You’d forgive Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones for being skeptical of the celebration held in Baltimore on Tuesday to celebrate the Super Boxl XLVII Ravens.
Growing up in The Big Easy, the 28-year-old return specialist knows a thing or two about a citywide party. But even Jones couldn’t help but shake his head in disbelief as more than 200,000 Ravens fans flocked to the downtown area for a parade and rally at M&T Bank Stadium to celebrate the second championship in the 17-year history of the franchise.
As he did following his record-setting 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, Jones offered his rendition of Ray Lewis’ famous dance after the 37-year-old linebacker showed it off one more time in front of the hometown fans. It was just one of many memorable scenes on a day few will forget in the history of Baltimore sports.
“I’m from New Orleans and we have Mardi Gras,” Jones said. “We have parades and we have people out there and you’d be like, ‘Wow.’ But that right there, that was times 10. That was crazy. I don’t think nobody went to work. No kids in school, no nothing. Baltimore just shut down. I hope no doctors were out there. Somebody would have died!”
It was quite a change from a year earlier for Jones, who encountered death threats and heard stories of Houston Texans fans burning his jersey in outrage over a critical fumble on a punt in a divisional playoff loss to the Ravens last January. Released a couple months later, Jones found a home in Baltimore after signing a two-year, $7 million contract.
The sixth-year receiver and former third-round pick immediately felt right at home with the Ravens as the organization simply encouraged Jones to be himself as he had a reputation for being a bit of a free spirit in addition to doubts about his hands. He is among countless players to declare this year’s team as the closest they had ever been a part of.
His two-touchdown performance while playing in the Super Bowl was the icing on the cake for a season that included Jones’ first Pro Bowl selection as the return specialist in the AFC.
“Never in a million years you would think one year you come in and play with a group like that,” Jones said. “That’s crazy. I don’t think you can ever have another team like that again. I hope we can all stay together.”
Jones accumulated a Super Bowl-record 290 all-purpose yards and set three other records in the NFL’s championship game, including longest play, longest kickoff return, and longest kickoff return for a touchdown. His 56-yard touchdown catch on a moon-ball from quarterback Joe Flacco gave the Ravens a 21-3 lead late in the first half.
The performance wasn’t good enough to outdo Flacco as the game’s Most Valuable Player, but Jones received another honor instead. The Lane College product was surprised to learn he was chosen to be on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated magazine.
“What? Me? Nah,” said Jones in disbelief following Tuesday’s celebration. “They get my good side? I had the helmet on? Alright, I’ll take that one any day.”
Jones was just what the doctor ordered this season as the Ravens finally cured their problems at the return spot and at the No. 3 receiver position from a year ago when they received next to nothing from a number of returners and former wide receiver Lee Evans respectively. He averaged 30.7 yards per kickoff to lead the NFL and had three returns for scores during the regular season.
Though finishing with only 30 catches for 407 yards and a touchdown in the regular season, Jones’ 70-yard miracle touchdown against the Denver Broncos — nicknamed “The Prayer in Thin Air” — and acrobatic touchdown catch against the 49ers were as big as any plays in the Ravens’ improbable postseason run to a championship. His speed on the outside paired with second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith made the Baltimore passing attack one of the most dangerous in the league this season as Flacco had vertical options on each side of the field in three-receiver sets.
He may not have taken home the MVP award or the Corvette Stingray that accompanied it, but Jones’ unique skill set was on full display for the entire world to see on Sunday night.
“Jacoby has just been a blessing to this team and we are so grateful to have him,” said coach John Harbaugh following Super Bowl XLVII. “The kick return was well-blocked and Jacoby made it with his speed. The other play, to go up and make the catch, go down and outrun someone to the corner of the end zone — it should go down in Super Bowl history.”
For a time, it appeared Jones’ return score to open the second half would turn out the lights on San Francisco’s title hopes, but a power outage in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome made that play on words less than amusing to the Ravens. The 34-minute delay was a catalyst for the 49ers to regroup and erase most of a 22-point deficit before Baltimore prevailed with a final stand at the goal line late in the fourth quarter.
However, the quirky Jones may have been the only Raven who was pleased when the lights went out in New Orleans just moments after his record-setting kick return. It was the latest example of how his sense of humor and candor were accepted with open arms in the Ravens locker room.
“I was happy, man,” Jones said. “I was tired after that 108. I was on the sideline throwing up. I was trying to catch my breath. I wasn’t even tripping. It came right on time. I got a chance to get a little water. Still caught some passes and slowed my heart rate down. We got back on track and still got the [win].”
Getting back on track — and much more — was exactly what Jones did this year in finding a perfect home with the Ravens.