SI Vault
Douglas S. Looney
May 04, 1981
Ed (Too Tall) Jones is a great athlete who has never lived up to the expectations of a public that believes he should be as good as he is big
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May 04, 1981

The Tall And The Short Of It

Ed (Too Tall) Jones is a great athlete who has never lived up to the expectations of a public that believes he should be as good as he is big

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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.

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