East Rutherfoprd, N.J. Thomas Jones has no hard feelings, no regrets.
The Kansas City Chiefs running back has seen better days, though, especially when he was pounding out tough yards for the team that will be on the other sideline today, the New York Jets.
“Playing in New York City and the whole buzz that came with that,” Jones said, “it was just a great, great experience. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
Jones hasn’t been forgotten in the Jets’ locker room despite being gone two years. Ask any of his former teammates, and they speak of him with the type of reverence reserved for some of the game’s greats.
“He was one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” quarterback Mark Sanchez said. “Just a real team leader, especially during that playoff push (in 2009). He would talk to the offense the night before games and remind us of what it was like and told us what it would be like to play in the Super Bowl. He had been there before with the Bears. He didn’t say much, but when he did, it was important. It was serious, from the heart.”
The 33-year-old Jones has never been flashy during a career that has seen him bounce around like a journeyman, but has been marked by impressive numbers — entering today’s game 12 yards away from passing both Eddie George and Tiki Barber for 22nd on the NFL’s career rushing list. He went from being a disappointing first-round pick in Arizona, to playing a season in Tampa Bay, three years and a Super Bowl appearance in Chicago and then being traded to the Jets and having his best three-year stretch.
He capped it by powering Rex Ryan’s “Ground-and-Pound” offense with a career-high 1,402 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns in 2009, while helping the Jets to their first AFC championship game since 1982.
“As soon as I met Rex, we hit it off instantly,” said Jones, who played his first two seasons in New York under Eric Mangini. “He’s my kind of coach and I think I was his kind of player.”
No doubt about it.
“The thing is, this organization and myself included, I thought the world of Thomas. We all did, and we all do,” Ryan said before smiling. “But not this week. I’d rather see him on the sideline.”
With Jones already 31 and the Jets wanting to go younger after the 2009 season, New York released him. Four days later, he signed with the Chiefs.
“In my house, I have five jerseys hanging up from five teams that I’ve played for,” Jones said. “Some people look at it as teams that got rid of me, but I look at it as teams I can say I played for in the NFL. It’s a kid’s dream to play for one team, and I’ve been able to play for five.”
Jones isn’t carrying the load anymore as the Chiefs (5-7) have gone to a three-back approach with him, Jackie Battle and Dexter McCluster since Jamaal Charles was lost for the season early. He’s third on the team with 325 yards rushing and has yet to score this season.