Chad Jones fought then like he fights now . . . hard as hell. A dream is at stake. There will be no going down without turning this sucker upside down.
“They were basically saying that we don’t know if you’re going to be able to walk again,” Jones said.
He felt everyone’s eyes on him. He looked to his left, then to his right. How would he react to what he just heard? His family and his long-time girlfriend, Jade, studied him as he lay in a hospital bed, lucky to be alive and to still have his left leg attached.
“We were able to save your foot. We saved your leg. You see it’s still there. We just don’t know if you’re going to be able to get any movement out of it.”
That’s what Jones recalls a doctor saying to him following a horrible car accident that would amount to the worst day of his life.
Soon after hearing the word “movement” is when Jones started plotting. He’d walk again. He’d run again. He’d fight through every brick wall you put in front of him if it meant he’d play football again. No doctor was going to tell Chad Jones what was physically impossible because, to him, some things are beyond their control. Negative information, opinions, conclusions, what ifs about him stepping back on a football field as a player go in one ear and out the other.
Jones’ story had been on my radar for a while. In the course of covering the New York Giants, you read a lot of clips throughout the season. I kept coming across articles on this popular safety from New Orleans — one of the team’s third-round draft choices in 2010 out of LSU — about the single-car crash, where an unimpaired Jones lost control of his new sport utility vehicle and slammed into a steel pole.
“I lost 98 percent of my blood. (They) actually stuck a tube through my neck, through my main artery and it came out my armpit, just to keep the same amount of blood that was in my body . . . to keep my heart pumping,” Jones said about the horrific June 25, 2010 accident.
He nearly died. He almost lost his left leg. In article after article I read, it said they considered doing amputation right there on the scene.
So as we got ready to do the interview for the NFL on FOX pregame show, there was a buzz among the camera crew. I didn’t realize to what extent until later, when two gleeful crew members went to shake Jones’ thick hand after we wrapped up the sit-down portion of the shoot. Afterward, the guys wished Jones well, but grew most enthusiastic talking to Jones about his LSU career, a career that included national titles in football in 2007 and baseball in 2009. They knew him by his LSU nickname, “Dreadlocks of Doom.”
Those dreads stay tied back throughout the day, but for the next part of the afternoon we spent with Jones, they are desperate to spill out as we moved on to a local park in New Orleans. Jones is going through some speed and agility drills with Derrick Joseph. They’re drills meant to get him in football shape.
“Chop. Go. Down. Good. Down. Down. Chop, back. Get back. Good job,” Joseph barks to the half dozen or so gathered there to work out with the 23-year-old.
Dressed in shorts, it’s the first time I see the distinct size differences of Jones’ lower legs. The left one looks like it was put on the wrong person. Its size and structure is clunky and bulky, while the healthy right lower leg is smooth, muscular and defined. Oh yes, and there’s a steel rod in his left leg that will have to stay there for good.
Jones is having trouble with a little stiffness today and he grows frustrated during one drill that requires him to plant his left foot in a position that he or it is reluctant to go. Physical therapist Dr. John Moran and I are chatting at the time. He excuses himself to go help Jones, who he’s literally seen take his first step back on his road to recovery from the crash 18 months ago.
The three men huddle up to discuss the source of the angst. Here was the exchange:
Dr. Moran: “I think you’re a little cautious to go off the toes in the forefront.”
Jones: “I don’t know what it is.’’
Dr. Moran: “I’m thinking that you’re not going to be able to do that much yet.’’
Jones: “I might not, and I think that’s what it is.”
Joseph: “Relax, relax, relax.”
Taking what each day brings is hard for a young man who seems to hear a very loud clock ticking in his head. Jones feels with the jumps he keeps making physically, re-joining the Giants is doable for the team’s 2012 training camp for sure, possibly even minicamp.
“It doesn’t really matter how my leg’s feeling that day because I’m reaching for a goal, striving for a goal. A goal (that’s) six months away and I don’t have a day to slow down,” he says.
The Giants, who have Jones on their reserve/non-football injury list and allowed him to keep his $826,000 signing bonus, have not been strangers. Jones joined the Giants on the sidelines during their Week 12 loss to the Saints in New Orleans. He even shared a few words with the team before the season.
“He just made you excited to be around him . . . the attitude,” coach Tom Coughlin told me before I got meet Jones and see it for myself.
“I think he helped us more than he knows he did,” added Giants safety Corey Webster, another LSU product and Louisiana native, who Jones expressed gratitude toward for taking him under his wing for the short amount of time Jones spent with the Giants before the accident.
“It happened just that fast,” Webster said. “He helped us more than he knows he did. We try to do the same with him — keep him motivated and keep him moving forward.’’
To want something so desperately has driven Chad Jones out of a hospital bed and through a relentless workout and rehab approach. He has many hurdles to cross before reaches a place where he feels home — playing football again and playing football as a New York Giant.
For Pam’s complete interview with Chad Jones, tune in Sunday to NFL on FOX for America’s No. 1 pregame show at noon ET/9 a.m. PT.