Jones left his heart in Cleveland, finds Denver to his liking Former Raven is happy to be playing in January


Super Bowl Xxxii

January 21, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- The tattoo on his left shoulder shows that even though Tony Jones is at the Super Bowl, his heart is still in Cleveland.

Jones, who signed with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent-rookie in 1988, played eight years in Cleveland and still lives there.

For him, the move to Baltimore in 1996 wasn't easy.

"It was tough going to Baltimore, man. Being a Cleveland Brown at heart. They wanted me to say, 'Hey, you have no more ties with Cleveland. Leave that in Cleveland and come be a Baltimore Raven.' That's something I couldn't do. I made that clear to them. They said, 'If you can't do that, we don't want you.' And that's how it ended up. It's a hard business. The NFL stands for Not For Long, anyway. It was hard, man. I left a lot of friends back there [in Cleveland]. But it's been a blessing to be here," he said.

He was referring to the trade the Ravens made to ship him to the Denver Broncos for a second-round pick. It turned out to be a ticket to the Super Bowl for Jones, his first in 10 years in the league.

"It was good for me," he said. "They had drafted a guy who was a great tackle already [Jonathan Ogden], and they said this is your last year we're going to trade you. That's the way it ended up. I thank them for trading me to a team that could go to the Super Bowl."

Jones and the other offensive linemen got a lot of notice at media day yesterday.

That's because they hadn't talked to the media all year. It was supposed to be a way to focus on the game.

That changed when they found out the NFL fines players for not talking during Super Bowl week.

"My wife, Kammy, said, 'You'd better talk.' If the fine wasn't there, I wouldn't be here. Money talks. I was going to vote against talking, but not when I heard about the $10,000 fine," he said.

The toughest part of the season for Jones was switching from left tackle to right tackle when Gary Zimmerman came out of retirement in midseason.

"It was very hard. It turned my world around. Everything I did on the left was the opposite of what I'm doing now. I had to rethink plays, change my footwork. But I think I've done a good job," he said.

Now that Jones, who was always the talkative type, is talking again, his gripe with the media is that they focus on the sacks the offensive linemen give up.

"You make 70 good plays in a game and miss one, they ask about the one. A guy gets beat for 70 plays and makes one sack and he's a hero," he said.

Jones has a chance to be a hero Sunday because he goes against Green Bay's Reggie White. A future Hall of Famer, White's not what he once was but is still a force.

"It's a tough matchup," Jones said. "If I can't stop him, we can't win."

TV numbers need crunching

The NFL gold rush may be delayed.

The players were supposed to start cashing on in the new $17.6 billion TV contract when the free agency period is scheduled to open on Feb. 13.

Now it may be pushed back to March even though the owners will vote tomorrow to ratify the deal, Denver owner Pat Bowlen said yesterday. Bowlen's a member of the TV committee.

The problem is that they haven't decided how much money the networks will pay this year. Although the deal will average $73 million a year, the money is usually staggered. For example, the networks could pay $55 million this year, and it could escalate to $85 million in the fifth year.

Until they decide on this year's payment, the accountants for the owners and the players association can't crunch the numbers for all the designated gross revenue and come up with a salary cap figure. It was $41.45 million last year but is likely to jump over $50 million.

Bowlen also said the networks plan a "much higher level of production" to try to attract more fans.

Even though the TV deal doubled, with the networks paying $2.2 billion a year compared to $1.1 billion in the last contract, ratings have been declining. The only consolation for the networks is that they haven't declined as drastically as other programming.

Lewis' mood

Sherman Lewis, the offensive coordinator of the Packers, is walking a tightrope this week.

He said he's frustrated about not getting a head coaching job, but said he's not angry.

He said a person filled with anger isn't a happy person. "I'm a happy person," he said.

The fact that Lewis, an African-American, has been bypassed got more attention yesterday because the New York Times reported that several black assistants who weren't identified had talked about filing a lawsuit against the league. The last 13 head coaching jobs over the past two years have been filled by whites.

Lewis said he'd never heard any discussion of a lawsuit.

He refused to say he was a victim of racism, saying instead he was the victim of the league's "old boy network."

He said he wouldn't call anybody in the league a racist. "That's a very ugly word," he said.

Even though there's been no speculation he's on the Dallas owner Jerry Jones' list, he's encouraged the job hasn't been filled.

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