Texas is a land that has been witness to the births of many great people on its soil. Countless individuals emanating from the Lone Star State have been exceptional athletes, especially in the sport of football. Some of these men are amongst the best ever to have played the sport.
Homer Carroll Jones was born on February 18, 1941 in Pittsburg. He grew up in an area burgeoning with many excellent football players, including Homer's cousins Hall of Fame Wide Receiver Charley Taylor, of the Washington Redskins, and famous Cleveland Browns Defensive End Joe "Turkey" Jones. The cousins spent many days in their childhoods running around and playing various sports together. His mother was close friends with the family of Hall of Fame Running Back Earl Campbell, the Tyler Rose.
Homer not only excelled in football during his high school years, he was also blazing fast and was a top notch track star. He could run the hundred yard dash in 9.3 seconds, and the 200 yard dash in 19.9 seconds. He garnered the notice of several colleges, including Grambling State University and legendary head coach Eddie Robinson. Jones admired Robinson, because "Eddie opened the doors for us to play." After visiting Grambling, Homer then went to visit Texas Southern University with hesitation. He wanted to run track at Grambling with Dallas native Stone Johnson, but he fell in love with the city lights of Houston over the rural setting of Grambling. Johnson would go on to run for the United States in the 1960 Olympics, then later die in 1963 a few days after breaking his neck in a preseason game with the Kansas City Chiefs and has had his jersey number retired since.
During his collegiate career at Texas Southern, Homer ran for the 1962 United States track team alongside Hall of Fame Wide Receivers Bob "Bullet" Hayes and Paul Warfield. Jones and Hayes had many spirited races, which saw Jones winning more than he lost. Texas Southern had many great players on the team during Jones' era, several who went on to play professional football. Men like Charlie Frazier, W.K. Hicks, Willis Perkins, Art Strahan ( the uncle of Hall of Fame Defensive End, and Texas Southern Alumni, Michael Strahan), Warren Wells, Andy Rice, B.W. Cheeks, Gene Jeter, and Homer's close friend Winston Hill. In all, Texas Southern University has sent sixty men to the professional ranks of football thus far.
After his senior year, Homer was draft position in 1964 in the 20Th round draft choice of the New York Giants, the 278Th player chosen overall. He was also a 5Th round draft choice of the Houston Oilers of the American Football League, the 33rd player picked in the draft. Jones decided to join the Oilers, which featured Hall of Fame Quarterbacks George Blanda, and head coach "Slinging" Sammy Baugh. His college teammate, Charlie Frazier, was also there. Joining the Oilers in camp was undrafted rookie Willie Brown, a Hall of Fame Cornerback. Jones hurt his knee in training camp and failed his physical. He was then cut along with Brown. Homer then had the intent on proving to the Oilers they had made the wrong decision.
The Giants quickly called and gave him a plane ticket to New York City. Upon his arrival, the Giants had Jones undergo surgery on his knee. He was given the jersey number 45, which was previously worn by Hall of Fame Safety Emlen Tunnell, upon Tunnell's request. He nicknamed Homer "Seabiscuit", after the famous racehorse, because Jones was so fast. Tunnell, then a defensive backs coach for the Giants, took Homer under his wing to teach him the tricks of the trade.
He spent most of his rookie year recuperating while learning the game, but did get on the field for three games that year. He caught four passes for 82 yards, and returned six kickoffs for 111 yards. It was also the last year that Hall of Fame Giants like Y.A. Tittle, Andy Robustelli, and Frank Gifford would play in the NFL.
One thing he learned was not to get too close to the wily veterans. In a game against the Detroit Lions, Homer ran into a clothesline thrown by Hall of Fame Cornerback, and Texas Legend, Dick "Night Train" Lane. Homer said the lights went out. He could hear things, but saw nothing for a few minutes.
