Life after the NFL
By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
CROSS CREEK -- James Jones calls it "32 naked pass," which was the name of the play. Gator faithful simply call it "the Catch."
Either way, it ended with a spectacular one-handed touchdown grab to beat rival University of Miami and a permanent place in Florida football lore.
Nearly 20 years and an NFL career later, the former fullback has settled in Cross Creek's Misty Creek subdivision. He works in Westshore and helps coach the New Tampa Sharks football team.
The Catch took place Sept. 4, 1982, in Gainesville at the Hurricanes' 17-yard-line, less than two minutes to go in the game and the Gators trailing 14-10. As quarterback Wayne Peace scrambled toward the sideline, Jones broke for the end zone.
Peace has called his throw "terrible," but Jones says the Catch wasn't all that tough to catch.
"Peace lobbed it up, and I went and got it," said Jones, 41. "If he had drilled it in there, I might have had a harder time holding on."
Following his All-American career at Florida, the Detroit Lions selected Jones 13th in the 1983 NFL draft, one pick ahead of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.
He led the Lions in rushing for three years, including 1986, when he gained 903 yards on the ground. In 1989, the Lions traded Jones to the Seattle Seahawks, and he spent four more years in the league before injuries to his abdominal muscles brought his career to an end.
"I have a lot of aches today, and my neck is stiff," said the 6-foot-2, 235 pounder. "But I have no regrets, either."
He moved to New Tampa in 1997 with his wife and three children. He calls Gator games on the radio and works as an insurance salesman in the Westshore district, keeping miniature Lions and Seahawks football helmets at his office desk.
Watching the Buccaneers on Sunday is "entertaining," Jones said, but he'd rather spend his time teaching the game to the next generation of players. When he first moved to Cross Creek he spent a few years assisting Richard Wood at Wharton High School.
At the time, his sons Josh and Jairus were busy at the New Tampa Dance Theatre.
"Then they got to be about 10, and I told them it was time to play sports," Jones joked.
When Josh and Jairus, now 12 and 13, joined the New Tampa Sharks, Jones came with them as a coach teaching the fundamentals of running and tackling.
And, of course, none of the young Sharks knew anything about the Catch.
"They're more familiar with the games on PlayStation," Jones said.
-- John Balz can be reached at (813) 268-5313 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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