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Tribal Warfare
09-13-2010, 01:17 AM
Chiefs' Jones knows all about hard work (http://www.kansascity.com/2010/09/12/2218298/chiefs-jones-knows-all-about-hard.html)
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star

At some point tonight, Thomas Jones will flex an upper body that can bench-press well more than 400 pounds and throw himself into a much bigger man, who will rock back from the force. Jones will do this without much thought, without much worry and without any fear.

Then the whistle will blow. Jones will go back to the Chiefs’ huddle and prepare to do the same thing again.

The announcers will talk about his leadership and importance to this Chiefs season and how he symbolizes the bigger movement of what this team is trying to do. They will probably talk about Jones’ toughness. People always talk about Jones’ toughness.

They might even call him fearless, and if so, let’s hope they’re only referring to football. Because Jones has fear, a whole childhood’s worth of fear. He’s been scared. You would be too, if you saw and smelled the dirty, deadly blackness of the entrance to a coal mine in Big Stone Gap, Va., where his mother and father worked for years.

“It’s not a good place to be,” he says. “It’s not a safe place to be.”

Jones is 32 years old, and that might as well be 132 for an NFL running back. This is his 11th NFL season, the Chiefs his fifth NFL team despite rushing for nearly 6,400 yards the last five years. He has felt wronged, disrespected, overlooked and underestimated but never let any of it show in public.

The reasons for all of it can be found in the perspective and priorities from those coal mines.

•••

The first thing you will notice about Thomas Jones is the size of his arms. His old coach, Rex Ryan, used to say they’re as big as a normal man’s legs.

Jones has no idea how much time he spends in the weight room. He doesn’t keep track. The earphones go on, he gets lost in the music and lost in his workouts. His teammates call him D.J. Weights, a reference to the music company he runs when he’s not lifting.

“When I’m in there, I’m in the zone,” he says. “I just do it.”

Those arms are a glimpse into what Jones is all about. He says he’d be a weight-room warrior even without football. Workouts are fun for him, but because of his job, they also help him hold on to the ball.

He’s fumbled just 11 times in the last six seasons, a span of 1,973 touches. Fitting that a skill so essential yet easily overlooked — notfumbling — is among Jones’ biggest strengths.

In a fickle position known for short careers, Jones is into his second decade and is establishing a remarkable consistency. It’s a strange thing. People tend not to think of Jones as one of the NFL’s best backs, but last year only Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson rushed more yards.

Two teams have traded Jones. Two others let him go through free-agency. He is the first back to rush for 1,000 yards for a Super Bowl team and then be traded.

Jones will never complain about any of this. The closest he ever came to badmouthing anyone publicly was when he said fellow running back Cedric Benson didn’t want to be part of the team. Jones wasn’t the only one who thought that.

There have been times he’s wondered why teams don’t stick with him. He does what he’s supposed to do. Never gets in trouble. He’s a leader and producer everywhere he goes. But he also will tell you — without blame or bitterness — that football is a business. He’s not always playing for his team, or his city. Money is involved. On both sides.

“You look at it that way,” he says, “and you learn to be thankful for the opportunity, the money you make, and you move on to the next team or whatever you’re doing in your life.”

Those sound like the words of a mercenary, you know, the emotionless thoughts of a man unable to make a real connection with a new city or team that needs so much from him.

Or, at least, that’s what it sounds like until you realize the last team he played for appreciated him so much it took out a full-page ad in The Star thanking him for his hard work and dedication.

Nobody in NFL circles can remember any team doing that for any player before. This is exactly why Jones is such a good fit in Kansas City, and could play a much bigger role than most people around here think.

•••

Jamaal Charles is the Chiefs’ breakout star. Any story about Thomas Jones must come in the context of the player he may or may not start ahead of tonight.

Charles rushed for 968 yards in the final eight games of 2009, and with Matt Cassel whiffing and Dwayne Bowe dropping and most of the defense forgettable, Charles became the focus of fans’ optimism and the team’s commercials.

So even when Jones became the Chiefs’ biggest offseason acquisition other than the draft, it was easy to miss. Some smart football people missed it, thinking the Chiefs just signed a nice complement to Charles.

