Big Dave Jones’ story is one of persistence and barbecue sauce.
Jones had opened a restaurant, Li’l Red Barbecue Smokehouse, in Dallas in the early 1990s when it occurred to him the business really would take off if he somehow became affiliated with his favorite sports franchise, the Dallas Cowboys.
So one day he took a sample platter to team headquarters hoping a nibble would get him in the door. He was turned away, but kept showing up with an assortment of ribs, brisket and pulled pork as well as a bottle of his custom-made sauce.
On the 27th try, the security guard finally broke down and had a taste. It was Jones’ ticket into the kingdom.
“So we go down some corridors and make a right and go through these double doors and there’s Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Larry Allen,” he recalled. “My knees buckled.”
That foray led to a long-running catering gig with the Cowboys that had Jones making deliveries during minicamps, cooking family dinners at Tony Tolbert’s home, catering a birthday celebration for Nate Newton’s son and essentially whipping up a batch of barbecue any time the triumphant, ever-partying Cowboys got together.
“If someone got a new hat, they had a party,” Jones chuckled.
“A helicopter flew in one day and landed on the back field,” he continued. “And the gentleman who jumped out had a Cowboys jersey. I think it had zero-zero on it. It was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife. He’s a huge Cowboys fan.”
The relationship also gave his son, 49ers nose tackle D.J. Jones, an early glimpse into the NFL.
He’d be one of the boys running around and playing games at team picnics. He’d also accompany his dad to drop off food at team headquarters. Dave recalled one delivery in which they encountered Smith and safety Kenneth Gant in the hallway.
“And D.J. had his little Cowboys cap on,” Dave said. “And I said, ‘Son, here’s your opportunity.’ And nothing happens. I looked to my right and it was like my son had literally frozen. His mouth was open but nothing was coming out. I nudged him a little bit and he gave them his cap. Kenny Gant signed one side and Emmitt signed the other side of the cap.”
On Sunday Jones will face the team his father once fueled with slaw and smoked turkey.
A sixth-round pick out of Mississippi in the spring, Jones has been backing up veteran Earl Mitchell and has averaged 17 snaps over the first six games. His playing time stands to increase this week with one 49ers defensive lineman, Arik Armstead, on injured reserve with a broken hand and another, Aaron Lynch, out with a calf strain.
Jones (6-foot-1, 319 pounds) gets his girth from his father – Big Dave, 58, played at North Carolina A&T in the 1970s – with a big assist from his love of brisket.
D.J. said that when the final school bell rang, he’d head to his father’s restaurant. By that time, the family had moved to Greenville, S.C., to be near D.J.’s ailing grandmother.
“I’d leave school and I’d go to the restaurant,” he said. “And eat some fries. Put some (brisket) on top. I’d eat all that and see what else was there.”
Big Dave notes that when he was in Texas, a group of powerlifters were regulars at his restaurant. Instead of protein shakes, the group would binge on brisket. “They’d go through two or three pounds of it,” he said.
He wondered if it was coincidence that when D.J. transferred from East Mississippi Community College to Ole Miss in 2015, he immediately was one of the school’s strongest players, bench pressing 440 pounds and squat-lifting 650 pounds.
“I’m not attributing brisket to his body form,” Big Dave said. “But let’s just say he ate a lot of brisket.”
D.J. said he likes to dabble with barbecue and experimenting with sauces, but not to the extent of his father, whose cooking and catering business is built on his two sauces, Big Dave’s Texas Red and Big Dave’s All-American Hawaiian Bold Gold.
Ever the savvy operator, he said he’s toying with the idea of putting his son’s image on the bottle and stocking it on shelves on the West Coast.
“We definitely want to market the Bold Gold out there,” he said.