George Starke is the Washington most directly affected by Ed (Too Tall) Jones' decision to quit football and get his nose busted by professional fighters. As the Redskins' left offensive tackle, Starke went head-to-head with the Cowboys' defensive end. "I won't miss him," Starke said yesterday. "It took me all these years to break him in."
"but if he is even moderately successful at boxing, he can make more money in one fight than he will in the next six years with the Cowboys. The Cowboys aren't famous for paying big salaries, and he has the moniker already - Too Tall, bigger than life, a superman - that will guarantee him one major bout even if he gets killed in it."
Can Jones, 6 feet 9, 270 pounds, make it as a fighter?
"I have to think boxing is as professional as football today," Starke said. "And I can't imagine a boxer starting over as a football player at age 28. But as I said, he can make a lot of money at it and then, if he gets killed, he can become a wrestler or come back to football."
Too Tall, it says here, should keep his face mask where he can find it. "Too Dumb, they ought to call him," a wise-guy editor said. At 28, he is Too Old to learn the cruelest game of all.
"Ken Norton didn't start until he was 28," Jones said the other day by way of showing it is not impossible.
Jones is wrong about Norton.
Norton was, indeed, 28 when he first fought Muhammad Ali, breaking the Lip's jaw and moving into our consciousness.
But Norton by then had 30 professional fights to get ready for Ali.He began hitting on people's noses and, more important, getting hit on his at age 20 in the Marines. He turned pro at 22.
Although the Ring Record Book says only seven men taller than Jones ever fought professionally - all anonymities - size alone is not reason to rule out Jones as a heavyweight contender two years from now (which is the defensive end's announced timetable en route to the championship).
The tallest champion, Jess Willard, 6-7, surely was more a giant in 1915 than Jones today. Primo Carnera, the champion in 1933, was 6-5 3/4, 265 pounds, the heaviest ever. Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, even beleves Jones' move into boxing is the first step toward a new division.
"I see it as the beginning of a super-heavyweight class," Dundee said from Las Vegas, where he is working with Sugar Ray Leonard for a weekend bout.
"In the old days, big guys were gimmicks, freaks. Now our big men are so well-coordinated, and they move so well. What people don't realize is that our race is getting bigger. Jack Johnson was a big man in his time - in the early 1900s. And he was 6 feet, 1/4 inch, weighing 205."
Dundee envisions a superheavy weight division of men over 200 pounds, with Too Tall Jones as the prototype, a giant with moves.
The question is: can Too Tall's football moves be translated into boxing moves?
"i don't know," Dundee said. "I'd have to see him work out. You can put a guy through certain drills to see if he has the movements a fighter needs. But what we have to remember is that with Too Tall and these other big guys today, we're dealing with tremendous athletes.
"Muhammad ain't no little guy (6-3, 220 at fighting trim) and there was never anybody who moved like him. They said he could have been a great tight end. But that doesn't mean Too Tall can do it. I've got to see him first before I can say that."
And Dundee posed the next question.
"Does Too Tall have the zest for it?"
That means: Does Too Tall mind getting hit in the beak for his art?
George Plimpton, the human race's proxy in big-time sports, once put his nose in front of Archie Moore, one of the greatest fighters ever. Plimpton did this foolishness in order to write about what it is like fighting a pro. Every time Moore tapped Plimpton's nose, the writer burst into tears. "A sympathetic response," Plimpton called it.
Almost certainly, Too Tall Jones' nose is harder than Plimpton's. The point remains, however, that unless a man has given over his proboscis to pummeling for years he simply isn't ready for the power, speed and unremitting hostility of what they call, with reason, the square jungle.
The best fighters, like the best football players, are those to whom the movements come naturally. For a decade, Ali avoided being hit by the seemingly simple device of leaning away from punches. Even on the ropes, he leaned away as punches whizzed by a quarter-inch away from his chin. Only extraordinary depth perception, astonishing reflexes and 20 years of dodging such punches let Ali get away with that. Lesser men would have suffered mightily.
On the offensive, nothing costs a fighter more dearly than a moment's hesitation in delivering a punch. The opening is there only briefly. Sugar Ray Robinson once said he saw an opponent on the canvas before he realized he had delivered the punch that decked the poor fellow. That punch came from instinct, not from training.
Unless the brief Golden Gloves career of Too Tall Jones (two fights in high school, both first-round knockouts, wasn't it?) was more significant than expected (what high schooler wants to go two rounds with a kid 6-7 and 240?), we must assume Jones will now get busy training himself to be a professional fighter.
It can't be done. At 28, with no experience, with hands that look fast slapping a tackle's helmet but in the ring will be slow, Jones may move into the top 10 by the strenght of his Cowboy publicity and a few victories over stiffs but one fears, he will find it difficult, indeed, to be any more in the ring than Wilt Chamberlain might have been.
Chamberlian, in 1971, said he wanted to fight Ali for the heavy-weight championship.
In his autobiography, "Wilt," the 7.2 basketball player said he was talked out of the Ali idea by his attorney, Alan Levitt, who told him, "Ali could make an absolute fool out of you in the ring. Is that what you've worked so hard for all these years - to be embarrassed and humiliated and laughed at like some freak in a carnival sideshow?"
So Wilt went back to playing basketball.
Look for Too Tall wearing that face mask again, if not this season then next.