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Old 12-25-2010, 02:56 AM  
Tribal Warfare Tribal Warfare is offline
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Covitz: Jones savoring the Christmas season

Jones savoring the Christmas season
By RANDY COVITZ
The Kansas City Star

Chiefs running back Thomas Jones is 32 years old, but he’s never had a Christmas tree in his own home. Until this week.

Football games, road trips and not having any family nearby made Christmas just another day for Jones during his first 10 years in the NFL.

But this year, Jones’ mother, father, five sisters, niece and nephew made the trip from Virginia and are all squeezing into his Plaza residence for a Christmas in Kansas City that he kicked off by participating in the Plaza lighting ceremony on Thanksgiving night.

“Sometimes you get lost in the holidays with work,” Jones said after a Christmas Eve practice, “and when you’ve been doing it as long as I have … you celebrate the actual reason for the holidays, but all the perks, the gifts, the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and all those things that come with it, you don’t get to experience.

“This might be the most special Christmas ever, because my family is here. … I might even take my niece and nephew for a little carriage ride.”

It’s also been a special time of year for Jones on several other fronts. The Chiefs, in Jones’ first season in Kansas City, lead the AFC West and could clinch the division on Sunday with a win over Tennessee coupled with a San Diego loss at Cincinnati.

Last week Jones became the 25th player in NFL history to rush for 10,000 career yards. He’s just 172 yards shy of joining St. Louis’ Steven Jackson as the only active backs with six straight 1,000-yard seasons.

And to cap it all off, earlier this week Jones was chosen as the Chiefs’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, the sport’s most prestigious honor.

It was the first time in Jones’ career that his team nominated him for the Payton award, which is based on a player’s leadership, community service and performance on the field. Chiefs players have won the award a league-most five times since it was created in 1970; including last year’s winner, guard Brian Waters. The winner will be announced Feb. 6 during pregame ceremonies at the Super Bowl.

Like many youngsters who grew up in the 1980s, Payton was a hero to Jones.

“When I was a kid, I had the Kangaroo shoes he used to wear,” Jones said. “They had a little zipper on the side I put a quarter in for ice cream. And when I had the opportunity to play for Chicago, I had a picture of Walter Payton in my locker.”

Jones certainly has lived up to the criteria of the Walter Payton Award. Jones, whose parents worked in the Virginia coal mines, counsels families in the area, especially encouraging children to stay out of quarries and abandoned mines. He also donated $10,000 to a scholarship fund for children who lost family members in the Big Branch explosion in West Virginia last April.

In addition, he established the Thomas Quinn Jones First Academic Scholarship Fund, to which Jones donates $2,000 per semester for 30 students from the five-county area where he is from so they can attend his alma mater, the University of Virginia.

“It’s not the richest area,” Jones said, “and we have some really talented students and smart kids, but UVA is a pretty expensive school. I like to make a difference in peoples’ lives, whether it’s leading by example or actually doing something to help them, not only in football, but in general.”

Jones has become active in the Kansas City community as well. He’s made appearances at high schools speaking about the importance of nutrition, visited soldiers at Whiteman Air Force Base, kicked off the NFL Hometown Huddle at the Boys & Girls Clubs and bought holiday turkeys for local families in need.

“This is a great place to play football,” said Jones, who also has played with Arizona, Tampa Bay, Chicago and the New York Jets. “Anytime you have fans and a city behind you, it definitely makes you want to do more for your community.”

Jones, who signed with the Chiefs as an unrestricted free agent this year after finishing third in the NFL in rushing last season with 1,402 yards, wasted little time making an impact in the locker room and on the field.

“He brings so many intangibles to the table besides being a great football player,” backup running back Jackie Battle said. “He brought a spark to this team that we needed. He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around. This is my fourth year, and I’ve never come across a guy like him. He’s a great motivator. He knows the right things to say to get everyone going.”

Jones’ biggest influence has been on third-year running back Jamaal Charles, the NFL’s third-leading rusher with 1,303 yards. The combination of Jones, with 828 yards, and Charles has been the most prolific duo in the NFL. Their combined 2,131 yards is closing on the 2,351 yards compiled by Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in 2008 for the most by any duo since 2001.

“When we started the season, our goal was to be the best backs in the league,” Jones said. “That had nothing to do with yards, it had to do with everything. It had to do with pass protection, it had to do with catching the ball, running the ball, out-working everyone, and up until this point, we’ve done a great job of that … and it’s not just me and Jamaal.

“It’s me, Jamaal, (fullbacks) Tim Castille and Mike Cox and Jackie Battle, all five of us. We’re all kind of like brothers.”

Titans at Chiefs

•WHEN/WHERE: Noon Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium
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Old 12-25-2010, 05:15 AM   #2
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Old 12-25-2010, 05:24 AM   #3
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