NFL Historical ImageryIt’s ironic that even as Sundays’ Ice Bowl II between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers nears, one of the key players in that first Ice Bowl game died this week.

Jethro Pugh, a defensive lineman who was double-teamed on the final play of the game to open a hole just barely large enough for the Packers’ Bart Starr to score the game-winner, died Wednesday of what was said to be natural causes.

I met Jethro more than 20 years ago at Trinity Lutheran Church, which closed a few years ago due to lack of attendance; the site was eventually sold to the YMCA and will serve as the location for the new White Rock YMCA building at 7115 Gaston. Among other volunteer jobs, Jethro served as president of the congregation, which other than him was primarily white people — not surprising since it was essentially a German congregation that had relocated from South Dallas.

From left: Former Dallas Cowboys Jethro Pugh, Ralph Neeley and Andy Frederick, and neighborhood resident and former Dallas Maverick Scott Lloyd at the Lakewood Service League's Big League Ball in 1995.

From left: Former Dallas Cowboys Jethro Pugh, Ralph Neely and Andy Frederick, and neighborhood resident and former Dallas Maverick Scott Lloyd at the Lakewood Service League’s Big League Ball in 1995.

He introduced himself just as “Jethro”, not Jethro Pugh or Dallas Cowboy Jethro Pugh. But he was a huge man, even years into retirement, and when I first shook his hand and noticed a rather large bejeweled ring, I asked if he was “the” Jethro Pugh, the guy who was part of the legendary Doomsday Defense.

And he answered quietly that he was.

After we got to know him better, seeing him virtually every Sunday at church, I asked to take a closer look at his Super Bowl ring. Somewhere misplaced in our house is a picture of our then-tiny boys with Jethro and his two Super Bowl rings.

I kid you not: The ring he wore on his ring finger almost fit on two of my own fingers combined, it was that huge.

I asked Jethro how he came to attend that particular church, and he said the pastor at the time, Harold Meissner, had helped him through some tough times after his playing days, times that involved real estate deals gone bad. Jethro was one of those guys who was loyal to a fault, and I’m sure that attribute and his fame as a Cowboy contributed to some problems over the years.

By the time I met him, though, Jethro seemed to have turned the corner on his financial issues and had partnered on a couple of Cowboy/Western-themed retail shops at DFW Airport called Paradies-Pugh Shops. Later, his son joined him in the business.

Jethro’s neighborhood connection was strong: He told me he lived in apartments on Gaston Avenue not long after he first joined the Cowboys in 1965; he said a lot of Cowboys lived on Gaston back then because it was close to the Cotton Bowl (original home of the team) and near all kinds of entertainment. Later, he bought a home on Gaston, where he lived until about seven or eight years ago, when he sold it and moved to Cliff Tower in Oak Cliff. He said his kids lived in southern Dallas, and he wanted to be closer to them.

Jethro spent 14 years as a Cowboy — he never played for another team. The only Cowboys with a longer tenure than Jethro, according to Wikipedia, were Bill Bates, Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Mark Tuinei.

He was a constant at the Wells Fargo Bank Building, where we office, and I saw him plenty of times in line making a deposit or conducting business at the teller windows. I used to run into him all of the time at Minyard’s (now Whole Foods) picking up something for his dinner.

He never failed to act like I was his best friend, and I can’t say I’ve ever met a nicer guy. I got the feeling that if I called him up at 3 a.m. and told him I needed a ride to the hospital, he would have been at my house before I hung up the phone.

We wrote about him a couple of times, and he always had that “why me” reaction, seeming to think there were better choices to write about than a washed-up football player. Even now, as I sit here watching the evening sports on Channel 8 (we might as well call it Cowboy 8 these days), Jethro is mentioned in death, but his 10 seconds (no picture) of final fame come long after a full report on the Cowboys practice Wednesday, a too-long interview with Tony Romo, and a story about a trip taken by a bunch of old-time Cowboys to Boone Pickens’ ranch somewhere.

Jethro was a late-round draft pick from a small town who attended a small college and played with some of the biggest names on the biggest stage in pro football (Bob Lilly, George Andrie, Harvey Martin, Randy White, Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson and on and on). As Channel 8’s Dale Hansen said about Jethro in death: “When you play with those guys, you kind of get lost in the shuffle.”

And although his death was noticed and noted, I have to wonder how much mention he would have received if he had died any other week than the one prior to the 47th anniversary of the Ice Bowl that made him famous in a negative way.

Had it been up to Jethro, I bet he would have quietly made arrangements to die last week or next week — he enjoyed being “just a guy”, and I bet he would have wanted to go out the way he lived.

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