The soft, warm ocean breeze drifted across Waikiki Beach, across Kalakaua Avenue, and then ever so gently through the Cock's Roost, an open-air bar where Ed (Too Tall) Jones, who had just dropped in for a beer, had broken into song. Too Tall singing? Indeed, if your definition of singing is broad enough, that's what Too Tall was doing.
Why not? After all, Jones, a 6'9", 260-pound, 30-year-old defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys, has spent a lifetime doing the unexpected. Signed by Tennessee State University in 1969 as a basketball player—51 other colleges also wanted him for hoops—he quit that sport after two seasons to devote himself to football, for which no school had tried to recruit him, including Tennessee State. And all the while he wondered if baseball wasn't really his main interest. Or singing.
Then, despite his limited football background—he'd played in only three games in high school and had to spend a lot of time in college learning the basics—Jones was the first player picked in the NFL draft in 1974. The Cowboys found his prodigious talents, however raw, to be irresistible, and a brilliant career was forecast for him by scouts from other NFL teams, too. There was an awful lot of talk that Jones just might turn out to be the best pro football player ever.
On draft day Gil Brandt, Dallas' personnel chief, said facetiously, "We were very glad Ed Jones was still there when we had our chance to pick." In fact, the Cowboys had been maneuvering for two years to make sure that they would be able to select Jones, and when Coach Tom Landry was asked about Jones' potential, he said, "It's unlimited." But Too Tall has come up short. He has been a good pro, sometimes a great pro, but much, much more was expected.
May 3, 1981
In 1979 Jones quit football—never to return, he said—to take up professional boxing, a life-long love. A year later he was back in the NFL. "I have my personal reasons," he said mystifyingly. And now he is dead earnest about singing. "I've always taken every involvement in music seriously," says Jones, who even in college used to drop into nightclubs for a song or two. "But now that I'm an artist, I take it very seriously. I'm not going to be just another football player trying to sing." His first single had Do the Dip - 81 on one side and Funkin On Your Radio ("Eeny, meeny, miney mo, we're funkin' on your radio/ We're the band with the master plan/ Now we're gonna funk you like no other can") on the other. Last month Jones recorded his first album in Memphis. "I'm going to be honest," says Too Tail's brother. Cliff, an executive with Fun City Records, "I think his voice is commercial. The public will accept it. It's adequate."
Ed, are you a good singer?
"I know I am and I will be. I'm a natural."
But are you trained?
"Sure, I trained myself."
Well, Elvis didn't get unanimous raves either when he started out. Besides, the larger point is that when Jones sang at the Cock's Roost, it was clear he was ecstatically happy—and that hasn't always been the case with him. He was in Hawaii to help his agent, Don Cronson of New York City, hustle up new clients from among the college basketball stars playing in the April 9-11 Aloha Classic, and to pamper himself in anticipation of the grueling NFL season.
For that moment, however, his mind was on nothing but his rhythm and blues favorite, Stormy Monday. To Too Tall the Cock's Roost was heaven—which is to say, it came equipped with a band and a microphone and a stool and a hero-worshipping audience. "I don't know why he tries to sing," says a Dallas friend, Kermit Kane, who feels secure enough to deal in truth, "but I guess somebody told him he could." Jones sniffs, "Whether you like my singing or not, you might as well get used to it because I'm going to be around."
And herein lies the crux of Too Tail's dilemma. He has simply been around as an athlete—slightly ahead of the pack in football and a bit behind it in boxing—instead of, as predicted, way ahead of everybody in everything. Here's this perfect physical specimen of whom columnist Jim Murray once wrote, "Edward Lee Jones looks like what might happen if you had a hammer and a chisel and a license from God to make yourself a heavyweight champion of the world." But Red Smith of The New York Times took one look at Jones' boxing prowess and grumped, "He cannot box, he cannot punch and his chin gives off a musical tinkle when tapped."
