Obituary: Cowboys legend Jethro Pugh dies

Jethro Pugh was one of the original members of the Dallas Cowboys’ Doomsday Defense.
Jethro Pugh was one of the original members of the Dallas Cowboys’ Doomsday Defense. FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM

Jethro Pugh, an original member of the Dallas Cowboys’ famed Doomsday Defense who played on two Super Bowl title teams, died Wednesday.

Relatives said he died of natural causes. He was 70.

Mr. Pugh was also on the Cowboys team that played in the famed Ice Bowl, the 1967 NFL Championship Game against Green Bay. The Cowboys will play a playoff game at Green Bay on Sunday for the first time since the Ice Bowl, and owner Jerry Jones said Mr. Pugh’s spirit will be with the team.

“This is a sad day for Cowboys fans, and our thoughts and prayers go out to Jethro’s family,” Jones said in a statement. “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.”

Mr. Pugh, a native of Windsor, N.C., was picked in the 11th round of the 1965 NFL Draft out of tiny Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, N.C. He went on to play 14 years with the Cowboys, the fourth-longest tenure in franchise history.

He played in four Super Bowls, winning the 1972 and 1978 games, before retiring in 1978.

Mr. Pugh became a successful businessman and entrepreneur, with five gift shops at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

But he will always be remembered for his time with the Cowboys as an integral part of the Doomsday Defense, playing left tackle next to Hall of Famer Bob Lilly at right tackle.

Mr. Pugh played defensive tackle for Dallas from 1965 to 1978 and is sixth on the club’s all-time sack chart, finishing his Cowboys career with 951/2. He led the club in sacks for five consecutive seasons (1968-72)

Mr. Pugh averaged 121/2 sacks during those five seasons but was never elected to the Pro Bowl. He learned from coach Tom Landry that awards don’t define a man.

“Coach Landry was so fair and honest. He put my mind at rest,” Mr. Pugh said a few years back. “He was a powerful guy.”

Former Cowboys scout Gil Brandt, who was in charge of recruiting Mr. Pugh out of Elizabeth City State, said he never got his due because he played next to Lilly.

But Brandt said Mr. Pugh was great in his own right and would be a first-round draft pick today.

“He was a pup when we got him,” Brandt said. “He was just 20 years old. He had never been on a weight program. But the guy was a tremendous athlete. He had speed. He had long arms. He could do anything.”

Mr. Pugh went to college at age 16.

His values, which paved the way for his successful business career, were on display when he signed his first contract with the Cowboys for $10,000 and a $1,500 signing bonus.

Mr. Pugh was concerned about his future and told the Cowboys to set aside $1,000 in deferred compensation. According to Brandt, “he had several hundred thousand dollars in deferred compensation” when he retired in 1978.

He used the money to start a souvenir shop in 1983 at DFW. He later expanded and partnered with The Paradies Shops, which are in 64 airports across the U.S. and Canada.

“He had the respect of everybody,” Brandt said. “He was a tremendous person. The guy will be missed.”

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Wednesday.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760

Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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