ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Freddie Jones was waiting in the green room three years ago when the daughters of the original trumpet player for the national anthem at Dallas Cowboys home games walked in and saw their late father’s replacement.
Lindi Loy didn’t know which musician had been chosen to revive a tradition that started on Thanksgiving Day 1966 and ended with her dad’s resignation in protest over Jerry Jones firing coach Tom Landry after buying the team in 1989.
Loy and one of her sisters knew the Dallas-area trumpeter through his work in the community, including a charity that donates the instrument to underprivileged youth. So there was a sense of relief on top of the satisfaction they already felt when the Cowboys said they planned to carry on the legacy of Tommy Loy, who died in 2002.
“We were thrilled that he had been selected,” Lindi Loy said.
The debut for Freddie Jones came in the opener in 2013, flanked by members of the Loy family holding jerseys with the No. 22 on it. That wasn’t a reference to all-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith, who wasn’t drafted until two years after Tommy Loy’s last solo anthem at Texas Stadium. It was for the 22 years Loy held that role.
It’s three years and counting for Freddie Jones, whose image will appear on the giant video board hanging over the field at $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium for the 17th time in the regular season and 18th overall when Atlanta visits Sunday.
“For me to play trumpet on something like that stage is great,” Jones said. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Jones grew up in Memphis, and picked up the trumpet in seventh grade. He was soon playing in a church band that stayed together through high school and was busy on the nightclub circuit, including some out-of-town spots, while attending the University of Memphis (then Memphis State).
The roots for Jones settling in the Dallas area started when he attended the University of North Texas (then North Texas State), getting a degree in music in 1983. He came back for good about the time Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys.
He still plays clubs with the Freddie Jones Jazz Group and teaches at Brookhaven College, a two-year school not far from his home in the Dallas suburb of Carrollton. He also helps at a middle school near his house and has more recently been more involved in producing music.
In a sense, though, all those jobs are one and the same.
“On any of those you just asked me, none of them the trumpet leaves my hand,” he said. “I don’t have a ‘rathers’ — I’d rather do that or this. I would rather keep playing the trumpet is the only thing I can think of.”
The Cowboys are one of the few teams in the NFL that use the same person for the national anthem each time. They went away from the more common approach of different anthem performers, usually singers, because executive vice president of marketing Charlotte Jones Anderson thought it would be a way to connect with fans by bringing back a popular tradition.
The anthem under Tommy Loy was well known enough that he played it for the 1971 Super Bowl, when Dallas lost to Baltimore, and at one time was the answer to a New York Times crossword clue: “Cowboys trumpeter.”
“You’re always evaluating what you do on game day and what great traditions you have as an organization, and talking to your fans about the things that resonate with them,” Anderson said. “What memories they have, what things are iconic from the early ’60s, way before when we were here.”
Anderson was thinking about one other thing: If there isn’t someone singing the national anthem, fans have to do it.
If they were slow to catch on at first — Jones thinks it was his fourth game the first time he heard anyone singing — they seem to be getting the idea. The voices of 93,579 were clear for the Sunday night prime-time opener against the Giants earlier this month, with a giant U.S. flag covering the field the same way it was for his debut three years earlier.
“I do think maybe the first time he did it, that people were like, ‘Oh, is this a one-time thing or is this going to be continued?'” Anderson said. “And then as we repeated it, now we’re to the point that fans expect it, they anticipate it and they participate in it.”
Hearing voices is a good thing for Jones.
“It makes my stay right there, you know?” he said. “I think it’s important that we share the anthem with the people that are there. Because it’s not really about me, is it? Isn’t it more about everybody being a part of that thing?”
For Lindi Loy and her sisters, it was about honoring their father’s legacy regardless of how his tenure ended.
“We were born and raised on the Cowboys,” said Loy, whose father got a music degree from SMU in 1955. “And even though we were upset and mad at Mr. Jones for the way that he handled everything, it’s about the team. It’s not about individuals.”