He also spent time watching players like Gifford throwing the ball up into the stands to fans after scoring a touchdown, and wanted to do the same thing when he reached the end zone. After the season, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle put in a rule that players would be fined $500 for doing so. Jones was making $10,000 a year then, so he knew that throwing the ball into the crowd was no longer an option. He then thought of an alternative that would change the course of football history.
During the 1965 season, Jones was told ten minutes before a game that he would be starting. He responded by setting a Giants record, when he took a pass 89 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game. It was the longest scoring play in the NFL that year. Upon arriving in the end zone, he spiked the ball into the ground. It was the first time in NFL history this would happen, and there has been thousands of players to pull off the same feat since. Though he feels celebrations have been taken way too far these days, Jones pioneered a part of the game many enjoy today.
He still was learning the game, being it was only his second year in the league. The Giants liked to line up Jones next to Hall of Fame Offensive Tackle Roosevelt Brown in short yardage formations. Standing 6'2" and weighing 215 pounds, Homer was one of the biggest wide receivers in the league at that time. He also took pride in his blocking. One game against the Chicago Bears, he was lined up across from Hall of Fame Defensive End Doug Atkins. Brown told Jones to block him clean, because he didn't want Homer to anger the humongous Atkins. Homer took that lesson well, and played clean his whole career, even if some of his opponents chose not to.
Homer became a bigger part of the offense that year, catching 26 passes for 709 yards and 6 scores. He averaged a whopping 27.3 yards per catch, his career best. Though he was already becoming well known in the league, he incurred disrespect from trash talking opponents. In the 1966 season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jones had already scored on a 75 yard touchdown pass when he came up against Brady Keys of the Steelers.
The Giants had the ball on their own two yard line, and Keys told Jones "What am I doing here covering you? I could be home eating chicken for dinner with my family."
Giants quarterback Earl Morrall asked what Homer thought. Homer said, "He's talking, so he's ready."
Morrall took the snap, reared back, and heaved the ball about 60 yards in the air. Jones snagged it and took it in for a 98 yard score. It is the longest play in the history in the franchise history of the Giants.
Homer then turned and told Keys, who was about fifteen yards behind him, "If you keep playing like that, you'll soon be eating chicken with your family every Sunday."
Jones finished the season with 48 receptions for 1,044 yards and eight touchdowns. He was a bonafide star in New York, and was often swarmed by fans when out and about in public. It was hard for Homer and his wife to eat dinner or watch a movie without his being bombarded with autograph requests.
1967 saw Homer make his first Pro Bowl Team. He grabbed a career best 49 balls for 1,209 yards, an incredible average of 24.7 yards per catch. He also ran a ball 46 yards for a score. He led the NFL with 13 pass receiving touchdowns, and 14 total touchdowns. A local radio station polled fans on who the Giants MVP was, and Homer won. The station gave him a brand new convertible Cadillac for his achievement.
He returned to the Pro Bowl the next year after he caught 45 passes for 1,057 yards and seven scores. He would travel to both Pro Bowls alongside his friend, and Cowboys Legend, "Dandy" Don Meredith. Don didn't live too far from him in Texas. Jones thinks Meredith is one of the most underrated players in NFL history, and said the man took a huge beating for the sake of victory.
Homer spent much of the 1968 year hanging out with his former college teammate Winston Hill. Hill was the starting Left Tackle for the Super Bowl Champion New York Jets. The pair would attend Joe Namath's famous parties, where people from all over the world would attend. Though Homer was enjoying his time in New York, he also longed for returning home to Texas.
He began to tire of playing football in 1969. Though he still managed to catch 42 passes for 744 yards and a score, he wanted to leave the game. Homer figured he had spent most of his life running and was still a young man at 28 years old. He noticed the aches and pains his body was feeling week to week as well. He said that when he was a rookie, he hurt from Sunday to Wednesday after a game, but now was hurting from Sunday to Sunday. He had seen the agony older players went through, and didn't want to grow old like that. He wanted to take his time and walk.
