them play the position he’s going to play for you. Then it’s a little risky to draft them to high.

“But I’m glad we did.”

It wasn’t so simple and clean at the time.

And it was a disappointed Parcells who proposed a wager, based on Ware averaging 10 sacks a year for the first five years of his career.

“It was quite a confrontation before the pick was turned in. I’m not being disrespectful, but I’d already been maybe told him that the day before to turn to the pick in. So after we had made the pick, Bill wrote this agreement between Jerry Jones and him that if ‘the player,’ he didn’t even mention his name, didn’t get 10 sacks a year for five years. He had five trips a year on my G-5 airplane. He slipped it over there and didn’t say a word and didn’t look at me and had signature lines on it. Five trips a year for five years.”

Jones, an oil and gas wildcatter who gambled his fortune when he bought the financially broken Cowboys in 1989, was glad to take the bet.

Of course, he added his own unique and self-serving spin to it.

“I wrote back ‘so agreed, provided Bill accepts this addendum: You can have the five trips a year if he doesn’t, but if he does make double-digit sacks during that time, then the plane will go and Bill’s significant other will be on it, but Bill won’t. It will just be Jones and the significant other,’” Jones said still grinning ear to ear like the bet happened today, not 18 years ago.

Jones certainly needled Parcells over the years about being right. Spears, who was picked 20th, was a solid player for the Cowboys, playing eight seasons and recording 10 career sacks.

But the bet was really another example of their close relationship at a contentious moment.

“We broke the ice,” Jones said. “He was trying to break the ice in a good way and I was, too.

”And Ware broke the mold. He played 12 seasons for the Cowboys and Broncos. He had 505 solo tackles, 152 assists, 138.5 sacks, 8 fumble recoveries and 3 interceptions. He was selected to play in nine Pro Bowls. His first five seasons with the Cowboys featured 8, 11.5, 14, 20 and 11 sacks and averaged 13 sacks per season during his nine years in Dallas.

“Apart from the obvious. The thing that I’ve always had to start with with DeMarcus was what the fans aren’t really privy to see. And that’s how he coached up his teammates,” Jones said. “And it wasn’t just showing his fellow defensive players techniques, philosophy and execution in real time, he was also coaching up and show him the offensive players how to block it and how to react against what he did the best. I’m not gonna put it up there with his sacks as being the most impactful on the success we enjoyed with him, but it’s right there. So I’ll take the sacks along with what he had. When you do that he’s a star. He’s a Hall of Famer and rare. He was rare.”

Chuck Howley’s induction is overdue

Rare is also an apt description of Chuck Howley, who is finally getting his just due at the age of 87.

Howley made the Hall of Fame in the senior category for players who have been retired at least 25 years.

He was the first great linebacker in Cowboys history with five consecutive All-Pro seasons, anchoring the team’s famed Doomsday defenses in the 1960s and early 1970s, along defensive tackle Bob Lilly, the team’s first Hall of Famer.

Howley played 13 seasons with the Cowboys and achieved the rarest honor in Super Bowl history when he was named the MVP of Super Bowl V, a 16-13 loss to the Baltimore Colts.

Howley was the first defensive player to ever win Super Bowl MVP and remains the only player in Super Bowl history to win the honor on the losing team.

“Chuck should have been in it long ago,” Lilly said. “I played with him for 13 years. This is great.”

Howley suffers from late-stage dementia. It’s why he wasn’t at the initial announcement of his election in February. There is hope he will have an appreciation for the accomplishment on Saturday.

But his family, friends and former teammates will reveal in moment with him and for him.

That’s same attitude Ware will have, along with that big smile with roughly 50 family members and many more former teammates and coaches from peewee football to high school, college and the NFL in attendance.

“I smile all the time. Right,” Ware said. “And all my family will be smiling back at me and everybody else who has been part of it will smile back at me and say he did it.”

“I think this is the embodiment of all the work that I’ve put in. And now I get a platform to be able to tell my story. And that story changed so many lives.”

And lost Bill Parcells a bet to Jerry Jones.