Say hello to Brent Jones
Football great talks about his 10 years with the 49ers
Brent Jones always thought if he won a Super Bowl ring, he'd put it on and wear it every day of his life. He won the first of three with the San Francisco 49ers in 1989.
"I wore it for one week," he recalled last week. "Then I took it off and only wore it once in awhile." Now they reside in his safe deposit box - he found they called attention to him.
He gets attention anyway, especially in San Francisco.
"A guy who could barely speak English came up to me recently," he said. "A homeless guy gave me a high five. The purest fans are in the city."
Jones, 45, grew up in San Jose playing both baseball and football, with baseball being his first love. His football coach at Leland High had him play second string.
"My football career was almost over before it started," Jones commented.
He attended Santa Clara University on a dual baseball and football scholarship. On the baseball field, he hit .360 his freshman year. When an injury at the end of the second football season ended his baseball playing - and the baseball scholarship - the football coach picked it up.
"I was a wide receiver then," said Jones, noting that he was really too slow to be the guy who outruns the defense down the field to catch the long passes. "The Santa Clara coach said I had potential for tight end."
Tight ends are in the thick of the action, catching short passes and, usually, being immediately slammed off their feet.
"I started working out and lifting weights," Jones recalled.
He said the end of his college career was an exciting time, as his talents began to be recognized. He played in the East-West Shrine Game, which drew National Football League scouts. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1986, and came to play for the 49ers the following year.
Jones played tight end for the 49ers from 1987-97, during the team's glory years.
"As tight end you have to block all the sweat hogs," he said. "You are in the middle of the field, there are multiple people at all angles. They come at you, 10-20 yards at full speed. ... Some were tough guy/cowboys - I think that was fun."
He was tackled by some of the toughest: Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, who now coaches the 49ers. "Thank God Ronnie Lott was on my team."
He said most of the linebackers minded their competitive manners. "Some liked to talk and swear and get inside your head," he said. "(Bill) Romanowski was exciting."
Jones knew that wide receiver Jerry Rice would always catch the ball more than he would, but he nonetheless always wanted it and was ready.
"Jerry Rice and I together have the record number of catches," he joked, adding that anyone's number added to Rice's 1,549 receptions would be on top.
But Jones' 49ers record is a healthy 417 receptions, and few tight ends have caught more than 400 passes. He averaged 12.5 yards a reception, with the longest being 69 yards. He scored 33 touchdowns, and in 1994 he set a career high when he scored nine touchdowns.
Jones' health was excellent until the 1996 season, and he once was able to play in 125 consecutive games.
He thinks the greatest tight end today is Antonio Gates of the San Diego Chargers.
"He has really good hands," he explained. "He not the fastest but he runs a good pattern."
He recalled signing a disclaimer each year stating he realized that playing for the NFL might result in serious injury, maiming or even death. Since then rules have been instated to make the game safer, such as no leading with the helmet, no helmet-to-helmet, no hands to the quarterback's head.
"I think they're trying to regulate it too much," Jones said. "It's a physical game. Sometimes they call a penalty and I don't see it."
Jones said his first Super Bowl was the most exciting, when the Niners faced Cincinnati in Miami in 1989 for Super Bowl XXIII.
"You don't know what to expect," he said, and the excitement mounted during the week leading up to it.
That game reverberates in fans' memories as a heart-stopper because the Bengals were ahead until quarterback Joe Montana made a winning drive in the fourth quarter to win, 20-16.
"The others were over by halftime," said Jones, referring to their Super Bowl victories against the Broncos in 1990, at 55-10; and the San Diego Chargers in 1995, 49-26. The team also won in 1982 against the Bengals, 26-21; and in 1985, defeating the Miami Dolphins, 38-16.
Jones said the 49er dynasty resulted from the combination of Bill Walsh coaching and the great players.
"We had so many hard workers," he said. "They set the standard - Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott. Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. They set the standard in 1981 and it lasted until 1997."
He said the game has changed drastically since then.
"The players make too much money. Dollars and free agency have hurt professional sports," he said. "It's not good when players make more money than the coach. They sign these contracts without having done anything."
He said Joe Montana made $2 million per season. "Now you see guys drafted at $40 million and sometimes they can't even play."
He said in his day the most important thing to the players was love of the game. Now it seems to be money.
"It's a tough game, extremely physical and tough from a mental perspective - I don't know if the brain can train the heart to do what it needs to do," he explained.
He said the players before him might have felt the same way about his salary, as the first few generations of NFL pros had to hold off-season jobs to support themselves.
He said it is also difficult for a coach to be the leader when the players know he may not last, or the player himself may move on.
"They don't play together eight or 10 years," he noted. "There's a disconnect with the fans, too."
Jones said Coach Walsh knew how to reach and motivate each of the 50 distinctive personalities on the team, not an easy task. He noted that football players should behave and be good role models - but so should everyone.
"People want to focus on the negative but the team is a microcosm of society," he said. "You're going to get all types, in this mini-society."
"The locker room was almost like a reality show," he said with a laugh. "Fifty guys - all different socioeconomic levels, personalities, from different states."
"I really like Mike (Singletary)," he said. "I think he's really disciplined and really focused on the basics of the game." "He will give the team some direction." He noted that doesn't always translate into going to the playoffs.
When Jones was on the 49ers, the team was in seven National Football Conference championships.
But Jones, the competitor, doesn't remember the wins. "I still care about the games we lost," he said. "I should have six rings."
He now applies that same competitiveness to Northgate Financial Services, the private equity business he started in Danville with former teammates Mark Harris and Tommy Vardell. It has raised $3 billion in the last eight years.
Athletes have a big adjustment after they retire from professional sports, Jones said.
"If you're competitive at the highest level, there's an great adrenaline rush and nothing in the world can replace that intensity."
Jones, his wife Dana and their two daughters, Rachel and Courtney, moved to Danville in 1995. They were living in Almaden Valley in San Jose when a Raiders fan used the girls' chalk to write unsavory things all over their sidewalk. After that, Brent began to feel ill at ease leaving his family. They would often visit Dana's family in Walnut Creek so they knew about Danville and Blackhawk and decided to make the gated community their home.
"I needed a sense of comfort with my family while I traveled," said Jones.
Rachel and Courtney attended Monte Vista High School, where Jones helped coach the football team for the 2007 season. The girls are soccer players so Jones again took the skies to attend sporting events - this time to bear witness as Courtney's University of North Carolina team went all the way to win the NCAA championships. He describes himself as a "soccer dad."
Danville is a great place to live, Jones said. People sometimes seem to recognize him but rarely make a point of it like his San Francisco fans.
Keep your eyes open for a 45-year-old, 6 foot 4 inch man with light brown hair and twinkling blue eyes, and say hello if you recognize him. But don't expect to see a Super Bowl ring.
Brent Jones stats
Pro Bowls: 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995
Touchdown passes: 33 regular season; five playoffs
Drafted by Pittsburgh Steelers (5th round) in 1986
Played with 49ers 1987-97
Super Bowl champion: 1989, 1990, 1995