The Giants traded him to the Cleveland Browns after that season for two players, including future Pro Bowl Running Back Ron Johnson. He had no intention of playing ever again, but was coaxed into joining the Browns by his father. Homer had an Aunt who lived in Cleveland and his father wanted Homer to take care of her, along with his cousin Joe "Turkey" Jones.
Upon joining the Browns, he was told that he would be the teams third receiver and return kickoffs. In the season opener, Cleveland played in the first Monday Night Football telecast on ABC. Jones led the Browns to a win by returning a kickoff 94 yards for a score, the first of its kind on MNF. He spent the rest of the year returning 29 kicks for 739 yards, a 25.5 yards per return average. He didn't get much time on the field, but he did take one of his ten receptions 43 yards for the last touchdown of his career. He then retired after that year.
Teams tried to get Homer to play again. The Saint Louis Cardinals traded for his rights, and the Washington Redskins tried to coax him out of retirement. George Allen, the Hall of Fame coach, called Homer. He thought Homer may be interested in playing alongside his cousin Charley Taylor, but Jones was already fed up with football. In fact, he didn't watch a second of football again for over five years.
He says the toughest opponent he ever faced was Bobby Jeter of the Green Bay Packers. He also has tremendous respect for Cornell Green of the Cowboys. His favorite moment in Dallas was a post pattern he ran on Green and Mel Renfro. The two collided, knocking themselves out of the play, as Homer took the ball for a score.
"Cornell was tough. It was easier for me to get open on Renfro (a Hall of Fame player with Dallas). He was cake compared to Cornell."
Some things then are as they are now. Like living in the fish bowl of New York City. The media also tried to stir controversy in those days. A reported once asked Jones if Bob Hayes was better than him. Homer, knowing the medias tricks full and well, carefully replied "What would you rather be shot with? A 22 or a 45?" Those were the jersey numbers of Hayes and Jones respectively.
Homer Jones holds the NFL record of averaging 22.3 yards per reception throughout his career. This is based on having a minimum of 200 receptions. What makes this more interesting is that Jones' former college teammate, Warren Wells, used to hold the record at 23.13. Wells caught 158 balls, so when the rule was changed to the current standard, Homer took his place in history.
Jones also holds the Giants franchise record for having 66.4 receiving yards per game over a career. His 4,845 receiving yards are the fifth most, and his 35 receiving touchdowns is still tied for the fifth most. The 218 receptions he had still rank 18Th best in team history as well.
Homer is now back in the Pittsburg home he was born and raised in. He is interested in the game of football again, and keeps in touch with many of his peers. He is among the many veterans who feel the NFL disrespects those who made the game what it is today, and that they all have been short changed on the pension plan. The pension plan is not very good, and this is shown with Homer Jones. He had to get both hips replaced years ago, but was given only a $100 monthly increase by the NFL after being disabled from the surgery.
"The money these guys (owners, players) make today comes from us older guys. My top salary was $50,000, and today's players wouldn't even put on their socks for that amount. Let alone their jerseys."
Homer Jones is not only one of the greatest football players to ever have worn a New York Giants uniform, but he is one of the very best athletes to have been born in Texas. His career average of 22.3 yards a catch is amazing in any era, but if you consider the rules and playing conditions in those days, you would see how truly incredible he was.
Not only was the game much more violent then, but there was the ten yard chuck rule. Homer said it was like a boxing match just to get open. Players like Johnny Sample and Pat Fischer were guys Homer said were particularly rough. Then there were the playing conditions. Many times they would play football on dirt used for baseball in multi-purpose stadiums.
"Today they play football like they are in their living room.", Homer said.
So, when you sit back and enjoy the NFL today, give thought to the path it has traveled. Long before it was a multi-billion dollar business. Think of the men who played for the love of the game, not the salaries. Where earning a ring through winning meant more than buying one. Along those thoughts, you will see the men who paved the path we all enjoy today.
Men like Homer Jones. A true Texas Legend.