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Former Cowboy ʻGentle Giantʼ Jethro Pugh Passes Away


Former Dallas Cowboy defensive lineman Jethro Pugh, a member of the legendary “Doomsday Defense,” passed away on Wednesday, January 7, 2015. He was 70 years of age.

Pughʼs story is one that inspired many. He was drafted in the eleventh round out of Elizabeth City State College in 1965 by the Cowboys. Gil Brandtʼs instincts were right about Pugh, who, along with Bob Lilly, anchored the defensive line.

In 1967, he became a part of football lore and legend in the playoff game between Dallas and Green Bay at Lambeau Field. This game, which would become known as “The Ice Bowl,” had Pugh right in the middle of the play that sent the Packers to the Super Bowl for Super Bowl I when Bart Starr called his own number in the huddle instead of handing the ball off and scored as Ken Bowman and Jerry Kramer double-teamed Pugh.

One thing often forgotten on this play is the admission by Jerry Kramer that he indeed jumped the gun and was in fact offsides on the play. Yet Jethro Pugh never complained about it or pointed it out in his defense.

Another thing forgotten from so many years ago is the Cowboys had eight sacks on the cold, frozen tundra of Green Bay in the Ice Bowl. Jethro Pugh led all Dallas defenders that day with three sacks that day.

In 1970, however, Pugh was one of the big reasons the Cowboys went to the Super Bowl. Someone uttered a now famous line: “You couldnʼt score on them until doomsday,” and the Doomsday Defense was born. In the playoffs, the Detroit Lions found out just how true that name was, as Doomsday shut out the Detroit Lions, 5-0. The Cowboys defeated San Francisco in the 1971 NFC title game and faced the Colts in Super Bowl V. The Cowboys lost that game, 16-13, but came back to win Super Bowl VI against the Dolphins by a score of 24-3–Pughʼs first championship with the Cowboys. Pugh also was a force on the 1975 Cowboys, who became the first wild-card team to go to the Super Bowl. The Cowboys lost that game to Pittsburgh by a score of 21-17 . Pughʼs second championship came in 1977, when the Cowboys dismantled Craig Morton and the Broncos in Super Bowl XII by a final score of 27-10.

Often, people remember the Doomsday Defense for Bob Lilly. Lilly was a Hall of Fame player, and a true legend. However, from 1968 to 1972, it was not Lilly, but Jethro Pugh, who led the Cowboys in sacks. Over his career, he amassed a total of 92.5 sacks. Bob Lilly both benefitted from Pugh, because teams could not afford to double-team Lilly without accounting for Jethro.

One teammate who remembered Jethro Pugh as both a teammate and an Ice Bowl participant was Mel Renfro. For Renfro, Pugh was far more than a defensive lineman–he was a friend. “[He was] a good friend of 50 years and he will be missed,” Renfro said of Pugh.

When asked about the Ice Bowl, Renfro said, “The Ice Bowl was a blur. The thing I remember the most was the last play and feeling terrible loosing the game.” Renfro continued by saying, “The aftermath was frost bite. I had no feeling in my finger tips for six weeks after the game. I think Jethro had the worst frost bite.”

Renfro summed up Jethro, his friend and teammate, by saying, “Jethro was a gentle giant but on the playing field he was relentless and punishing.”

Former Dallas Cowboy outside linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson played with Pugh, and was a part of three Super Bowl appearances with him. Henderson, never shy for words, shared both affection and respect for Pugh. “We called him Buzz,” Henderson said of Pugh.. He clarified who he meant by “we” when he said, “Friends that is.”

As a player, Henderson paid him some of the highest respect. “[He] played Tom Landryʼs Flex as good as anyone,” Henderson said of Pugh. “[He was] a guy you could depend to never be out of his gap during a running play.”

For Thomas Henderson, there are two types of players who started for the Cowboys. “There were two sets of Cowboys–great players, then players who played great.” Henderson explained, “Guys who played great basically never made mistakes and were dependable to be where they were supposed to be. Jethro was a player that played great.”

He then juxtaposed great players with players who played great by saying, “Bob Hayes–great player. Jethro Pugh was a guy who played great.”

In a press release, Cowboy owner and GM Jerry Jones Cowboys said, “This is a sad day for Cowboys fans,and our thoughts and prayers go out to Jethro’s family,” Jones continued by saying, “He was loved and appreciated by his teammates and Cowboys fans for decades, and his spirit will be felt when our team travels to Green Bay this weekend.”

Funeral services for Jethro Pugh will be on Thursday, January 15, 2015, at 11 am at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship.

Thumbnail Photo is Courtesy of: www.spokeo.com