CANASTOTA, N.Y. - At first glance, the list of those who have served as grand marshal for the parade that precedes the International Boxing Hall of Fame's induction ceremonies seemingly has little to do with the sport. But if you look hard enough, there's always a connection.
Bo Derek? Well, the petite knockout knows a thing or two about a perfect 10-count.
Tony Sirico, who played mob enforcer Paulie Walnuts on "The Sopranos"? Hey, the guy could whack.
Now, for Sunday afternoon's 19th annual IBHOF parade, the co-grand marshals are comedian Pat Cooper and former defensive end Ed "Too Tall" Jones.
The 6-9 Jones, better known to Philadelphians as a dominating pass rusher for the Dallas Cowboys, took a season off from his 15-year NFL career to try his hand as a heavyweight boxer, going 6-0 with five knockouts in 1979 and early 1980. So much of a curiosity item was Jones that CBS nationally televised every one of his bouts. "Too Tall" was paid more than any first-time boxer to that time for his Nov. 3, 1979, debut in Las Cruces, N.M., against a ham-and-egger named Abraham Meneses, whom Jones defeated on a six-round majority decision.
Had he stuck with boxing, his first love, from the beginning instead of being steered away from it by his high school basketball coach, Jones believes it's possible he might be making his first trip here as an inductee instead of as a figurehead.
"Barring injuries, I'm sure I would have been a very good fighter," said Jones, 57. "I mean, why not? I had the hand speed, the power, the dedication, the toughness. I can't see any reason why I wouldn't have been successful.
"Now, does that mean I could have been a Hall of Fame fighter? That, we'll never know. But I would have won a lot of fights."
How Jones left boxing, got back into it, and exited again makes for a fascinating tale.
"I started out in Golden Gloves when I was in high school," Jones said. "At the time, my school didn't have a football team. My basketball coach saw on the front page of our local newspaper [in Jackson, Tenn.] that I had knocked a guy out in, like, 9 seconds.
"He called me into his office, showed me the front page and said, 'What is this all about?' Basically, he gave me an ultimatum: basketball or boxing. I went with basketball, which might have been the right decision at the time, but I didn't like being put in a position of having to choose."
Jones went on to football stardom at Tennessee State and was the first selection in the 1974 draft. He appeared in three Super Bowls, one a victory over the Denver Broncos in Supe XII, and three Pro Bowls. But forever in the back of Jones' mind was the notion that he could have become heavyweight champion of the world.
He contemplated boxing's might-have-beens so often that in 1977, four seasons into his highly productive NFL journey, he decided to do something that shocked the world.
"I gave the Cowboys a year's notice that I would be leaving," Jones said. "I had signed a 4-year contract with an option year, and they knew my intentions going into the option year.
"So many people have asked me why I would ever consider quitting football when I was successful and the team was, too. It's simple, really. I didn't want to wake up one morning, 40 years old, knowing I had been in a position to fulfill a dream and did nothing to make it come true."
When the news finally broke that Jones was leaving the Cowboys for boxing, the reaction was ugly.
"That's the first time I ever received hate mail - and not just from Dallas," he said. "It got to a point where I couldn't even do talk shows where people would call in when I was on the road promoting my fights. I had to do it with just the host because there were some pretty threatening calls coming in. I finally said, 'I don't need this.' "
Jones' last ring appearance was on Jan. 26, 1980, when he knocked out flabby first-timer Rocky Gonzales in one round in Jackson, Miss. Shortly thereafter, Jones announced he would resume his NFL career. The combined record of the six warm bodies "Too Tall" blasted was 37-86-1, with 58 of those losses inside the distance.
Did Jones go back to the Cowboys because general manager Tex Schramm made him an offer he couldn't refuse? Because he figured out that he probably would never be as good in boxing as he was at sacking the passer?
"I had my reasons," said Jones, declining to elaborate.
But Jones still has an itch that he feels the need to scratch. Not only does he attend as many fights as his schedule allows, but he sponsors a boxing club in the Dallas area that might yet punch his ticket to the big time.
"It's a way for me to keep my hand in," Jones said. "You never know: I might get lucky someday and find a kid with the potential to become a champion." *