Jones has the classic Big Man Problem. "Just because you're big, people think you should be able to do everything better than anybody else," he says. "But if you try to prove yourself to others, you can destroy yourself." Too high expectations have been at the root of Too Tail's difficulties. For example, in the two years he played basketball at Tennessee State, he never was a starter; when the Cowboys drafted him and the word was out that Jones would redefine the term "pro football," he didn't start his first year. And when he did start the next season, he didn't jump over tall buildings, even in two bounds. When he took up boxing, people expected him to punch out everyone's lights, a notion he didn't exactly put the damper on by signing autographs as "Too Tall—Next Champ." After his first fight, the feeling was that he was only next chump.
Worst of all, when it came to football, Jones didn't seem to give a damn. Which, to his credit, he admits. "The only reason I was playing football before was just because I had the talent to play," he says. "Football was great. It just didn't happen to be No. 1 with me." This was glum news for the Cowboys, who figured he would be no less than Bob Lilly reincarnate. Dan Dierdorf, an offensive tackle for the St. Louis Cardinals, who has played opposite—and handled—Jones for years, says, "It seemed like he was just putting in his time." Landry was even less enchanted and says of Jones' first five years in the league, "You have to want to achieve to achieve. Before, football didn't appear to be what he wanted to do. He was the typical gifted player who wasn't motivated, and you can go broke on those kind."
There were flashes of brilliance. Dallas fans remember Too Tail's debut, against Atlanta, when he played like a man possessed. In the three playoff games after the 1977 season, including the Super Bowl win over Denver, Jones was marvelous—making 23 tackles, including two quarterback sacks, batting down two passes and forcing two fumbles. In his own defense, Jones says, "Some players give 110% all the time, but they can't make big plays in big games. I make big plays in big games."
That's true. But Jones' intensity has always been suspect. Maybe it's not in his genes. Jones says that whenever the Cowboys lose, his mother, Abbie, responds by laughing. Yet, underlying this lack of fire is the fact that almost everything athletic has come easily to Jones, and he has gone through life believing that there was something more fun just over yonder. Thus, while he was playing football, he wished he was boxing.
But—absolutely out of character—when Jones returned to the Cowboys for the 1980 season, he brought with him to training camp a shiny new attitude. At last football was No. 1. His mind was finally ready to cooperate with his body. "Ed suddenly understood that pro football wasn't such a bad way to make a living," says Brandt.
Dierdorf suddenly found himself taking some serious lumps from Too Tall. "I couldn't believe it," says Dierdorf. "He was 50% better than when he left." If a new mental outlook was the key to the improvement, it also was true that boxing had improved not only Jones' self-discipline but also his speed, agility and flexibility. His pugilistic skills make Jones an especially dangerous customer in a brand-new Dallas drill, based on the Filipino martial art of kali, in which Cowboy players battle each other with rattan sticks to improve what the team's conditioning coach. Bob Ward, calls their "movement orientation."
That Jones suddenly had become hell on wheels was the universal feeling around the NFL—except, predictably, in the mind of Jones, who says last season he played no better, no worse than before. "It's just that people are watching me now to see if I lost a step while I was away," he says. He's wrong, and the proof is on the film. In 1980 this legend who has been known to block a pass with his chest played better than he ever has. The Cowboys tipped 19 passes last year; Jones was credited with 11 of them. He was in on 83 tackles, compared with 74 in 1978, and experts are beginning to believe he isn't blowing smoke when he says, "One day I'll dominate offensive lines. I have that kind of talent."
Jones hates statistics, and that's fair because numbers don't clearly elucidate his accomplishments. First, by nature of Dallas' reading defense and emphasis on finesse, defensive linemen aren't allowed to simply come off the ball with their eyes red and crossed. Also, because Jones generally plays opposite the strong side, it's most often his lot to defend against the run, making sure he turns the ballcarrier into the arms of the Dallas linebackers. On the other end, All-Pro Harvey Martin gets the pleasure of pass rushing most of the time. Nonetheless, the way Jones played last season indicates that at last all is in order for him to shift from great potential to great performance and become an All-Pro.
Preston Pearson, Too Tail's teammate and president of Imperial Investors, Inc., of which Jones is a partner, still insists, "Ed has untapped potential." And Landry says, "The potential is there. But he has to develop a burning desire to be the best. If he uses his forearms and if he decides to unload...." Landry's eyes glaze.
