I FEEL SORRY for Too Tall Jones.
He's a great talent -- a real superstar -- and that is why I feel sorry for him.
He's trying to make the transition from pro football to pro boxing, and he's at the most difficult stage in his boxing career -- the preliminary stage. That's a stage a boxer should go through quietly, fighting different guys with different styles while he concentrates on developing his own style.
But Too Tall is too tall for that -- both physically and in terms of his image. He's having a dramatic impact on the sport of boxing and is attracting a lot of publicity, so he can't go through his preliminary stage quitely. And he's so tall that when he gets into the ring the fans tend to boo him -- here's this big guy beating down on some little guy.
He's got a tough job. What's tremendous about him is that he drew 5,000 people in Phoenix this past week, and Truck Robinson of the Suns was in his corner. He'll create a new breed of fight fan. Everybody I know in boxing is rooting for him.
If he comes along slowly, learns the trade, he can make it. But he's got to concentrate on one sport now -- boxing -- without any thought of going back to football.
And he'll find things a lot different in boxing.
In football, each play takes only a few seconds, with rest periods between plays. And there's a lot of time to regroup on the sidelines when your team isn't on the field. And when you go back into action, you walk on with 10 other guys.
In boxing you only get a minute's rest for every three that you fight. And when you walk into that ring, you walk in alone.
That takes heart. Anyone who puts on the gloves and goes in the ring shows he's got courage. But he also has to be able to take punishment. That tests you more. Too Tall's used to taking head slaps and forearms along the line of scrimmage. But those aren't head slaps in the ring -- they're punches.
Physically, I think he has what it takes to be a good boxer. When he was playing on the Cowboy defensive line, he showed he had good lateral movement when he chased ball carriers. You need that mobility in boxing, too.
The peripheral vision you need in football to see plays develop and the reflexes you need to react are important to boxing, too.
But there's different rhythm to boxing than other sports. A fighter has to develop a particular coordination between his feet and his upper body. He has to learn how to step.
Too Tall is learning all that now. He's going to school. And at his level of development, even though he is 28 and in his prime, in terms of learning this game he is in kindergarten.
The key thing for Too Tall is that he's got to want to do it. He's got to want to get up every day and do his roadwork in Central Park. Then hit the gym. No one can make him do it. He's got to want to.
And the training period is a lot different from what he's used to as a football player. Football training is relatively regimented, with the players doing things together -- watching films, working with weights, running plays.
But boxing is a lonely business. Just as a fighter steps into the ring by himself, he goes through the training alone.
And after the drudgery of training, day after day, the fighter goes into the ring and comes out maybe not seeing too much improvement in his performance. That's when a manager has to tell his man, "Don't worry, it will come," and that can sound strange when the boxer is already a superstar in his own right.
Too Tall fits well into the recent history of the boxing game. Because he comes from another sport and is so big -- 6-foot-9, 253 pounds -- he's a controversial figure. We may have to start a super heavyweight division for men his size. But with the controversy comes excitement. And that's good for boxing.
Too Tall will follow Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and the other Olympians in reviving interest in the sport.
I'll be keeping in touch with my boxing friends around the country to see how he's making out. You can't be sure Too Tall will succeed, but I hope he does.