State Your Case: Bert Jones


bertjones

(Photos courtesy of Indianapolis Colts)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

It was early in 1983 when then-Baltimore general manager Ernie Accorsi flew west to work out the best player in the draft, Stanford quarterback John Elway. When he returned, I asked him what he thought … and what he thought was that Elway was so accomplished, so charismatic, so multi-talented that he reminded him of another NFL quarterback.

Bert Jones.

Anyone who was from Baltimore or who watched Jones play could appreciate the comparison. Bert Jones wasn’t just a superior quarterback; he was a superior athlete – a guy who could run, who could make all the throws and who knew how to win. Moreover, he was someone who not only made others around him better, but could lift a franchise and carry it.

He did that in 1975, turning a 4-10 doormat and into a 10-4 division champion – the first of three successive AFC East titles. With Jones at quarterback, anything seemed possible. It didn’t matter who was in the lineup. As long as Bert Jones was standing, the Colts had a chance.

Nearly a decade later, the same was true of Elway. He wore the same number (7) as Jones and enjoyed similar success — winning three of four division championships after becoming the unchallenged starter in 1984. But that’s where the comparisons end.

John Elway had a long and productive career, won Super Bowls and wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bert Jones had a short and productive career, did not win Super Bowls and wound up out of football after 10 pro seasons.

Like Denver’s Terrell Davis … like Cincinnati’s Greg Cook … like Seattle’s Ken Easley … Jones was a magnificent talent who deserved much more from a career cut short by injury. He should have gone to a Super Bowl. He should have been a Hall-of-Fame candidate. He should have been someone we cite as a measuring stick for quarterbacks, much as Accorsi did in 1983.

Only he didn’t … he wasn’t … and we don’t … and I get it.

Bert Jones wasn’t an all-decade choice. He not only didn’t go to a Super Bowl; he didn’t win a playoff game. And he had a short shelf life – three years to be exact – before a shoulder injury that caused him to miss most of the 1978 and 1979 seasons ended what could have been … what should have been … a marvelous and long career.

But look what happened while he played. He was 31-11 in 1975-77 for a franchise that was 11-31 the previous three seasons. He threw twice as many touchdown passes (59) as interceptions (28) in an era where that was uncommon. He never missed a start. He produced a 102.6 passer rating in 1976, one of only three quarterbacks that decade to surpass 100, and was that year’s NFL Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year.

In short, Bert Jones was a load.

When New England coach Bill Belichick was asked prior to Super Bowl XLII which NFL quarterback was his favorite he started by talking about John Unitas … but then quickly moved on to Bert Jones. Belichick began his pro career in 1975 as a $25-per-week assistant with the Colts and saw the best of what Bert Jones had to offer. And what he saw made an indelible impression.

“As a pure passer,” he said, “I don’t think I’d put anybody ahead of Bert Jones. I know he had a short career and the shoulder injury, but when I was there and he was just starting his career, the success that he had and his ability throw the ball as a pure passer and as an athlete, it would be hard to put anybody ahead of Bert Jones at that point in time.”

Keep in mind that “at that point in time” Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach and Bob Griese were in the NFL. All are Hall of Famers. Bert Jones is not, and you have to wonder what might have been had his career not ended prematurely. So I asked someone who knows. I asked Accorsi, finding him 32 years after he first compared Elway to the best quarterback time has forgotten.

“I totally agree with Belichick,” he said. “He had it all. Athletic, accurate, had a rifle for an arm and not only could run but was fast and powerful. He was smart, too, and could see the field and find the right receiver. He excelled under pressure, was a great leader and could carry a team on his back. Teddy (then coach Ted Marchibroda) did a great job with him in ’75.

“He was similar to Elway and had every attribute Elway had to the same degree. One of the most talented quarterbacks I’ve seen.”

The only thing missing from Bert Jones’ resume is longevity, and, like it has for Cook, Easley and others, it sabotaged his Hall-of-Fame chances. And that’s a shame. Because Bert Jones was more than a gifted quarterback. He was someone who not only resurrected a once dominant franchise but lifted a city, returning passion to Colts’ fans and Baltimore to the NFL map.

Three years ago, Cliff Christl – then Green Bay’s representative on the Hall-of-Fame’s board of selectors – asked me if Bert Jones was as good as some people say.

“No,” I told him. “He was better. He was John Elway, without the rings and without the longevity.”

And, of course, without the gold jacket. I understand why Bert Jones isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I understand why he will never be. I just wish his career had lasted long enough that he’d be considered.

 

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17 Comments

  1. STEVE YOUNG
    August 6, 2015
    Reply

    Bert Jones is the best QB in NFL Football History. Bert Jones is forever a Baltimore Colts player. Bert Jones #1 Fan Baltimore Colts fan. STEVE YOUNG. BALTIMORE MARYLAND

    • October 29, 2015
      Reply

      BERT JONES QUARTERBACK OF THE BALTIMORE COLTS IS THE GREATEST QUARTERBACK IN NFL HISTORY. BERT JONES FAVORITE FAN AND FAVORITE NUMBER ONE FAN OF BERT JONES AND THE BALTIMORE COLTS STEVE YOUNG BERT JONES BALTIMORE COLTS FAN FOREVER FROM BALTIMORE COLTS LAND OF NFL BALTIMORE COLTS LIVING FOREVER BERT JONES FAN STEVE YOUNG FROM BALTIMORE COLTS MARYLAND BALL TO MORE MERRY LAND BALTIMORE COLTS FOOTBALL WITH BERT JONES

  2. al
    September 7, 2015
    Reply

    I am thankful to know Bert personally, he is a super guy just like he was a super athlete, I know his family and they all are very good people, I watched Bert play during our high school years and he was something then

    • September 8, 2015
      Reply

      absolutely loved watching him play. always said he was john elway before john elway. just wish he would’ve lasted longer. would’ve been a favorite for the hall of fame. thanks for the note.

