Who Owned the Dallas Cowboys Before Jerry Jones?

The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most recognizable and popular teams in all of American sports, which is why they long ago earned the nickname America’s Team. They also have one of the most recognizable — and outspoken — owners in all of sports, Jerry Jones.

He has owned the franchise for more than 30 years, so to a generation of football fans he is the only Cowboys owner they have known. The Cowboys were founded in 1960, though, so there were people who owned the team before Jones. Here’s a look at the Cowboys’ ownership history.

The Dallas Cowboys’ original owner

Clint Murchison Jr. made his fortune through oil exploration and inheriting his father’s business interests, which included Field & Stream magazine. The Dallas native wanted to bring a NFL franchise to the city, and succeeded when the league approved a Dallas franchise in 1960, due in part to the AFL establishing a team there.

Murchison had a hands-off approach to running the team, leaving much of the operation control to general manager Tex Schramm, head coach Tom Landry, and personnel director Gil Brandt.

The Cowboys enjoyed much success under Murchison, having 20 straight winning seasons from 1966-85, five Super Bowl appearances, and two titles.

H.R. “Bum” Bright buys the team

RELATED: A Breakdown of How Jerry Jones Pays the Dallas Cowboys

Murchison suffered financial difficulties in the mid-’80s and declared personal bankruptcy in 1985. Prior to the bankruptcy filing, he sold the Cowboys to billionaire H.R. “Bum” Bright and 11 limited business partners in 1984.

The reported sale price was $85 million, according to the Los Angeles Times’ 2004 obituary of Bright. After serving in the Army during World War II, Bright started investing in oil and natural gas leases, and later expanded his business ventures into trucking, real, banks, and savings and loans institutions.

Bright became a millionaire by the age of 31, when being a millionaire meant more than it does now — $1 million in 1951 is worth roughly $10 million in 2020, according to the U.S. Inflation Calculator. Bright’s financial situation took a downward turn in the late ’80s, with him losing $29 million in stock at the height of the Texas banking crisis in 1988.

Jerry Jones lands ownership of the Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones watching a Cowboys game from his owners box
Jerry Jones watching a Cowboys game from a suite | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Enter Jones, who sees an opportunity with the financial situation of Bright and the team. Jones bought the team for $170 million in 1989, and “he had to get creative to make money off the investment, according to Business Insider.

Despite the Cowboys being the first sports team to be sold for more than $100 million, Jones recalls the purchase agreement “was finalized with a few notes on a napkin and a handshake” because, according to him, Bright’s “word meant everything.”

Jones admits that buying the franchise may have led some to question how good of a businessman he was because the Cowboys “were losing $1 million cash a month,” according to Jones, whose fortune came from starting a successful oil and gas exploration business.

Jones borrowed money to buy the team, and he recalls 11% interest on the loan, which worked out to almost another $100,000 a day going out the door.

Jerry Jones went from losing millions to being worth billions

The Cowboys’ financial difficulty when Jones bought the franchise have been completely reversed, and the team — which hasn’t won a Super Bowl in almost a quarter-century — is now the most valuable franchise in sports according to Forbes.

The Cowboys top the publication’s latest ranking of sports team valuations at $5.5 billion. The next closest NFL franchise is the Patriots, ranked seventh overall, with a value of $4.1 billion — 25% lower than the Cowboys’ value.