After a recent induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can now expect to see his bust shown at that hall of fame’s headquarters in Akron, Ohio. Not so for Jimmy Johnson, the former head coach who with Jones led the Cowboys to two NFL championships in the mid 1990s.
While Johnson hasn’t yet been inducted into that particular hall of fame, he still has a bust on display — in the library of his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas. For more than 25 years now, that bust has stood near a bust of famed rock and roller Janis Joplin, who attended Port Arthur High School with Johnson. Joplin died in 1970 and didn’t leave anything regarding Johnson in her interviews. But Johnson has spoken about Joplin a few times.
“She wasn’t real fond of the jocks because we kind of teased her,” Johnson said in the 2016 SEC Network documentary “Before They Were Cowboys.” I actually gave her a nickname, “Beat Weeds.” This was the late 1950s, and the “hippie movement” with which Joplin would become linked had not yet started.
Locally, the teenage Joplin was known as a talented painter and folk singer. Johnson, meanwhile, “could solve algebra problems at a glance and write term papers worthy of A’s the night before they were due,” Sports Illustrated’s Ed Hinton wrote in 1992. “He was a football lineman with the scars of childhood street ball showing through his burr haircut and was called Scar Head.”
“By a quirk in scheduling, Janis [class of 1960] and Jimmy [c/o 1961] once had to put up with each other in a history class for an entire school year, she seated behind him. He would tease the weirdo, “give her a hard time, irritate her,” he remembers; she would scoff at the jock and ignore him as best she could.”
“It was like oil and water mixing,” recalled Jim Maxfield, Johnson’s childhood friend, in “Before They Were Cowboys.” (Maxfield recalls the two actually sat side by side.) “Both of ’em knew that the other one was bright, and neither one of ’em could really get the upper hand. She would not invite him over for a glass of tea, I don’t think,” he added.
Was there any flirtatious edge to all this teasing? Johnson stiff-armed the notion with smile in the Sports Illustrated interview when his girlfriend brought up the fact that the Port Arthur library had a display case with Joplin’s panties in it. “Beat Weeds’ panties,” Jimmy scoffed. “She never wore any panties.*” And to raised eyebrows all around, he adds, “From what I understand.”
The two talented teenagers both left Texas to make their marks on the national stage. Johnson left for Arkansas, where he helped lead the Razorbacks to a national championship in 1964 and then embarked on a college coaching career culminating in a national championship at Miami.
Joplin lingered in the Port Arthur area and Austin until early 1963, and then again in the mid 1960s, before breaking through in California.
* The chances that Janis Joplin never wore panties at all are pretty slim. Far slimmer, it’s safe to say, than the 500-to-1 odds of the Razorbacks winning the 2016 national college championship according to the latest betting lines.