The offer to watch the Dallas Cowboys play from the owner Jerry Jones’ suite is extended during the summer, but the formal invitation is not sent until a week before the game.
The package arrives by overnight mail for out-of-town guests — it is hand-delivered by team security personnel to those in the area — and contains a box holding an acrylic tray with the Cowboys star logo etched in the middle. Nestled inside the tray is a card requesting that the recipients join the Jones family “on the fifty” (as in yard line), along with tickets, a parking map and a parking pass.
All visitors receive valet privileges, but only some are afforded the luxury of driving beneath AT&T Stadium, to the base of an elevator that lifts them directly into the suite.
“It’s the most valuable thing we have,” said Jones’ daughter, Charlotte Jones Anderson, the team’s executive vice president. “Even better than the seat.”
There are 48 of those seats, terraced in three rows, and one of Anderson’s unofficial duties is teaming with her mother, Gene Jones, to determine how each is filled — who, exactly, is granted entry into one of the most exclusive spaces in the sporting realm.
Los Angeles does not have a football team, so on Cowboys game days, Hollywood comes to AT&T Stadium.
As the irrepressible owner (and general manager) of the NFL’s richest team, Jones wields considerable power on league matters, though he offers only occasional input on the composition of his own suite. His wife and daughter strive for a convivial atmosphere and a diverse crowd filled with business associates, arts patrons, political figures, celebrities, friends and family members.
As she sauntered through the seats Thursday afternoon, more than 48 hours before Saturday’s kickoff, Anderson peeked at the names stenciled on the place cards at each spot.
There, in the front row, the chancellor of the University of Texas system, William McRaven. Some seats down, the chief executive of MillerCoors, Gavin Hattersley. Behind McRaven, the former mayor of Arlington, Robert Cluck. As city councilman, he told Jones that he was going to run for mayor of Arlington, and when he won, that he wanted Jones to build a stadium there. So Cluck is a treasured part of the family.
It was only the first iteration of the seating chart, Gene Jones cautioned, and for every game, that task concerns and vexes her like no other. As if hosting a dinner party, she sketches out a schematic in pencil, always mindful of guests’ interests and personalities, and then solicits thoughts from her daughter up until their guests arrive.
“People get moved,” Gene Jones said.
“There’s a little massaging,” Anderson said.
“It’s a nightmare,” Gene Jones said.
There are always last-minute cancellations and accommodations and additions, like the late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who informed his friend, the injured quarterback Tony Romo, that he would like to attend Saturday’s game. Romo called Anderson and, she said, told her, “I would put him in my suite, but I feel like he deserves to be in yours.”
Kimmel explained that he just wanted to come, that he did not even need a seat. Nonsense, Anderson said. Kimmel is sitting right beside her, in the front row.
“You just love to welcome people like that,” Gene Jones said. “Then it really is having someone in your home.”
Though she has a seat, Gene Jones tends to roam during games, playing the role of dutiful hostess.
“It’s always quite a puzzle to see that everyone does think that they’re the most important person in the room,” Anderson said. “You want to make sure that everyone has a great experience and not feel like they were slighted.”
That desire is reflected in subtle ways, like the menu — loaded with comfort foods like hot dogs and fried chicken and chicken fried steak — and the availability of household items, like safety pins and Tylenol. Spill on your shirt? Here’s some stain remover and a hair dryer. Feeling cold? We’ll fetch you a blanket.
A photographer roams the suite to shoot pictures of guests with members of the Jones family, and again at halftime, when two cheerleaders come up to pose with anyone interested. When visitors open gift bags that are passed out to them in the fourth quarter, they will find that one of those photos has been framed. Everyone receives a hat — the style changes every season — and a book detailing the art and architecture at the stadium.
“I knew it was going to be a neat, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” the “Today” show co-anchor, Savannah Guthrie, who attended the Nov. 1 game against Seattle, said in a telephone interview. “What you don’t know is just how exquisite an experience it is.”
She added: “When we get to go to the Golden Globes for the job, it’s obviously a completely different feel. But to the extent that you’re pinching yourself and can’t believe you’re there — it’s that same kind of feeling.”
The family began hosting celebrities in Jerry Jones’ first season as owner, 1989, when Elizabeth Taylor performed the coin toss before the home opener. In the old Texas Stadium, the setup in the suite was more conducive to a cocktail party than to watching a game. Out of respect for Taylor, Gene Jones’ brother, Johnny Chambers, a devout Cowboys fan, suppressed his emotions as long as he could before losing control. Sitting beside Taylor on a sofa, he shouted an expletive. As Gene Jones tells the story, Taylor looked at Chambers and said, “I am so glad there’s someone here that is normal.”
Gene Jones said, “That broke the ice.”
Nelson Mandela visited once. Another time, when Charlton Heston came by, the players who had seen “The Ten Commandments” called him Moses.
The family has cultivated these relationships over the last 26 years, attracting so many high-profile guests that network producers and directors frequently ask Rich Dalrymple, the team’s senior vice president of public relations and communication, who will be sitting in Jones’ suite. With the possible exception of Robert K. Kraft of New England, who also hosts luminaries in his box, no owner is as visible, or as immediately recognizable.
“He’s engaged in every topic of the NFL, and so he becomes an extension of the story,” said Chip Dean, the coordinating director of “Monday Night Football’’ on ESPN. “And Jerry, obviously, is great TV.”
But when he is shown on television, flanked by his sons Stephen and Jerry Jr., what viewers see is not the main suite but rather a small alcove above the main box.
Accessible by elevator — and, in a happy coincidence, situated directly across from the network broadcast booth — Jones’ perch, as it is called, is his game-day sanctum. It is where he can holler and fret and criticize a decision aloud without concerning himself about maintaining decorum in front of his guests. Aside from security guards, his grandsons, the odd personnel executive and a perceived good-luck charm (Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey), no one else goes up.
“Anyone that can be in there has to be totally silent,” Gene Jones said. “No speaking.”
If that seems rigid, consider that Gene Jones established a similar rule for her husband, who is not permitted in the suite during a game, she said, except for halftime, when he circulates.
The planning process begins in June or so, when Gene Jones and Anderson map out the upcoming season. The two preseason games double as family reunions — one for Jerry’s side, the other for Gene’s — and seats for the first regular-season home affair are always reserved for the same group of longtime friends.
Except for family members and former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, who have standing invitations, everyone else is allotted one game per season. The fans sitting below the suite probably wish that policy could be relaxed for John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s: last time, he tossed coupons.
Those who come are not mandated to cheer for Dallas — a friend of Gene Jones’ who supports the New York Giants apologizes every time he walks into the suite — or even care about football.
Anderson’s daughter, Haley, was to graduate from Arkansas on Saturday morning, and she was planning to bring a few friends to the game.
“They’re the easy ones,” Anderson said. “They’re just happy to get in the building."
About the Author