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Cowboys Alumni Series: Catching Up With John Dutton


Defensive ends Ed "Too Tall" Jones and nearly as tall John Dutton were literally head and shoulders above the other prospects in the 1974 NFL draft. And it took a few years, but eventually they were both playing for the Cowboys.

While Dallas chose Jones first overall, Dutton was selected by Baltimore four picks later. He helped the Colts reach the playoffs as a rookie, and the following season was named to the first of three straight Pro Bowls.

However, the success Dutton enjoyed on the field didn't make for a smooth business relationship between him and the Colts. In 1979, their contract discussions came to a Y in the road and, well, a tire or two was blown out.

"I just wanted to get out of Baltimore and I just told [Colts owner] Mr. Robert Irsay and [head coach] Ted Marchibroda that I just couldn't play under that situation," said Dutton. "I went through negotiations two years in a row and it was just getting to be a hassle.

"Football was not fun anymore and I was taking heat from the crowds. I didn't want to deal with that and I just decided I wasn't going to deal with it unless I could go somewhere else, and I don't think they believed me."

Dutton didn't blink and sat out training camp and the beginning of the 1979 season. He was traded to the Cowboys in October for their first- and second-round draft choices in 1980.

"I was ecstatic," Dutton said. "Being traded was a nice feeling, and coming to the Cowboys was even a better deal because they had a chance to go to the playoffs and a chance to go to the Super Bowl. They were such a good organization. They had everything down to a T. Not that they paid great dollars down here at all, but I was somewhere where I could play and I didn't have to worry about a bunch of stuff. Everybody was happy to be here. And you're winning. That's the main thing."

After a season and a half with Dallas and five with Baltimore, Dutton had earned a reputation around the league as a topnotch defensive end. In 1981, he'd have the opportunity to do likewise at defensive tackle.

"When Ed came back [after sitting out the 1979 season to explore a boxing career] they asked me, 'Would you move in to tackle?' I said, 'I'll do what you want me to do,'" said Dutton. "I moved and settled in pretty well. I learned what they really wanted out of a defensive lineman. You needed to know a whole lot about offenses to play that Flex defense. You had to understand how they're going to attack you. 

"In (Tom) Landry's scheme, every lineman had a certain step you had to take on a certain formation, a certain play. It was pretty intense. If you didn't know the offense, you didn't know how to play the defense.

"So it was kind of a learning experience. As I got older it helped me because I understood what they were going to do to me and how they were going to attack our defense. That way I could put myself in position where I'm supposed to be without having to react and get there. So it was pretty interesting. It was an adjustment, but I enjoyed it." 

Playing the majority of his 14-year career with the Cowboys, Dutton appreciated the opportunity for a fresh start in Dallas – on the field and in the locker room. 

"The nice thing is they accepted me when I got here, which was a little bit of a worry for me because they were such a top-echelon team," Dutton said. "I didn't know what they'd think of me.

"I'm sure there were a few guys that didn't appreciate me coming in because they never traded for anybody back then. They didn't trade for a top player and give a first- and second-round draft choice. That was kind of a compliment to me, I think, and I took it as such. It was a good time and I played with a lot of good people. That's my fondest memory, the people I played with." [embedded_ad]

Dutton hung up his helmet and shoulder pads following the 1987 season, and for the past 22 years he has owned and operated HighTech Signs in North Dallas. 

"I work for real estate people, homebuilders, and for developers and engineering firms, putting street signs and stop signs in," said Dutton. "And we do some small billboards and stuff like that. It used to be a small franchise company, but they went out of business and we just kept the name.

"Everybody keeps telling me I should put my name on it, but it's easier not to deal with it that way. I never say I'm an old Dallas Cowboy or this and that. We get business because we do good work. We do the job right and put it in on time. We make our customers happy.

"I've got a lot of good clients and they keep us busy. I'm lucky. I'm not going to get filthy rich, but it pays the bills and I have a good time. I'm out in the sunshine and the rain all the time, so I don't have to wear a coat and tie. I wear shorts and T-shirts and jeans and boots to work. I enjoy the business."

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