Counting down the weekdays to Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 in Houston, we look back at the 50 greatest Super Bowl competitors from the ASN family of schools as calculated one year ago. Today: 11
When Ed Lee Jones showed up for his first football practice at Tennessee State, he couldn’t find practice pants that fit. The story goes that a teammate told him that he was too tall to play football. Thus launched one of the great nicknames in NFL history.
Ed “Too Tall” Jones was a defensive end and centerpiece of the Dallas Cowboys’ “Doomsday” defenses of the 1970s and '80s, a man who made history and played in three Super Bowls.
The 6-9 Jones, who played two years of basketball at Tennessee State before switching to football, was the first player from a historically black college to be drafted No. 1 overall. The Cowboys traded two players to the Houston Oilers for the rights to the No. 1 draft choice in 1974, and used it to select Jones.
Jones was a prodigious talent who did two stints with the Cowboys, from 1974-78 and from 1980-89. He left football for a year to become a professional boxer.
“The only reason I was playing football before was just because I had the talent to play,” Jones was quoted in a May 1981 story in Sports Illustrated. “Football was great. It just didn’t happen to be No. 1 with me.”
Jones returned to the Cowboys after winning six bouts against overmatched fighters over several months. When he returned his focus finally matched his physical gifts and he was named All-Pro three times. He was exceptionally durable and never missed a game, playing in a franchise-record 232 games.
He was part of Super Bowl teams that lost twice to the Pittsburgh Steelers, in Super Bowls X and XIII — two of the most entertaining championship games of the early era. He won a ring when the Cowboys shut down the Denver Broncos, 27-10, in Super Bowl XII.
The Cowboys’ defense came up with eight turnovers against the Broncos and allowed just eight pass completions. Many game MVP voters wanted to give the award to the entire Cowboys’ defense, but the league wouldn’t permit it. Instead, defensive linemen Randy White and Harvey Martin were named co-MVP.
Jones’ ability to knock down passes prompted the NFL to start keeping it as a stat. Though he is credited with 57.5 sacks — the league didn’t record the statistic until 1982 — he has 106 sacks, unofficially, through team records.
Jones remains one of the Cowboys’ most recognizable figures, because of his size and nickname, which fans still use.
“That’s all they know,” Jones said in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story from 2014. “Some of them don’t know my real name, but that’s fine. I love the fans here. The fans here love winning and I gave everything I had when I played and fans appreciate that. (Being called ‘Too Tall’) never gets old. I always look forward to someone coming up, meeting you for the first time and just wanting to thank you for all the years. That makes me feel good.”
Dave Fairbank is a freelance writer based in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Follow him on Twitter at @FairbankOBX.