LAST YEAR, TAILBACK MARK HIGGS was a late-round Cowboy afterthought lockering close by the legendary Ed “Too Tall” Jones. One day Higgs, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, said to Jones: “When I was growing up all of us kids played street ball, and sometimes we all wore these little name tags. I was always Too Tall.”
The sentiment is heartfelt, but it also reminds Ed Jones of one inescapable fact: when you’re old enough to have been the childhood idol of an NFL peer, a lot of years have rolled by. Except for the 1979 season, when he left football for boxing, Too Tall Jones has been the Rock of Gibraltar at left defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys since the days of their Super Bowl glory. Constant. Expected. There. Fourteen seasons as a Cowboy; 228 games going into this season, and never missed one because of injury.
The name resembles one you find distancing the First and last names of a New York crime boss. Ed “Too Tall” Jones. It is a name custom-made and specially ordered, like the rib pads that every Sunday cover the long torso of a six-foot-nine-inch man that even your mother calls only by the nickname Too Tall. And very much like those rib pads, the nickname serves a purpose. The pads? They must ward off the enemy, the colossal offensive linemen who carry a license to slug fists into ribs on almost every play. Sometimes seventy times a game.
The nickname has served as a special reminder and something of an additional meal ticket. Because from that very moment fifteen years ago when Ed Jones arrived in Dallas, he realized that he was indeed something special. The makers of Dat-sun trucks would advertise their new seven-foot-bed truck with Too Tall resting comfortably behind the cab. A men’s athletic wear company would believe that Too Tall was special enough to be paid handsomely for merely hanging the Super Bowl MVP from a hook like so much dirty laundry. But the first lesson for Ed Jones, the number one selection in the entire 1974 NFL draft, was: avoid dirty laundry. He realized soon that policemen patrolling Greenville Avenue were more than mildly curious as to the identity of the tall, 270-pound black man in the nice car. “As a Dallas Cowboy, you are different,” Jones says. “There are certain things that others can do that you just can’t do. I’ve never been drunk in my life, but 1 have left my car at bars and restaurants all over town. If he [some cop] wants to make trouble for Ed Jones, that’s life in the bubble. I just try to keep it from happening. You don’t embarrass your team, your city, or your family.”
After the February 25th Saturday night massacre, Ed Jones quickly became the only veteran-the only anything-certain to survive any purge dictated by Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones. When coach Jimmy Johnson was first asked to name his starting defensive line for opening day, he said, “Well, uh, Ed Jones and, uh, after that we’re not sure”
Too Tall Jones entered his fifteenth season as a pro older than the latest Cowboy defensive coordinator and almost ten years older than the assistant head coach. He quickly saw the new brass pushing hard on everyone, rookies and legends alike. Yet Too Tall has remained nonjudgmental regarding the outs of the old and the ins of the new at Valley Ranch. “There’s no right way to let a legend go, and don’t forget that,” Too Tall says of Tom Landry’s beheading. But while Jones is nearly teary-eyed in his admiration of dearly departed Landry, he’s also cautiously defensive toward the Spandex Jones. “He’s new to this. What did he do before? Oil and insurance, right? My theory with guys like you [the medial is don’t say anything unless you’re sure. He’s got to learn. But then again I don’t have his kind of pressure. The bottom line is this: I’m a football player. I have to respect what he thinks is right. Ed Jones is here to play. You won’t hear me running around this locker room to complain.”
Jones, who has a guaranteed contract, claims to have lost not a single step since his 1974 rookie season. Teammates say he has taken such good care of his body that he may last another three years with the Cowboys. All of this means he could both outearn and outlast Jerry Jones. But don’t look for Ed to invite Robin Leach to Carrollton for a look at his private crib or to his place in the Cayman Islands or his place in East Hampton, New York, or even to his executive offices at Imperial Investments. People who know say that Ed Jones is fun if you know him, but very tight with a buck and very private about his life.
And why not? Jones, a lifelong bachelor, wouldn’t have time for football if he’d had all the amorous adventures credited to him. “Have you ever experienced people just making up things about you? Hollywood Henderson is still trying to apologize for something in his book about a birthday party. [In Out of Control, Henderson alleges that Jones’s pool table was the scene of some hot celebrations with various female guests.] Now that’s made up. And of course he says now, ’Ohh, Ed, that wasn’t me talking, that was Hollywood and all those drugs.1 But when the book came out my brother called me and said, ’Ed, since when you splurge for a pool table?’” (Jones still does not own a pool table.)
So Ed Jones has remained dogged in his pursuit of privacy-preferring, for instance, to watch Maverick games at home on HSE over attending the games at Reunion Arena and “being bothered all the time.” Certainly he makes himself available to the media, but only available. He says nothing about the longtime annuity he enjoys with only a handful of other Cowboy legends. His tastes are simple. He likes beer, Oprah, and Geraldo and leaves the gaudy jewelry to Michael Ir-vin and others. He also truly loves football past and future. “I’ve seen about everything you can be hit with ” shrugs Jones. “I block a lot of passes, so sure, I take those rib shots a lot. But that’s part of it. Like when a tight end chops me [dives head first into the precious knees], I say, okay. I knock the hell out of him for a while. Pretty soon you look over on the sideline and there the tight end is being cussed out and trying to explain why he can’t get to his [pass] route.”
THE ED “TOO TALL” JONES I FIRST MET IN THOUS- and Oaks during his rookie training camp has much changed from the rookie who fell asleep halfway through a scintillating interview. He knows now that when the phone rings at his house, or at his eight-year-old investment firm, or at Pro Style Associates (they handle his public appearances), the person holding the other receiver probably wants money, an interview, or something else free. Jones occasionally donates time for free and participates in several football camps for kids that yield only modest remuneration. But Third World countries are quicker to make past due interest payments than Ed Jones would be to pay the toll booth attendant. At the last Leonard-Hagler fight in Vegas, Too Tall, always the businessman, sold his live Tight tickets to view the big screen show at Caesar’s Palace. “A real fight fan knows that ringside tickets can be horrible,” he says. “I like that first elevated level. Besides, you can see the replays and all on the big screen.”
To Jones, such behavior isn’t stingy, just smart. “I know you have to save something. Nobody will just give you something, not even your family. I’ve learned to have a good time on a little.” The immediate future good times for Ed “Too Tall” Jones consist of visiting boxing matches and taking trips to gyms now that he has his new promoter’s license. He doesn’t rule out romance and marriage, but he plans on being an owner not long after his football career is over. “I would love to own a few heavyweights and train on the East Coast and in Florida. My dream is to watch a fighter of mine grow. And I know I could be a great owner, because 1 have been an athlete and a boxer myself. I’d hire the best and pay them. And make sure they took care of my fighter.”
Yo, Jerry. Are you listening, boy?