Super Sunday holds special memories for Lebanon coach
If you're a sports fan, or just an American, Super Bowl Sunday one of the most eagerly-anticipated days of the year.
It's become a de facto mid-winter holiday where we gather with friends, family and even strangers with a big flat-screen TV on the wall and pretend to watch the big game. Knowing anything about the participating teams or even football is optional. You can just watch the commercials.
For most of us, this is as close as we'll ever get to the Super Bowl.
But for Lebanon's Mike Jones, the first Sunday in February brings back vivid memories each year of when he played in the game - twice. He was a defensive linemen for New England in Super Bowl XXXI and the Titans in XXXIV.
"It was incredible," Jones recounted for me the other day. "It was a tremendous happening. The whole week was like that. Everywhere we went as a team, it was a unique atmosphere.
"It was overwhelming for me, even coming out of the tunnel for the game."
Super Bowl XXXI was played in the New Orleans Superdome, site of tomorrow's big game. Jones, then a six-year pro from North Carolina State, was one of the Patriot captains who strode to midfield for the coin toss. The NFL honored past Super Bowl-winning coaches that year, and legends like Tom Landry and Mike Ditka stood just feet away. Even closer were Packer captains Reggie White, Brett Favre and Sean Jones.
Jones was snapped back to reality on New England's second defensive play when Favre launched a 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison.
"OK, we're in for one," he remembered. "It ended up being a good game [Green Bay winning 35-21]. Unfortunately, we came out on the short end."
Jones, who was drafted in the second round of the 1991 draft by the Arizona Cardinals just before the Atlanta Falcons picked Favre, moved on and landed with the Titans in their first season in what is now called LP Field. That was the year of the Music City Miracle, followed by two playoff wins on the road and a trip to XXXIV in Atlanta. Mike Jones became a memorable name in that game - but not Mike D. Jones, who Lebanon-area football followers know for his work as a Lebanon High assistant and youth league organizer.
Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson on the 1-yard line as time expired to leave the Titans short 23-16. The two Mike Joneses were teammates in St. Louis the year before and are friends. But this turned out to be the final play of Mike D.'s nine-year career.
"That whole playoff run was an unbelievable experience," Mike D. told me Thursday. "It was probably the most exciting Super Bowl ever played.
"If you're fortunate to play for the world championship, you got to be pleased. It's such a dogfight to be there. We were one of the best in the world. We beat everybody in our conference and almost won the world championship."
But coming up short twice does hurt, he admitted.
"It hurts every year this time of year when they start showing the replays on ESPN or NFL Network," he said. "When they show Dyson reaching for the goal line and Desmond Howard running wild [in SB XXXI].
"But like a fever blister, it goes away."
Jones' focus is on his family and the game at the grass roots level. But the 43-year-old is still interested in pro football, just at a level with the rest of us, though with a perspective so few have.
"I'm a fan now," he said. "I watch the game. I watch strategy. I watch the ebbs and flows of the four quarters.
"I get the goose bumps when I see the cameras. I'm taken back to that place, briefly. It's pretty cool. Playing in the Super Bowl, I can relate to what they're going through now, the whole week. Not everybody can say that."
He can tell you what the players are going through at any given moment.
"I started thinking today, this is the last really hard day of the week, being Thursday," he said late that afternoon. "Friday, time slows down and the magnitude of what's about to happen goes in slow motion. People from all over the world are waiting for you to be on stage.
"It's just an amazing experience."