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Unsung No More: Remembering a Forgotten Chief

Remembering the career of former Chief Fred Jones

Ours is a game of heroes, sung and unsung. It is well to remember both as we consider this season just past and so many seasons that have preceded it.

As we revel in the glory of our second world championship in four years, it is often easy to forget some of the unsung players that made it possible. Recalling others back through Chiefs history is often more difficult.

Looking back on the NFL career of Fred Jones, it's easy to say there wasn't much to it. Who was Fred Jones?

He was a fourth-round draft pick of the Chiefs in 1990 who played wide receiver and was a valued special teams player for four years and then, for reasons unknown, left pro football. He left football, football did not leave him. The Chiefs' hierarchy had no intentions of releasing him.

Where he went or what happened to him after that remains unknown. He was notoriously quiet in the locker room and on the field and was, as far as I remember, seldom interviewed by the media.

As a member of the sport's unnumbered generations, Jones represents something more significant than even the most avid Chiefs fan might recall.

Former Kansas City Chiefs player Fred Jones WR (80) on the field during a game.

He was a product of the '90s when pro football became important again to the people of Kansas City and the greater Midwest. Fans flocked back to Arrowhead Stadium as the Chiefs enjoyed something of a renaissance after 20 years of disappointing play. Wins came in bunches, and people fell in love with the likes of Derrick Thomas, Joe Montana, Neil Smith, Christian Okoye and so many others.

But Fred Jones? No so much.

Yet, Fred Jones was front and center in perhaps two of the greatest moments of that era and, indeed, until the arrival of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, those two plays rank among the most important ones in Arrowhead Stadium history. Is it too much of a stretch that if Jones had been any less of a player in those moments that the Chiefs may have slipped back into anonymity?

Maybe not, but what he did surely went far in propelling the team to become the one we recognize today, and if Arrowhead was to have any mystique, these two plays helped to set it on its way. It had to start somewhere, and Jones was there when it did.

The first play came in the first postseason game ever played at Arrowhead in 1991. Locked in a tight contest with long-time rival, the Raiders (they were in Los Angeles then), the outcome was very much in doubt until the closing minutes when the visitors self-destructed after reaching a 2nd-and-1 at the Kansas City 24-yard line and committed four penalties, pushing them back to their own 40-yard line. An interception by Kansas City's Lonnie Marts assured the outcome and the Chiefs had their first postseason victory since 1970.

But well before that, Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich threw two first-half interceptions, one of which would lead to a score. Getting the ball on LA's 11-yard line, quarterback Steve Deberg hit Jones on the next play and he tip-toed along the back of the end zone near the elephant tunnel, scoring what turned out to be the only touchdown of the game.

More dramatic and overshadowed by what followed – Joe Montana's fourth down touchdown throw to Tim Barnett to tie the 1994 playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and send the game into overtime — was what Jones pulled off to get the Chiefs in the position to tie, and eventually to win.

The game was again at Arrowhead, the Steelers led 24-17 with just over 2:30 to play and had the ball. Jones was in the right place at the right time again and his heads-up play speaks to the importance of the too-easily forgotten special teams, a fact that was dramatically evident years later as the Chiefs made a key special teams play and stormed back to win their latest Super Bowl.

With Pittsburgh forced to punt after three plays, Keith Cash blocked a Mark Royals' punt, which Jones picked up and returned 31 yards to the Steelers' 9-yard line to set up the tying touchdown. Instead of having to drive 80 or more yards for a touchdown, the Cash block and Jones' pick up and run made it a short field for Montana's heroics.

Former Kansas City Chiefs player Fred Jones WR (80) running the ball down the field after a catch.

And so ends what most people know about Fred Jones, if they know anything at all.

Somewhere along the line, you had an ardent young man just out of college with all the excitement of one setting off to find his way, his life's work, and, if luck would have it, a career. 

Maybe in turned out to be what he expected it to be, perhaps not.

In the long story that has become professional football, too complex to be understood by most, he played his part as well or better than many who had come before him and those who have come after. We saw it then and we saw it again just weeks ago in some new unsung heroes of the 2022 season, and most vividly in Super Bowl LVII.