FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Kansas City Chiefs running back Thomas Jones loved playing in New York. He loved the atmosphere, the location, and the gripping buzz the city has to offer. For Jones, playing with the Jets was the perfect match.
“I’ll always have love for New York City and the Jets. I miss being in Morristown and Florham Park, I loved that area. It was perfect for me. If my family wanted to come up to Virginia it wasn’t too far off. If I wanted to go shopping I’d go to the Short Hills mall. It’s a 30-40 minute drive to the city. The environment was just a great place to play. I had a lot of fun that year we went to the AFC Championship game and playing in New York City and the whole buzz that comes with it. It was just a great, great experience that I’ll never forget,” Jones told members of the New York media via conference call Wednesday.
Statistically speaking it was Jones’ best year of his underrated career. In 2009 he posted 1,402 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns — both career highs. Coupled with then-rookie Shonn Greene, the two gave the Jets the number one rushing attacking the league. And in his three years spent with the Jets, he posted averages of 1,311 yards and 9 touchdowns while amassing 4.1 yards per attempt, the highest out of any of his three-year totals of his career.
But following their memorable run to the AFC Championship game, Jones was cut to make room for the addition of LaDanian Tomlinson — a slightly younger and flashier player. Now as his Chiefs prepare to face a resurgent Jets (7-5) unit, Jones has washed his hands clean any hostility toward his former team. After having spent time with five NFL teams, three of whom willingly let him go, he chooses to focus on the positives.
“Some people look at [being on so many different teams] as an opportunity to be bitter, but I don’t look at it like that. I look at it like every opportunity I’ve had has been a blessing: to play in a Super Bowl with Chicago and play three great years for the Jets,” he said.
As the soft-spoken leader of a young Jets team, Thomas let his actions dictate his knowledge of the game and the league. He felt a sense of responsibility as a veteran to take time to mentor young cornerstones of the franchise like Greene, Mark Sanchez and Dustin Keller. Whether it would be finishing off runs, working hard in practice or watching extra game film, Jones felt an obligation to the team to share what it takes to be an NFL success story.
By definition he is the NFL success story: a former first-round pick out of Virginia turned journeyman player who transferred himself into a blue-collar dependable and durable back in the NFL. With 12 yards on Sunday, Jones will pass Eddie George and Tiki Barber for sole possession of the 22nd most rushing yards in NFL history. He’s currently 24th on the list with 10,438 yards. It’s an honor he’d be honored to share with fans in New York, calling it potentially a “very special” moment.
“A lot of what I do is from that man; everything from pass protection, to running routes, to conducting yourself as a professional,” Greene said. “In my first year I ain’t know nothing about watching film and things like that. But he’d grab me after the running backs meetings and we’d watch film together.”
For Sanchez, Jones’ influence taught him that sometimes the best play a young quarterback could make wouldn’t be a pass, but a handoff to his steady running back.
“[There were times] I’d throw it and miss Jerricho [Cotchery] or Braylon [Edwards] or something, and I just remember seeing him jump up on the film and get in my face and say, ‘Hey man, you don’t hand that ball off more it’s going to be on’-type thing,” Sanchez said.
Two years removed from the Jets locker room and his impact is still felt by many. Could he stay bitter about being cut by a team that he, rather obviously, loved being a part of? Sure. But that’s never been the way Jones has looked at life. And he’s not about to start now.
“In my house I have 5 jerseys hanging up for the five teams I’ve played for,” he said. “Some people may look at that as teams that got rid of me, but I look at it like those are the five teams I played for in the NFL. Kids dream to play for one team and I’ve been able to play for five. So I look at like a blessing.”
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