by Jim Harris
Posted 9/10/2012 03:00 pm
Updated 8 months ago
Matt Jones may be the most enigmatic Arkansas Razorback football player of modern times and he made some of the biggest plays in Hog history. And he obviously still captures the fans' imagination. The Embassy Suites ballroom wasn't ready to handle all of the overflow crowd on hand to catch Jones' visit with the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday.
No doubt, though, many of the club's membership also wanted to hear what Jones and club president David Bazzel had to say about previously No. 8-ranked Arkansas' stunning loss Saturday to Sun Belt Conference member Louisiana-Monroe 34-31 in overtime.
Jones told the crowd the closest he could relate to a heart-wrenching loss and having to immediately regroup was the 2002, six-overtime loss at Tennessee. That dropped Arkansas to 1-3 in the SEC, but the Razorbacks came back the next week for an upset at Auburn, finished the year on a roll and winning their way into the SEC Championship Game with the "Miracle on Markham" 21-20 victory over LSU.
Of course, this 1-1 Razorback team, now out of the national polls, must take on No. 1 Alabama in Fayetteville on Saturday.
"I know Louisiana-Monroe isn't Tennessee, but what I would tell the players is, don't give up, don't lose hope," Jones said. "Put up a fight. Don't forget the off-season and all you put into it, the blood, sweat and tears. Keep giving it all you've got."
MADE FOR QUARTERBACK: Jones said the transition from college quarterback to NFL receiver was his most difficult task as an athlete, but he finished on a good note at Jacksonville with the Jaguars, catching 67 passes in 2009 before being released the next year.
He said he had hoped to catch on with another NFL team and, at the end, had to choose between tryouts with Cincinnati and Tennessee.
"Did I want to catch passes from Carson Palmer in Cincinnati or Vince Young in Tennessee," he said. The choice was the Titans, but Jones did not catch on there.
"I guess I made the wrong decision," he said.
But who knows what Jones could have done as a professional quarterback, if given the chance, had he not suffered a torn labrum in college that cut his passing distance, he said, from 75 yards as a freshman to 55 yards by the time he finished. He recorded an electronically timed 4.37 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Everyone can still recall how, as a freshman, he outdueled Ole Miss' Eli Manning in 2001 in what was then the longest overtime game in NCAA history.
"I'm a quarterback at heart," he said.
Jones, surely one of the best athletes this state has produced in the past century, also imagined at one time playing basketball professionally.
"I think I could have had a pretty good career playing in Europe," he said. "In the NBA, I don't know. I'm 6-6 and I played a 'four' [power forward position] in college. But had I played a full season after I had finished playing college football, who knows?"
Now, Jones said, he's working on his golf game and has gotten his handicap down to about a 6.
TV AND RADIO: Jones and his wife, Caroline, have settled in Central Arkansas, where Jones has landed a couple of gigs talking football.
He's on every Tuesday night with former Razorback quarterback Clint Stoener and Bazzel, who was a Razorback linebacker in the 1980s, on the Arkansas Sports Nation (KARZ, Channel 42, carried on Channels 9 and 436 via Comcast) at 10:30 p.m.
On Wednesdays, he rejoins Bazzel with Tommy Smith and Roger Scott on KABZ-FM 103.7 The Buzz's "The Show With No Name," which runs 6 a.m.-10 a.m.
No doubt both shows should be animated with insider talk about the Hogs' upset loss and their chances for their own upset of 'Bama this week.
DOWN MEMORY LANE: Bazzel arranged for several clips to be aired Monday featuring late Voice of the Razorbacks Paul Eells calling plays that highlighted Jones, including the "Miracle on Markham" pass to Decori Birmingham on 2002.
"That day, I was playing one of my worst games," Jones said. "I had only completed one or two passes and two times the ball had slipped out of my hands. It was my worst game with the best ending."
Jones completed two of three passes on an 80-yard drive in the final 40 seconds to win the game. LSU had kicked a field goal moments earlier to take a 20-14 lead. The Hogs had trailed 17-7 halfway through the fourth quarter.
"Two plays nobody ever talks about," Jones said. "On one, Fred Talley's touchdown run of about 60 yards. He broke about 13 tackles on that play, and I didn't think you could play with more than 11 on defense. It's one of my favorite runs of all time. The other, LSU had a third-and-3 and Tony Bua blltzed. He wasn't supposed to blitz but he did and he stopped them for no gain and they had to kick a field goal, and that gave us a chance to get the ball back and win."
Of course, Jones was impressive in a 2003 upset at Texas, a 38-28 Hog victory, as well as a big comeback that same season at Alabama that resulted in a 34-31 double overtime win.
"That was a great team," he said of the 2003 Razorbacks. "We just had a couple of untimely deals that cost us two games."
Jones was referring to a helmet-to-helmet penalty call on Bua in the waning minutes when Arkansas was in a furious rally to overtake Florida, as well as what Jones called a "phantom" holding call a week earlier against Auburn that wiped out his 80-yard touchdown that would have tied that game in the fourth quarter.
Those 2003 Hogs finished 9-4 with an Independence Bowl victory over Missouri, 27-13.
Jones wrapped up his career with a Senior Day spectacular, a 70-yard run around end against Ole Miss that he capped by dunking the football over the crossbar.