Jones has been plagued by such high expectations since his days at Merry High in Jackson, Tenn., where he would slouch along, attempting to appear shorter than he was, dreading encounters with the typing teacher, who would always say, "Ed, stand up straight. You're going to ruin your posture." Several years later a college teammate gave Jones his nickname, that catchy moniker that has been largely responsible for Jones' landing television commercials, a part in Diff'rent Strokes and small roles in several movies. The Tennessee State player—nobody is sure which one—looked at Jones the first day of practice, eyed his Too Short football pants and concluded, "You're too tall to play football." Today, Jones is philosophical about his height, saying, "Anybody more than 6'4" is tall. After that, it doesn't matter how much taller than tall you are." Except there's a consensus that he's Too Tall.
Especially for boxing. Larry Holmes, who likes Jones and once, mock seriously, offered to fight him, says, "I thought he was too awkward, too big. But, man, if I had arms as long as his [an 88-inch reach compared with Holmes' 81], I'd never get hit."
Boxing had always held a fascination for Jones. "It wasn't that I had boxing idols like Liston and Louis and Patterson," he says, "but that every boxer was my idol." He decided in 1977 that he couldn't stand being out of the ring any longer and that he would box, but he stayed with the Cowboys because he had two years left on his contract and he felt he should honor it. Until he announced he was quitting the NFL in June, 1979, there was a feeling, Landry says, that "if the money was great enough, we might overcome his lack of enthusiasm for football." To this day Jones insists no amount of money would have kept him in football, and he says of his year in boxing, "Do you have any idea what it feels like to do the one thing you've always wanted to do? Boxing was the best thing that ever happened to Ed Jones."
Well, maybe. For his first pro bout, against one Yaqui Meneses, the television rights were sold to CBS for $27,500. Dave Wolf, Jones' manager, says, "I figured Ed would finish him off so fast that the entire fight would be on the evening news. Instead, it was a fiasco." The bout took place in Las Cruces, N. Mex. The ring ropes were tied with clothesline to keep them from sagging, and Wolf argued that a prefight samurai-sword demonstration, in which the victims had been watermelons, had made the canvas slippery. Jones looked exactly like a man who had never fought before. He won a six-round decision but suffered gross indignity, including being pushed to the canvas by the 6'2", 204-pound Meneses and then being hit while sitting down.
Throughout an unbeaten six-fight career that included five KO's of tomato cans, Wolf says Jones was "embarrassed by his performance but not to the extent that he gave up out of embarrassment. What we were all amazed at was the animosity he seemed to create. Suddenly, he was the villain, as though he had broken a sacred law by giving up football." Jones' trainer, Murphy Griffith, says, "I think the big problem was everyone thought he was too good a football player to be a novice in a foreign activity—and to look like a novice." Although Too Tall refuses to discuss his reasons for returning to football, he has told intimates that his mother hated boxing. When she had a slight heart attack after his third fight, Jones told friends, "I can't torment her like this."
That's an honorable reason for giving up boxing, but the suspicion lingers that a broken-down ring in Las Cruces is an awfully long way from Texas Stadium. While the money in fighting was fine—during his 10 months in boxing, Jones made about $225,000 in purses vs. his $185,000 a year in football—the glitter of Sunday afternoons beats 6 a.m. road-work and grubby New York City gyms. Jones' buddy, Kane, says, "Deep in his heart, he thought boxing would be a lot easier than it was."
Being a pro football star does have rewards. For example, last month on the island of Kauai, where Jones had gone to attend the wedding of teammate Tony Dorsett, a woman approached him with a lei, placed it around his neck and said, "Too Tall, you are blessed." Said Jones, who has a strong practical bent, "Are you sure this won't give me a rash on my neck?"
Jones says that his nature, like his height, can lead to misjudgments about him. "The majority of the time when people sum you up, they're wrong," he says. Still it would seem safe to sum up Jones this way: Here's a man who is back in pro football where he belongs and who finally seems to want to be there. If that's so, look out, NFL. "I've never disappointed myself," says Too Tall, "and I've never satisfied myself." For opponents the rhythm and blues song could become Stormy Sunday.