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Dallas vs Miami or Jimmy vs Jimmy

The Associated Press

A few days before his next game at Texas Stadium – his first as a rival coach since an ugly divorce from the team and its owner, Jerry Jones – Johnson was watching his words much more carefully.

Wednesday, November 24, 1999

A few days before his next game at Texas Stadium – his first as a rival coach since an ugly divorce from the team and its owner, Jerry Jones – Johnson was watching his words much more carefully. Johnson and Jones have said nothing but nice things about each other this week, taking all the sting and much of the fun out of the buildup for Thursday’s game between Miami and Dallas.

So far, the juiciest tidbit is something Jimmy told his father: ”This will be the best game that Dallas plays because they’d love to beat me. I feel the same way towards them. I want to win.”

Not exactly worthy of 3-inch headlines, as Johnson suggested for his boast before the January 1994 NFC championship against San Francisco. But that’s about as good as it’s gotten in a week where everyone is talking about how much they respect each other.

Much of the bitterness came out of the Jimmy-Jerry feud in December following the death of Johnson’s mother.

As family and friends gathered at the Johnsons’ home in Port Arthur, caterers began delivering platter after platter of food sent by Jones.

”And he sent a beautiful, beautiful wreath,” C.W. Johnson said. ”Jimmy knew all about it. He was very pleased with it. I think it kind of helped their relationship.”

The former University of Arkansas teammates were reunited in 1989 when Jones bought the Cowboys and made Johnson the coach. The Cowboys went 1-15 that season, but were Super Bowl champions by 1992.

The Cowboys won it all again the following season. A few months later, the power struggle between Jones and Johnson boiled over and Johnson was gone.

”Actually, when you cut through everything, the No. 1 reason I left Dallas is I wanted to live in South Florida,” Johnson said. ”That was the bottom line.”

So it had nothing to do with Jones saying any of 500 coaches could’ve won the Super Bowl with the Cowboys? Or anything else Jones did to take credit for the franchise’s dramatic turnaround?

”I think there was tension because Jerry and I are both tremendous competitors,” Johnson said. ”I think people made more out of it than what there really was. Not being in the same situation anymore, I think our relationship has gone right back to what it was prior to me coaching the Cowboys.

”I’ve got tremendous respect for Jerry. I like Jerry. I think our relationship is extremely positive now.”

Cowboys who played under Johnson are looking forward to seeing him before the game. But once the ball is kicked off, they don’t expect his presence to be a factor.

”I know it makes for a great story about Jimmy’s tenure here and how it all ended, but we’re not playing Jimmy,” quarterback Troy Aikman said. ”Jimmy is on the sidelines and I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to any of the coaches, no matter who we are playing.”

Defensive lineman Chad Hennings said: ”If you want you could use it as a mental boost. Do I? No. I’ve got enough on my mind besides worrying about who the opposing coach is.”

While seeing Johnson might not fire up the Cowboys, Dallas running back Emmitt Smith said he expects Johnson to use his return to motivate the Dolphins.

”He’s probably telling them this is one team I don’t want to lose to,” Smith said. ”I can hear him now: ‘The trap is set. They’re no 5-5 team.’ ”

Most Cowboys fans supported Johnson at the time of the split, many wishing it was Jones who had left.

But so much time has passed that Johnson isn’t sure whether he’ll hear boos or cheers when his name is announced.

”I still have a couple of friends in Dallas, so there might be a couple of people clapping their hands,” he said. ”There will be a few people who will smile when I take the field and they’ll be some who might be disappointed that I left. Who knows?”