That’s not what this is about. Never has been.

Fair or not, the Chiefs don’t entirely trust Charles. That’s why they made him inactive for a game last year, and why coach Todd Haley spent most of training camp talking about “if” Charles made the roster.

And it’s why they signed Jones.

Too many people missed that, but then, Jones has made a nice living being overlooked in the NFL. Even his name is plain. He’s easy to miss. He doesn’t run away from defenders like Charles or make them miss like Dexter McCluster. He doesn’t put on a show like Bowe or dunk over goalposts like Tony Gonzalez, but here’s what he has done:

Rush for more yards over the last three seasons than every back in the NFL but Adrian Peterson.

More than that, he is the prototype of man that Haley and general manager Scott Pioli spend so much effort to find. He is productive, but not flashy. Accomplished, but humble. Intelligent, but unlikely to question his coaches.

And Jones has done what the Chiefs are trying to do. The Bears went 5-11 in his first season there, and won the NFC in his last. The Jets were 4-12 when Jones arrived and made the AFC final in his last season.

“I like this team,” he says. “I like the mentality. I like how they work. These guys are dedicated.”

That message is spreading.

“I follow him around, just do whatever he does,” says fullback Tim Castille. “He’s watching extra tape? I’ll watch extra tape. He’s always doing something to get us a little bit of an edge. I love him as a teammate.”

Somewhere, Pioli and Haley are smiling. They knew what they signed. They knew what those coal mines put into Jones.

•••

Thomas Jones promised his father at the age of 5 he’d play in the NFL. He watched the NFL draft, saw the guys dressed up in suits and hugging their parents and thought it would be a nice way to provide his family a better life.

The Joneses are a strong family. How could they not be? Thomas Sr. worked every day of his life, everything from the coal mines to a corrections officer to news broadcaster. Betty did 19 years on the hoot-owl shift at the coal mines, midnight to 8 a.m., one of the only women there because when there are seven kids at home you have to make sacrifices.

Thomas and his six siblings prayed every morning for their parents to come home safe. Not everyone’s parents came home safe from the coal mines.

Mom and Dad supported football as a career choice — Thomas’ brother Julius is in his seventh NFL season — but never in place of real perspective. Dad took the sports page out first so his kids would read the rest of the paper. The boys couldn’t play football if they got a C on their report card.

Thomas never missed a game. And he graduated from Virginia in three years with a psychology degree and is 15 credits shy of a master’s. He’s prouder of that than any touchdown.

“All of it comes from my family,” he says. “That’s the background I come from.”

Jones learned everything from those coal mines. He learned about hard work, because what’s harder than working there?

He learned about sacrifice. He learned perspective. And he learned that he absolutely needed to give his parents a better way. He gave $1.5 million of his first check to his parents for their dream house. No more hoot-owl shifts or odd jobs, but football continues all of Jones’ lessons from the coal mines.

Those lessons make him as productive as he is respected. More to the point, they make him the prototype of what the Chiefs are trying to build around, even if that’s been easy to miss so far.

kcmaxwell
09-13-2010, 06:47 AM
What a great article! Hopefully he is someone we can keep around for more than 1 season! Sounds like the kind of guy you want around a young team.

spanky 52
09-13-2010, 07:07 AM
A tip of the hat to Mr Jones. Hope he has more than one huge year for the Chiefs.

milkman
09-13-2010, 07:37 AM
I like the work ethic and leadership that Jones brings.

But he better not be getting more touches than Charles.

This team is not built for, nor can it win with, a power game that Jones excels in.

InChiefsHell
09-13-2010, 08:55 AM
Awesome individual. These stories are good to help you feel great about the players we have...even when we suck. I hope that all these character guys are FINALLY going to make a difference in the win column.

milkman
09-13-2010, 09:05 AM
Awesome individual. These stories are good to help you feel great about the players we have...even when we suck. I hope that all these character guys are FINALLY going to make a difference in the win column.

I think character does matter, and I think it will make a difference, in time.

But not just yet.

You still need talent, and this team is still lacking in that in a lot of areas.