Homer Jones dies at age 82; Wide receiver specializing in bombs and spikes

Homer Jones, one of the greatest receivers of all time for the New York Giants and one of the fastest in the history of pro football, died Wednesday in Pittsburgh, Texas. He was 82 years old.

His daughter, Lacarole Jones Nickleberry, said that the cause of his death at a hospital was lung cancer.

Largely due to knee trouble, Jones’ career was brief: seven seasons with the Cleveland Browns, mostly as a kick returner, including his final one. But between 1965 and 1969, playing with giant teams that were mediocre or worse, he was one of the most dangerous pass catchers in the National Football League.

Jones wasn’t always sure, but he was a big-play specialist, with more than half of his 36 career touchdowns going for 50 yards or more, including 10 of at least 70 yards. His 98-yard reception of a bomb from quarterback Earl Morrall in 1966 was the longest for a Giant until Victor Cruz scored on a 99-yarder in 2011.

For his career, Jones averaged 22.3 yards per catch, the most in history for a receiver who caught at least 200 passes, more than 50 years later.

At 6 foot 2 and 225 pounds, he was big enough to break tackles, and he was surprisingly quick.

A world-class sprinter who once ran the 100 yards in 9.3 seconds, Jones was a contemporary of Olympic champion Bob Hayes, known as “the fastest man in the world”, who played for the Dallas Cowboys. A popular debate within the league was which of the two was faster; Many thought it was the big and strong Jones in a football pad.

At one point a race between the two men was planned for the 1968 Pro Bowl, with a reported $20,000 going to the winner. But it was called off when the Giants’ owner, Wellington Mara, paid Jones not to participate, fearing an injury to his prized receiver and cheapening the opportunity.

Hayes and Jones helped push the NFL toward a major change in strategy as the passing game grew in importance and offenses gave primacy to big-armed quarterbacks and speed-demon pass catchers. The defense, without cornerbacks and safeties who could run with the likes of Hayes and Jones, shifted away from zone coverage and man-to-man.

But on his own, Jones influenced the future of soccer in a way that’s more recognizable to the casual fan.

He had told himself that when he caught his first touchdown pass he would, in the trendy manner of the day, express his joy by tossing the football into the stands. His chance came on October 17, 1965 at Yankee Stadium against the Philadelphia Eagles, when he scored on an 89-yard pass play. Problem was, the league had prohibited that practice and threatened to fine any player who violated the order.

So instead, after crossing the goal line, Jones threw the football hard under the turf in what has been widely credited as the original end-zone “spike”, a term coined by Jones himself. Wrought, ushering in an era, now 68 years old, of ever more elaborate end-field celebrations.

Homer Carroll Jones was born on February 18, 1941, in Pittsburgh, a small town east of Dallas, the son of Horse Jones, a steelworker, and Beulah (Eldridge) Jones, a schoolteacher. As a youth he was more interested in music than sports, playing saxophone in the high school marching band for two years before trying out for football as a senior.

At Texas Southern University, he starred in track as well as football, at linebacker, running back and flanker. He injured a knee in one of his final games, which hurt his draft prospects, but he was still drafted in the fifth round in 1963 by the Houston Oilers of the American Football League and in the 20th round by the Giants. (The AFL and NFL had merged before the 1970 season; the draft was now limited to seven rounds.)

Jones chose the Oilers, who cut him in training camp because of his knee; The Giants subsequently brought him to New York, arranged for him to have knee surgery, and waited more than a full season until Jones regained his health and strength. He appeared in three games for the Giants in late 1964; The following season he was a starting receiver, and although he only caught 29 passes, he averaged 27.3 yards per catch.

The Giants went 7–7 in 1965, and Jones never played for a winning Giants team. In 1966, he scored eight touchdowns, and gained over 1,000 yards as a receiver for the first of three straight seasons, but the Giants were a miserable 1–12–1. That winter, New York acquired star quarterback and future Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings, and Tarkenton quickly recognized that Jones, with his size, speed, power, and huge hands, was a unique player. Was a weapon.

Tarkenton said at the time, “He’s like a guy on a motorcycle waving a butterfly net high in the air.”

With Tarkenton throwing, Jones had two of his best seasons in 1967 and 1968. His 13 touchdowns in 1967 led all NFL receivers; He added seven more in 1968; And he made the Pro Bowl, the league’s annual all-star game, both seasons. It would be nearly 40 years before another Giant wide receiver was selected for the game.

Jones’ knee deterioration after the 1969 season ended his Giants career; He was traded to the Browns for Ron Johnson, who had become a Giants stalwart in the early 1970s.

After his playing career, Jones returned to Pittsburgh and worked for a steel company for 20 years.

He was married thrice. In addition to Ms. Nickleberry, his survivors include two other daughters, Erica Sanders and Marcie Bell; a son, Charles Dumas; a sister, Patricia Bolton; and many grandchildren.

He definitely avoided Spike, which he regretted. In a 2012 interview, he said that he had viewed end-zone demonstrations with disapproval over the years, and that he would have thought twice if he had known what the consequences of his act would be.

“It led to a lot of things – obscene things and confusing things,” he said. “I wish I hadn’t started it.”

alex traub Contributed reporting.