At a news conference Tuesday in New York, broadcaster and moderator Bonnie Bernstein ticked off the accomplishments that made former LSU quarterback Bert Jones the school’s 11th and latest addition to the College Football Hall of Fame.
“Consensus first-team All-American,” Bernstein read, “Bert Jones finished his career as the Tigers' all-time leader in passing yards, completions, attempts, touchdowns. Did I miss anything?”
“I’ve been hit in the head a lot,” Jones cracked. “I don’t remember.”
That’s Bert. Incredibly accomplished and always a little brash, even to the point of making his audience cringe a little.
Way back in 1992, I wrote a 20th anniversary story about the 1972 LSU-Ole Miss game, the one in which Jones led the Tigers 80 yards to the winning touchdown, a 10-yard pass to Brad Davis as time expired in a 17-16 victory.
Before running back out onto the field with the final play, Jones paused and winked at his coach and now fellow Hall of Famer Charles McClendon. Jones snapped the ball with one second left on the Tiger Stadium clock, zipped a pass in the left flat to Davis, who tumbled back just inside the goal-line pylon in the south end zone, right in front of where the Ole Miss fans were seated.
Those fans grumbled, and grumble still, that there’s no way Jones could have gotten off two plays in the last four seconds. A pass on the previous down for Jimmy LeDoux that started with four ticks left on the clock was broken up.
"I don't know why they were all upset about the time," Jones said in 1992 at a ’72 team reunion. "If they watched the film they would have known we were out of bounds."
"Bert starts all that crap,” Davis said then. “I was inbounds.”
Actually, Jones said Tuesday, it was three plays in the final eight seconds.
“I think every good quarterback should be able to make three good passes in eight seconds,” Jones explained, “the last of which was one second on the clock. And we just needed a — we needed a little drama at the time. And it was a wonderful event.”
For singular LSU football moments, the “One Second Blues” pass of Jones to Davis perhaps ranks as the second most legendary play in Tigers history, behind only Billy Cannon’s 89-yard punt return against the Rebels 13 years earlier.
As an LSU quarterback, Jones takes a back seat to no one, even though McClendon made him split time throughout his three seasons from 1970-72, first with Buddy Lee then with Paul Lyons.
Jones was a prototypical quarterback, big for the era at about 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, but McClendon wasn’t exactly the Mike Leach of his day. When Jones left LSU, taken second overall in the 1973 NFL draft by the Baltimore Colts, he had thrown for just 3,390 yards and 28 touchdowns. That's exactly as many yards as Louisville's Lamar Jackson, who LSU faces Dec. 31 in the Citrus Bowl, threw for this season alone. Today, Jones doesn’t rank in the top 10 on either of LSU’s career passing lists in those categories, but he remains LSU’s only consensus All-American quarterback, All-American status being a requirement for enshrinement in the college football hall.
Jones blossomed in the NFL, as expected. In 1976 he led the Colts to the AFC East title and was named NFL MVP. The only other LSU player ever to earn that distinction was Jim Taylor in 1962 with the Green Bay Packers.
Fittingly, Jones stood on the field at this year’s Ole Miss game and received a standing ovation when P.A. announcer Dan Borne reminded the crowd that Jones was about to enter the hall of fame. Afterward, Jones and his grandson came up to the press box and sat in athletic director Joe Alleva’s box, just on the other side of a glass partition from my seat in the working press area.
Sometime in the second half as Leonard Fournette — who shares the No. 7 with Jones — was having his own unforgettable night against Ole Miss with 284 yards rushing on just 16 carries, I leaned around the glass and asked Jones what he thought of the young man now wearing his number.
“He wears it well,” Jones said with that trademark smile.
Then I looked over at Jones’ grandson and told him, “You know, when I was your age, your grandfather was my hero.”
Which sports stars shine brightest in our memory? For many of us, it’s the ones from our formative years, the ones who were at the top of their game just when we were beginning to become aware of the sports world around us.
For years my prized possession was a poster of Jones in Baltimore (now Indianapolis) blue, dropping back to launch a pass deep downfield with that distinctive over-the-top throwing motion of his. When he suffered a separated shoulder in the final preseason game before the 1978 season, sending his career on a long but inevitable decline, it hurt me, too.
To me, Bert Jones was always the best. That the National Football Foundation now thinks that, too, that he deserves to be among the less than 1,200 players and coaches among the more than five million in the game’s history to be enshrined, makes my inner child delighted to no end.
2016 College Football Hall of Fame Class
Marlin Briscoe, Nebraska Omaha
Derrick Brooks, Florida State
Tom Cousineau, Ohio State
Randall Cunningham, UNLV
Troy Davis, Iowa State
William Fuller, North Carolina
Bert Jones, LSU
Tim Krumrie, Wisconsin
Pat McInally, Harvard
Herb Orvis, Colorado
Bill Royce, Ashland (Ohio)
Mike Utley, Washington State
Scott Woerner, Georgia
Rod Woodson, Purdue
Bill Bowes, New Hampshire
Frank Girardi, Lycoming
LSU in the College Football Hall of Fame
Bert Jones, QB, 2016
Charles Alexander, RB, 2012
Jerry Stovall, HB, 2010
Billy Cannon, HB, 2008
Tommy Casanova, CB, 1995
Charles McClendon, coach, 1986
Doc Fenton, end, 1971
Abe Mickal, HB, 1967
Ken Kavanaugh, end, 1963
Gaynell “Gus” Tinsley, end, 1956
Bernie Moore, coach, 1954