  3. Norm Hodgins
    September 8, 2015
    Reply

    I was a 3 year teammate of Bert Jones at LSU and then had to play in the secondary at the Chicago Bears against him. I personally saw him make plays with his dart throwing arm and bootlegging for touchdowns. His on the field leadership extended to his offense And also keep the defense on point. As a individual , he is the same person as he has always been. A terrific husband, Fath e
    mentor, community leader and to me a friend, always. Norm Hodgins , Chicago Bears 1974 #34

    • September 8, 2015
      Reply

      i can’t say enough good things about bert jones. extraordinary player who lifted a team on his back and carried it. absolutely loved watching him play. just wish his career would’ve lasted longer. thanks for the note, norm.

  4. October 29, 2015
    Reply

    BERT JONES IS MY FAVORITE BALTIMORE COLTS 🏈 🏈 FOOTBALL PLAYER OF ALL TIME. I TALKED TO BERT JONES ON THE PHONE TODAY AND I JUST WANT TO SAY THAT BERT JONES IS A A REAL TRUE HIGH CLASS GENTLEMAN. HE IS LIKE A REAL FAMILY FRIEND TO ME.

  5. Christine Schau
    December 13, 2015
    Reply

    Bert Jones is my favorite NFL player ever, he – along with Lydell Mitchell and Roger Carr could go toe-to-toe with any QB/RB/WR combo in the NFL . The Colts of the late 70’s were awesome and so much fun to watch-you could never count them out as long as #7 was under center. I’ll never forget Christmas 1977 when I got a Bert Jones jersey out of the Sears Catalog – only wished he could have stayed heathy – he would have been a shoo-in for the HOF.

  6. Jim Arena
    February 26, 2016
    Reply

    I still don’t understand why he is not in the Colts hall of fame. I think the Colts need to put him in the Hall of fame and honor him in Baltimore. He was the last of the great Baltimore Colts!!!

    • February 29, 2016
      Reply

      Great player. Would’ve been one of the best had he not been hurt. Absolutely energized that team and the city.

  7. bachslunch
    March 19, 2016
    Reply

    Bert Jones had one great season in 1976 and two excellent ones in 1975 and 1977 before he got injured (he also never won a Super Bowl). Unfortunately, it’s just not enough to make him HoF worthy.

  8. Todd
    September 14, 2016
    Reply

    I have to admit I am a bit biased…I was a huge Bert Jones fan as a teenager, but what I am about to say is 100% true. Bert Jones, in the mid 70’s was considered BETTER than Bradshaw, better than Staubach, and better than Griese. All of those guys are in the Hall of Fame. Bert Jones had EVERYTHING you want in a great QB. He was a great leader, he had an amazing arm (the best of all time I think), he was accurate, he could read defenses, he could run and he was super tough. Maybe he was too tough for his own good. Jones was Elway before John Elway and that is one reason I was such a huge John Elway fan. His game and Bert Jone’s game were very much alike. If Bert Jones had stayed healthy he would have gone down as one of the greatest if not the greatest of all time. The ONLY QB that compares today is Aaron Rodgers as far a pure talent.

    • September 14, 2016
      Reply

      Couldnt agree more, Todd. I, too, was a huge Bert Jones fan. Remember when I was covering Colts and GM told me Elway and Jones were eerily similar, except that Elway could throw the touch pass better. If only he didnt get hurt. Mightve been one of the best QBs of all time.

      • Joseph Wright
        March 2, 2017
        Reply

        I saw the parallels as a fan, too, Clark. I laughed when I saw the “except that Elway could throw the touch pass better” comment. From my observation, they both threw violent bullets all the time. In baseball vernacular, “no changeups. Everything is a fastball.” Given that one was the original whose career ended early (Jones) and the other was the younger replica who became a legendary player (Elway) and that the original retired just as the younger replica was coming into the league so their careers never overlapped, let me throw you a basketball parallel: David Thompson and Michael Jordan. What do you think?

        • March 3, 2017
          Reply

          Never saw anything like David Thompson. Remarkable player. Then covered Jordan his freshman year at UNC, but had no idea what I was looking at. That Carolina team was loaded, with Perkins, Worthy, Jimmy Black and Matt Doherty and Brad Daugherty coming off bench. Jordan really came on with time, but the comparison is appropriate. David Thompson should’ve been greater than he was. Jordan was. Bert Jones could have been one of the great QBs ever. Loved watching him play. Injuries and Bob Irsay cost him what should have been a Hall-of-Fame career. But one of my all-time favorite QBs.

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