The popular explanation of the butterfly effect is that a simple movement like the flap of a butterfly's wings can have huge implications elsewhere.

It makes you wonder how different history could have been had Donald Trump bought the Dallas Cowboys before Arkansas-based oil and gas entrepreneur Jerry Jones.

To celebrate Jones' 30th anniversary as the Cowboys' owner — a milestone reached last week — "Forbes" took a look at Jones' time at the helm of the NFL franchise he purchased in February 1989 for $205 million.

While it's not a tiny sum of money by any means, it's nothing compared to what a prospective buyer would have to fork out now. According to a "Forbes" 2018 rich list, the Cowboys are the most valuable sports team in the world, worth more than US$6.8 billion (NZ$10b).


That's almost $1b more than the second most valuable team, Manchester United, and streets ahead of the next NFL team on the list, the New England Patriots, valued at $5.2b.

But it could have been so different for Jones. In 1984, five years before he got out his cheque book, Donald Trump decided to pass on the team when the price tag was just $70 million. Instead, he bought into the second year of the United States Football League (USFL), purchasing the New Jersey Generals for a reported $14 million.

At the time, Trump felt the USFL was more of a challenge and bet on being able to earn more money with the upstart league, rather than buying into the existing NFL.

"I feel sorry for the poor guy who is going to buy the Dallas Cowboys," Trump said at the time. "It's a no-win situation for him, because if he wins, well, so what, they've won through the years, and if he loses, which seems likely because they're having troubles, he'll be known to the world as a loser.

"I could have bought an NFL club for $40 million or $50 million, but it's established and you would just see it move laterally. Not enough to create there."


To be fair to the US President, the Cowboys were sold to businessman Harvey Roberts "Bum" Bright for $120 million in 1984, but by 1989, the franchise was losing $1 million per month according to ESPN.

But perhaps sensing he'd missed an opportunity, throughout his USFL tenure Trump appeared eager to get into the NFL. Trump also reportedly described USFL ownership as "a way of getting, as one alternative, into the NFL inexpensively".


The now 72-year-old missed out on at least two other NFL franchises he showed interest in buying, passing on the New England Patriots in 1988 as he didn't want to take on the debt of the previous owners.

American sports business reporter Darren Rovell tweeted the Patriots are worth $US3.8b today — making them the second most valuable team in pro football.

Trump also lost a bidding war for the Buffalo Bills in 2014 after allegedly offering up $1.27b. The team was eventually sold to Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula for nearly $2b.

Of course Trump's bid for the Bills has now been brought back into the spotlight thanks to his former lawyer Michael Cohen and his testimony to congress.

"I'm giving the Committee today three years of President Trump's financial statements, from 2011-2013, which he gave to Deutsche Bank to inquire about a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills and to 'Forbes'," Cohen said.

"It was my experience that Mr Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in 'Forbes', and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes."

In early 2016 after the Bills deal had gone down, Trump told an Associated Press reporter if he had won the bidding war he wouldn't have run for president.

"I did it a little tentatively," Trump told AP of his attempt to purchase the Bills. "When I put the bid in for the Buffalo Bills, I always was a little concerned if the NFL would remember how I knocked the hell out of them.

"This is more exciting. And it's a lot cheaper.''


Trump has been chasing the NFL dream for years, which makes the Cowboys non-deal a baffling concept to swallow.

The businessman turned politician took his money and willingness to get in front of a camera to the USFL, purchasing the Generals in the league's second season.

The USFL was a breakaway league that played in the spring during the NFL off-season. But with Trump entering the league, this wasn't going to last for long.

Jeff Pearlman, author of the USFL book "The Useless", revealed how Trump put his cards on the table in his first owners meeting with the USFL.

"I didn't enter this league to stay in the spring," Trump said. "We're moving to fall [autumn]."

A change in seasons would have put the USFL in direct competition with the NFL — and drew the ire of one owner in particular.

John Bassett owned the Tampa Bay Bandits and, having had experience with owning sports teams, knew it would be the wrong choice to move in on the NFL's territory. His patience with Trump eventually wore thin, leading to this scathing letter.

Jones is the third owner of the franchise, which was launched in 1960 by Clint Murchison Jr, who held it until the sale to Bright in 1984.

Jones has taken advantage of big-money TV deals and been fortunate enough to attract quality players — including 1989 No. 1 draft pick and hall of fame quarterback Troy Aikman — as well as NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith, who the Cowboys drafted the following year.

Jones also has his name unofficially on the team's $1.6b AT&T Stadium, which is known colloquially as "JerryWorld".

The business mogul has always been his own man, determined to follow his instincts and it's a good thing he did because Trump wasn't the only one who thought buying the Cowboys wasn't such a good idea.

After trying to buy a franchise for some time after he and his partner sold their gas and oil company for a reported $245m, Jones' accountant Jack Dixon advised against chasing the deal.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones greets his players prior to a NFL playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseumin January last year. Photo / Getty Images
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones greets his players prior to a NFL playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseumin January last year. Photo / Getty Images

"Jerry called me in October, said he was thinking of buying the Cowboys and let's take a look at the books. So we contacted Solomon Brothers, who was handling the sale, and we went down to Dallas for a week," Dixon said in an article on the Dallas Cowboys website. "The asking price at the time was $200 million.

"After a month of researching it all, I told Jerry point-blank this was ridiculously overpriced and buying the Cowboys would be financial suicide. He could have gone dead-dog broke on this."

But after a horror 3-13 season, the price dropped to $US140m and Jones went all in, spending almost every dollar he had and borrowing the rest.

The investment paid off and Jones was proved to be a genius. It was a move that's continued paying off ever since.

Although the team hasn't won a Super Bowl since 1996, Jones maintains owning the Cowboys is a dream job.

"I really can say this genuinely," Jones said. "I haven't worked a day in 30 years. My lesson here is that if you can get in something that piques your imagination every day, you will grow with it. And consequently, I am not the same person that I was 30 years ago — I'm more enthusiastic."