DALLAS _ The Cowboys wanted to trade Michael Irvin. After all, Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson believed, Kelvin Martin was a serviceable possession receiver.
Irvin for draft choices. That was the plan. Surely he couldn't possibly bring in return the bountiful bonanza that Herschel Walker did. But Jones and Johnson were determined to gut and rebuild a roster they inherited when they arrived in 1989. Still in lock step during their honeymoon period, they craved a speedier lead receiver.
Jones and Johnson were exploring the possibilities when a voice from the West Coast with a heavy New York accent asked them to reconsider.
"Are you sure you want to do that?" Al Davis asked from the mountaintop.
"I'd be happy to trade for him, but you need to keep Michael Irvin," Davis told Jones and Johnson. "He can smell the end zone."
Davis' Raiders already owned three Super Bowl championships. The newbies, outwardly cocksure, reconsidered.
And so the Cowboys kept Irvin. He repaid their faith in Davis, if not himself, with a Hall of Fame career and an indisputable leadership role on three Super Bowl championship teams.
Of course, the Cowboys might have won without Irvin, but know this: The receivers they drafted in the first two rounds of the three subsequent drafts after deciding to keep Irvin were: Alexander Wright (1990); Alvin Harper (1991); and Jimmy Smith (1992).
"Al was a blessing to me," Jerry Jones was saying last week with the Cowboys' Thanksgiving date against the Raiders looming. "Of all the people I've met in the NFL he was among the most special in guiding me."
Thursday marks the first time the Cowboys will meet the Raiders since Davis died in 2011 at age 82.
"I certainly miss seeing him," Jones said. "I miss him tremendously. Our relationship was unique."
Go ahead and smirk. Get it out of your system. Owner-general manager Jones followed owner-general manager Davis to the mountaintop and back down to the valley. "Polarizing" is a word they have in common. Still, they remain among the most successful team leaders of their generations.
"We both were intricately involved in everything involving our clubs," Jones said. "That got us real involved with each other. ... I trusted him implicitly. He did the same with me."
Mark Davis, who succeeded his father in running the Raiders, said both men's desire to win "drives them and drove them to each other."
Not surprisingly Jerry Jones and Al Davis warmed to each other on the outside looking in.
Jones assumed control of the Cowboys in February 1989, a time NFL owners were searching for a successor to retiring commissioner Pete Rozelle.
The old guard favored Jim Finks, a lifer in NFL front offices. The six-owner search committee nominated Finks to succeed Rozelle. But a group of newer owners who felt left out of the process, including Jones, and perennial maverick Davis successfully blocked Finks' election.
"The books had been cooked," Jones said. "We were just looking for input."
Davis was intrigued by Jones' audacity. Tex Schramm, who had run the Cowboys, had been the ultimate establishment man.
Who was this freethinking Jones?
After compromise candidate Paul Tagliabue succeeded Rozelle, Jones and Davis further warmed to each other after they discovered they had been smitten with the same woman.
Her name was Betty Alworth. You may be more familiar with her first husband, Lance, a gifted wide receiver for Arkansas before his Hall of Fame career with the San Diego Chargers celebrated its twilight with the Cowboys.
Back when the AFL and NFL battled for players, Davis had been the AFL Chargers assistant coach, who in 1962 traveled to Arkansas to sign Alworth from under the nose of the NFL San Francisco 49ers. Jones, several years behind Alworth in Fayetteville, was among a group of players who idolized Alworth.
"But we both thought Betty was the most impressive member of the family," Jones said. "She was one of the most impressive women we'd ever seen."
Among her other assets, Jones admired her business acumen, pointing out she helped build a cable television empire. For the record, Betty Alworth's second husband was Jim Guy Tucker, who succeeded then president-elect Bill Clinton as governor of Arkansas.
Back in the football business, Jones and Davis began talking "two, three times a week."
Davis was interested in Jimmy Johnson's college football knowledge and Jones' business instincts. Meanwhile, they tried to soak up Davis' knowledge of all things NFL.
"My father was really just football," Mark Davis said in an interview. "Jerry was more amazing in business. Every time you hear about the Cowboys you'd think they won the Super Bowl last year."
When the Raiders no longer had any use for guard John Gesek at the start of the 1990 season, Davis was insistent the Cowboys trade for him. Gesek started at right guard on Dallas' 1992 Super Bowl championship team and was a key reserve in the ensuring Super Bowl run.
Eventually Jones and Davis would be involved in a dozen trades, more than the Cowboys made with any other rival organization.
When the Cowboys traded with the San Francisco 49ers for Charles Haley before the 1992 season, Davis, who had been negotiating to add the pass rush specialist to the Raiders, called his friend.
"Congratulations," Davis told Jones who had outmaneuvered him, "you've just won the Super Bowl."
To that end when the Cowboys defeated the San Francisco 49ers that season for the NFC Championship on a soggy field at Candlestick Park, Davis offered personal assistance.
"Al had long cleats sent over from the Raiders for us to use," Jones said. "They certainly helped."
The NFL long had paired organizations at Super Bowls. Owners of teams not participating share a luxury suite on game day.
Always Jerry Jones and Al Davis chose to split a suite.
When the Cowboys held training camp in Austin, the Raiders were frequent visitors. Similarly, the Cowboys often trained with the Raiders in California.
Always there were behind the scenes discussions.
"Over the years we visited on the most sensitive things you can imagine," Jones said. "We had complete confidence in each other."
The Jones-Davis relationship was well known around the league. Sometimes heads were scratched.
"People would always ask me why I was so loyal to Al," Jones said. "That's simple. He was my friend. He was there with me from the start when we weren't winning."
Jones was there at Davis' 70th birthday party in Las Vegas in 1999. He proudly says he and wife Gene were the only guests who were not part of the Raiders family.
When the Cowboys hosted the Raiders on Thanksgiving 2009, Jones was eager to give Davis a personal tour of his new $1.2 billion stadium.
But Davis was not feeling up to it. Instead, Jones sat with him and poured over the details of the financing and the building and how Davis might get a new stadium for his Raiders.
When Davis died early in the 2011 football season, Jerry and Gene Jones flew overnight from a Cowboys-Patriots game in Foxboro, Mass., to the private funeral in Oakland the next day.
They were the only mourners present who were not immediate family members or part of the Raiders family.
"It was a special gesture," Mark Davis said. "It meant the world to me and my mother."
Jones said he wouldn't have missed the service for the world.
"You know, I was like a son to him," Jones said. "You could even say I loved him."