For Ed “Too Tall’’ Jones, football was never his first love, but that never prevented the men who tried to block him from hating their nearly impossible task.
Jones played only three games of high-school football before accepting a basketball scholarship to Tennessee State, one of 52 schools that courted him. None wanted him to play football.
But after two years on the hardwood, the towering 6-foot-9 Jones suddenly decided to quit basketball and return to the game no one seemed all that anxious for him to play, including himself. It didn’t take long until that changed.
Two years later, in 1974, the Dallas Cowboys made Jones the first player from a historically black college taken as the No. 1 selection in the NFL draft, thus beginning what would become a 15-year NFL career of Hall-of-Fame caliber.
Jones was a raw talent when he first arrived in Dallas, but within a year was starting on Tom Landry’s Doomsday Defense next to future Hall-of-Famer Bob Lilly and down the line from future Super Bowl MVP Harvey Martin. Sometimes accused of not always playing with full obsession early in his career, Jones once snorted, “Some players give 110 percent all the time, but they can’t make big plays in big games. I make big plays in big games.’’
Certainly that was the case during the Cowboys’ 1977 playoff run to a Super Bowl XII championship. In three post-season games Jones had a remarkable 23 tackles, two sacks, two passes batted down and two forced fumbles. In the NFC championship game against the Vikings, Jones had a sack, two forced fumbles and eight unassisted tackles as he totally controlled the line of scrimmage and Minnesota’s offense. At that point, he seemed on his way to football immortality ... only to walk away from the sport a year later to pursue his first love – boxing.
An amateur boxer as a kid, Jones made no bones about the fact that boxing was always the sport he fancied, but the Cowboys were stunned at his announcement. At 28, after five years in Dallas without missing a game, he left, saying, “It was something I had to do. I knew if I hadn’t done it then that I would be one of those guys who realized when he’s 40 he never had experienced it. I did something I wanted to do all my life. Football was always number two.’’
As towering a presence in the ring as he was at the line of scrimmage, Jones went 6-0 as a professional with five knockouts against low-level competition and had every one of his fights televised on CBS because of his NFL notoriety. But for reasons he never enumerated, a year later he returned to the Cowboys and became an immediate starter. He would remain so for the next 10 years, never missing a game and returning a better player than when he left.
“He was in better condition,’’ Cowboys’ head coach Tom Landry said of the returning Too Tall.” Clearer mind. He had more of an intent of being a football player.’’
Jones became the dominant football player Landry had hoped when he drafted him. Jones was named All-Pro three times (1981, 1982, 1983) and went to three Pro Bowls in the final 10 seasons of his career, He would never miss a game, finishing with a team-record 244 games (including 20 playoffs) and 223 starts.
Always durable and often dominant, the Jones who returned from the boxing ring was even more difficult to block than the one who left for a year.
“My reaction time was so much quicker coming off the ball,’’ Jones said. “I was able to make a lot more plays.’’
Although sacks were not an official statistic early in his career, the Cowboys kept their own tally. Jones finished with 104 career sacks, including a career high 13 in 1985. He retired as the Cowboys’ fifth leading tackler of all time with 1,032, blocked nine kicks (seven of them field-goal attempts) and batted down so many passes the NFL began to keep it as a new defensive statistic.
Too Tall Jones was a disruptor by trade, a man who not only chased down quarterbacks but often batted their passes out of the air. In 1980, for example, the Cowboys tipped 19 passes all season. Eleven were by Jones.
“My attitude was I’m the toughest, biggest, baddest on the block,” Jones once said. “That was my attitude throughout my career.’’
Was he dominant enough to one day win a bust in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame? His career numbers and his penchant for making the big play in the big game certainly warrant a hard look at one of the hardest men to block who played for the Dallas Cowboys.