During Ed "Too Tall" Jones' NFL playing days, the training room at the Dallas Cowboys facility had two tables for treatment and taping. Access to the two tables was based on seniority, which would lead one to believe that Cowboy rookies probably went through a number of practices with untaped – or perhaps, self-taped – ankles.
It should be noted that Dallas wasn't exactly a backwater NFL town in the '70s and '80s, the setting for Jones' 15 years of defensive end dominance. This was already "America's Team," and a perennial Super Bowl contender. The Cowboys were surely not behind the times with their two-table training-room set-up.
Oh, but how times have changed.
That's particularly true at the NFL's highly-advanced outpost in West Florida, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have trained in a new state-of-the-art facility since 2006. Bigger, better, more accessible, with significant technological advancements in every corner and countless advantages for the modern athlete, One Buccaneer Place would have seemed like science fiction to a player in the 1970s.
"It's like night and day…and I mean that," said Jones, who stopped by Buccaneers headquarters on Thursday for an in-depth tour of the place. At one point, the former Cowboy star strolled through a group of 17 padded treatment tables that make up just one part of the team's expansive training room, laughing appreciatively and pointing out to his friends how much progress has been made. It was almost enough to make Jones throw on the shoulder pads one more time.
"I look at this and start feeling excited again," he said. "I said, 'Boy, maybe I could suit it up for a couple more years!' No, it's totally different, and I tell all the guys that they are so blessed now to play today. With all the new technology that they have now there's no excuse for ever making a mistake, blowing an assignment or anything."
Jones came to Tampa to attend the inauguration of his childhood friend, Ken Atwater, as the new president at nearby Hillsborough Community College. Atwater met Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris, who was then introduced to Jones, and the two hit it off. Morris invited Jones, Atwater and five more of their friends to tour One Buccaneer Place while they were in town.
Jones got a thorough behind-the-scenes look at the facility's nearly 140,000 square feet, beginning in the lobby that doubles as a team museum and continuing through such highlighted areas as the training room, locker room, weight room, dining room and team auditorium. The Buccaneers relocated to their current headquarters after three decades in their original building, which was very much in keeping with the type of facility that Jones remembers from his playing days.
In the new One Buc, every area has more space and more comfortable additions than the old headquarters by an order of many magnitudes. However, it was the new tech that made the biggest impression on Jones, who was clearly envious of how quickly coaches and players can produce various highlight reels in the modern NFL.
"I was a student of the game," he said. "I wanted to know everything about my opponent. The way they can pull up film now – what a team does in third-down situations, first down, whatever – it's so easy now. We used the old reel machines, which took time. You took stuff home with you, but you could only get so much done. It's a lot easier right here in this facility.
"Also, the weight room. When I first started, our weight facilities were outside, and I played for the Cowboys in Texas. So a lot of times you're talking about 100-degree weather and you're trying to get a good workout in. And that's not easy. Here it's air-conditioned."
Too Tall Jones played 15 seasons in the NFL and never missed a game due to injury (he did skip the 1979 season to take up boxing, going undefeated in six bouts). He is credited with 57.5 career sacks, but the real number is more like 106.0, as the NFL didn't officially recognized sacks as a statistic until 1982, after he had played seven seasons. It is also estimated that he batted down more than 100 passes, an extraordinary total for a defensive lineman that is obviously attributed to his then ground-breaking height and wingspan. As part of the legendary "Doomsday Defense," he helped the Cowboys capture three NFC championships and the Super Bowl XII title.
The scary part? Had Jones come into the NFL in 2004 instead of 1974, he might have been even better. After touring One Buccaneer Place, Jones certainly thinks so.
"I was truly blessed, but I could have probably played at another level," he said. "I would have been stronger and faster with all the new technology and training. I went to their dining room, and they have nutritionists. I never weighed what Tom Landry wanted me to weigh, but that would have been no problem here with the nutritionists."
During his tour, Jones stopped in to see Morris and also visited the office of General Manager Mark Dominik. When Jones arrived, Dominik was clicking through highlights of draft prospects using a modified video-game controller that allowed him to zip forward and backward with ease and precision. Dominik also took the group into the Draft Room next door, where preparations for April's draft are in full swing.
Dominik can only wish that a prospect of Jones' caliber was available in this year's talent pool.
"I can recollect when I was growing up in North Carolina and watching football on Sundays, and watching that Doomsday Defense," said the Bucs' G.M. "I remember him being paired up with Randy White, who was also great. To see him in person today, it's amazing to think what that must have been like back when offensive linemen were smaller guys. It's not surprising that he dominated the game the way he did."
Jones, as his terrifically memorable nickname attests, possessed unusual height for the NFL game in the '70s and '80s. Defensive ends that approach the height of the 6-9 Jones are a little less rare these days, but it still takes a special talent to excel with such a frame.
"I think he was one of the pioneers but he was able to play at a better pad level than most people do at his height," said Dominik. "And he had such great length and such great strength that he was able to overcome that height, which can at some point become a detriment. That's how he made the three Pro Bowls that he was in."
Hard work and constant studying surely played into that success, as well. Jones is already a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate in the eyes of many – in a vote by fans a year ago, Jones, Cris Carter and Charles Haley were selected as the top choices among players not among the final 15 in the 2010 Hall balloting. How much better might this dominant player have been had he been paired with one of the NFL's other great assets, One Buccaneer Place.