Those four words—mouthed by defensive lineman Chris Jones after he finished his 40-yard dash at last year's NFL combine—confirmed to all of his supporters watching at a sports bar back in Mississippi, that yes, they did just see what they thought they’d seen.
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Jones’s father, Chris Jones Sr., left work early to meet about a dozen other friends who had gathered to watch his son, the pride of Houston, Miss., complete his combine circuit. Of course, there really isn’t all that much for fans to see during the annual gathering in Indianapolis as viewers aren’t shown the critical medical exams and team interviews. Instead, they are treated to an array of drills that are either myopic—How high can you jump? How far can you jump?—or totally inscrutable, a la the punch, hand, shiver drill. But then there is the 40-yard dash, the defining event of the NFL’s Underwear Olympics.
Whereas other combine moments are overcomplicated or understimulating, the 40 is neither. It is simple, .gif-able and raw. It’s an opportunity for young football stars, stripped of the physical and symbolic separation their sport typically provides, to blow everyone away. But it’s also an opening to blow up for all of the wrong reasons—like Vick Ballard did in 2012, stumbling out of the gates and taking out a tripod. Even future Hall of Famers like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers look back on their runs with a twinge of regret—Brady admitting “I was really slow back then” and Rodgers attempting to label his 4.71 time as #fakenews.
The Law of Truly Large Numbers means that, certainly, foibles transpire all over Lucas Oil Stadium during the combine. But the Law of Social Media means it only matters if someone sees it—and shares it—making the 40-yard stretch of white paint the most likely stage for embarrassment at this year’s combine. Yet, with conviction equal to a natural law, we can safely say that no one will top Chris Jones.
On his final day at the combine, Jones wanted to stand out. So while his peers donned green and grey tights, he opted for black ones. He thought they’d make him look faster. As he walked up to the starting line, someone hollered, “Dang Chris, where'd you get those black tights from?” He responded, “They’re the one and only.” In reality, they had come from a big pile of swag he’d been given by Under Armour, Nike and Adidas. “I grabbed it all,” he says. “I didn’t let anything pass by.”
As he lowered himself into his starting stance, Jones’s main concern was taking his time and controlling his breathing before triggering the official timer. Though Jones was known for a quick first-step in college, his trainer, Pete Bommarito, actually said the start of the run presented Jones with the most issues, given that a 40-yard-dash stance is different than a lineman’s typical pre-snap pose. But over the course of a month in Miami, Jones put in the work to perfect the technique. A fan of his sleep in Starkville, Jones got up at 6 a.m. every day to be the first one in Bommarito’s door. In Indianapolis, he even ran drills in hotel hallways to stay sharp. That work paid off as he sprung out of the blocks, posting the second fastest 10-yard split among defensive linemen over 300 pounds. But that wasn’t what would earn him viral fame.
About 15 yards in, Jones “started feeling a little clumsy.” NFL Network’s color commentator commented on his “stiff hips,” unable to diagnose the real issue like Jones could.
“I looked down and the hummer is out,” he says. “I try to cover it up. I'm thinking to myself, ‘little kids are watching.’”
He still finished the 40 (fifth fastest among 300-pound DLs) before diving to the turf. “I take a dive and try to cover it up. I’m thinking to myself, ‘How long was this thing out?’” As his fellow linemen laughed from the side, a trainer walked over. Jones got up with a smile and told the guy he was fine before explaining what had happened.
“Those black tights, they weren’t really tights,” Jones says. “They were boxers.” The central flap—long a lavatorial convenience—had made its heel turn. The clip of his run has garnered 3.1 million views on Deadspin alone. “Better me than anyone else,” he says now, given that he had experience dealing with a bit of shame.
In fact, Jones had made a similar mistake with a pair of Spongebob Boxers in seventh grade, but that time he got sent home before the hummer could pop out. In high school, he developed something of a reputation for running out of gas on the side of the road.
“I’m probably the embarrassment king,” he says. But it was that goofiness that endeared him to Houston Hilltopper fans, as well as Mississippi State faithful and even Bommarito. So Jones took enjoyment out of the pile of Instagram memes that greeted him when he got to his phone, he laughed with an elderly lady who walked up to him to say, ‘Hey, you're the guy with your balls out during the NFL thingy,’ and he accepted a drawerful of boxers from multiple companies with a smile.
And Jones knew what was important just as well as he understood good humor. Spending time in the oncology ward where his mom works as a nurse taught him that, as did his first child, born six weeks before the combine.
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Jones did not run the 40 at his pro day, but he still impressed scouts with his athleticism, and on Draft Day, the Chiefs surprised Jones by taking him No. 37 in the draft. Jones celebrated by dancing onto the stage in Chicago and hitting Roger Goodell with such a heavy hug it sent ripples through the commissioner's comb-over.
Jones’s combine gaffe added a bit more ribbing to the typical first-year induction process—“Awwwwww noooooo” was all DT Dontari Poe could say when he found out—but the rookie still found a home in Kansas City quickly. He started the final 11 games of the year and finished as Pro Football Focus’s top-ranked rookie interior defensive lineman, as well as its top pass rushing 3–4 defensive end. The Pro Football Writers of America named him to its All-Rookie team.
This offseason, he’s spent time on a boat with fellow fun-lover Rob Gronkowski, but as the one-year anniversary of his 40 neared, Jones was back with his family, helping his dad move into a new home, using his athletic gifts to carry couches and a television. Jones left school early so that he could get to moments like that faster. As for the one he’s still widely known for, Jones would not have it any other way.
“I would definitely do it all again,” he says. “I pride myself on being different from everyone, so if everybody is wearing the green, I’ll wear the black. And I don't care about people laughing. I’ll laugh with them. We can all laugh together.”