Bear It Tall

A couple of years after my wife and I started dating I heard her use the phrase “Too Tall Jones,” on more than a few occasions. At some point I asked her if she knew who Ed “Too Tall” Jones was, to which she said, “That’s a person?” It was one of those a-ha moments. She — and perhaps some of you — believed that “Too Tall Jones” was just an expression. The truth is, Ed Jones, at 6’9”, was one of the most feared players in the NFL in the ‘70s and ’80s.

At the height of his prime, Jones, a former Golden Gloves fighter (6-0), took a hiatus from football to pursue his favorite sport: boxing. And while he had success in the ring, his opponents were journeymen at best. Jones would ultimately return to football, become a pro-bowler, and retire after the ‘89 season, having spent all of his NFL years with the Cowboys (earning a championship in Super Bowl XII).

In 2009, Jones was featured in a Geico commercial, where a nurse attempts to measure him. After realizing that her measuring rod was too short, she mumbles, “I’m just going to guesstimate.”

Let’s move from Too Tall to Smokey.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the same sort of (sort of) thing occurred during a trip down the road with my family. After passing a Smokey the Bear sign, which was positioned to let every passerby know the fire hazard level for the day, e.g., low, moderate, high, very high, extreme, I said something like, “I wonder how long Smokey lived?” And again, like the response to Too Tall Jones, I got this: “Smokey was a real bear?” Not only was Smokey a real bear, he was rescued — as a cub — during a swift and powerful fire in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico in 1950. His paws and hind legs were badly burned, and worse, he was orphaned.

In time, the young cub caught the attention of the Associated Press and other media, all inquiring about the cub’s recovery. Affectionately and fittingly named “Smokey,” the cub became an instant legend, and a living symbol for wildfire prevention. At the height of his fame, Smokey received so much mail that he had to have his own zip code.

Honestly, if not for some volunteer work my dad signed me up for when I was a kid, I probably wouldn’t have known Smokey was a real bear either. In or around 1981 my dad and I joined a bunch of other people to fill mailers for Fire Prevention Week. One of the inserts included a short story about Smokey the Bear.

Before Smokey’s retirement in 1975, there was an attempt to pair him with a female bear, Goldie Bear, so as to produce offspring. Ultimately, the bear-couple would have to adopt — another orphaned cub, Little Smokey, from Lincoln Forest, New Mexico.

In 1976, Smokey passed and was buried at a park in his name, Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico. Little Smokey passed and was buried in 1990.

Today, the legend of Smokey has been appropriated in, of all places, Fortnite, where players, with this message “Only YOU can prevent V-Buck scams,” are warned not to risk security compromises by attempting to obtain free virtual currency offered by hackers as bait.

Confused? Yeah, me too.

I prefer to focus on Smokey’s original message, especially during these summer months: “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

After all, exercising safety isn’t Too Tall an order for any of us, so long as we do our part.

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