Tennessee State University hosted a Press Conference for the John Merritt Classic on Friday, July 24, 2015 at Nissan Stadium. The 17th Annual John Merritt Classic football game will be held on Sunday, Sept. 6 at 6:00 pm at the Nissan Stadium (formerly known as L.P. Field). The 2015 JMC will see the Tigers of Tennessee State face the Hornets of Alabama State for the 13th time in the programs’ all-time series history.
Nashville favorite and long-time WSMV-TV newscaster Rudy Kalis served as the master of ceremonies for a panel consisting of the head coaches and athletic directors of each institution. TSU AD Teresa Phillips opened the panel discussion with comments and was followed by ASU interim AD Melvin Hines. The Hornets first-year coach Brian Jenkins gave comments next before the final opening comments from Tigers coach Rod Reed.
Kalis then brought Merritt Classic committee chairman Clinton Gray to the podium, where Gray introduced the staff and thanked the supporters for years of hard work keeping the Merritt Classic going. Kalis joyfully accepted a blue sweater vest and a TSU cap from Gray before posing questions to all four members of the panel, where much trash talking ensued.
TSU and ASU will square off for the third time as part of the classic and for the 13th time all-time. The Merritt Classic began in 1999, and under the leadership of head coach L.C. Cole the Tigers emerged victorious with a 41-8 victory for the Big Blue over the Hornets. The Tigers went on to earn a 30-13 victory against ASU the very next season, the last time the classic featured ASU as an opponent. In 2014, TSU traveled to Montgomery, Ala. and fell to the home standing ASU by a score of 27-21. In last year’s JMC, the TSU Tigers defeated Edward Waters College by a final score of 58-6. That brought the TSU record to 11-5 all-time in JMC games.
The John A. Merritt Classic honors John Ayers Merritt, the legendary TSU football coach who led the Tigers from 1963 – 1983. During those twenty-one seasons, “Big John” won four undisputed national championships among historically black colleges ranked by the Sheridan Poll, compiled a lifetime record of 172-33-1, and built a powerful program that produced NFL stars like NFL Hall of Famers Richard Dent (Chicago Bears) and Claude Humphrey (Philadelphia Eagles), “Jefferson Street” Joe Gilliam (Pittsburgh Steelers), Ed “Too Tall” Jones (Dallas Cowboys),) and many others.
TSU great Ed Lee “Too Tall” Jones will serve as the honoree for the classic. NFL All-Pro and Super Bowl Champion Jones was born February 26, 1951 in Jackson, Tennessee, graduated from the Merry High School in Jackson and attended Tennessee State University. Jones was given the nickname “Too Tall” because of his height, 6 feet, 9 inches tall. Jones was a two-time All-American defensive lineman at TSU, playing on a team that only lost two games, on the way to winning the black college football national championship in 1971 and 1973. He was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys with the NFL’s first overall pick in the 1974 draft.
Jones played defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys from 1974 through 1978, attempted a professional boxing career (winning all of his bouts) in 1979, and returned to Dallas to play for the Cowboys from 1980 through 1989. He was named All-Pro in 1981 and 1982, and played in 16 playoff games, including three Super Bowls. Jones played on three NFC champion teams and the 1978 Super Bowl winner. He retired for the second time in 1989, after a total of 15 seasons with the Cowboys.
By the end of his 15 years with the Cowboys, he had a career sack total of 106. His highest single-season sack total was 13 (in 1985). Ed is a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and currently lives in Texas, making personal appearances, speaking engagements, and participating in celebrity golf tournaments.