Steve Jones experienced both good times and hard times in his National Football League career.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound running back was a 5th-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams in 1973 but was slowed by a hamstring injury and traded to St. Louis in training camp.
During his brief stay with the Cardinals, Jones impressed some coaches, but there was no room in a crowded backfield that included Terry Metcalf, Jim Otis, Donnie Anderson, Ken Willard, and Eddie Moss.
“I was beginning to pick up the St. Louis system,” Jones told The News and Observer in a 1973 interview. “They liked the way I was playing. And I know Larry Wilson was upset when I was put on waivers.”
After being release by St. Louis, Jones signed with the Buffalo Bills but didn’t see much action playing behind O.J. Simpson.
“I was surprised they put me at the same position with O.J.,” the rookie said in a ’73 interview. “Right now, I really don’t know exactly where I stand.”
Jones carried the ball only 3 times in one-plus season in Buffalo but was a solid special teamer.
“For two years, I made my living on special teams,” Jones told Tom Barnidge of the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1974. “When you’re playing behind O.J., you’re playing an obscure position.”
Jones suffered an ankle injury in 1974 and was placed on injured reserve. The Cardinals claimed him off waivers when Bills head coach Lou Saban tried to sneak him back onto the team.
“St. Louis was 7-0 then,” Jones said. “They were the last team to have a chance to claim me. And they did. The move backfired on Saban—much to my benefit.”
Jones played special teams the final seven games of the 1974 season, but the coaches, and fans, began to take notice the following season.
In 1975, Jones carried the ball 54 times for 275 yards, caught 19 passes for 194 yards, and scored three touchdowns, including another one against his old team, the Rams, in the 35-23 playoff loss.
Jones was a key contributor on third down passing situations and of particular value was his ability to play both halfback and fullback.
The most difficult transition that Jones had to make was one from star running back to reserve. He starred at Duke University where he set single-season and career rushing records before graduating in 1973.
“When I first tried out for pro ball, I think I might have been a little complacent,” he told the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1976. “I figured it would be like the switch from high school to college, but it wasn’t. I came to some realizations.”
Jones would have his best season in 1976 when he rushed for 452 yards, caught 29 passes out of the backfield, and scored nine touchdowns. He was a regular in third and long situations as well as Don Coryell’s full house backfield. The Cardinals finished the season with a 10-4 record but would miss the playoffs.
Hampered by leg injuries in 1977, the Sanford, FL native rushed for only 77 yards and scored three touchdowns. But a healthy Jones would finally get his chance to start in 1978 when new head coach Bud Wilkinson named him the starting fullback.
“You always think you’re capable of starting, but I’ve never seen any sense in making waves,” Jones said in a 1978 interview. “If I had the background and the stats, maybe I would have expressed unhappiness.”
Jones rushed for 392 yards and scored 2 touchdowns in ’78, but the Cardinals lost their first eight games of the season and finished with a 6-10 record.
Unfortunately, Jones suffered a herniated disc in the offseason and failed his physical in 1979. He would undergo surgery and eventually retire from the game.
In his six NFL seasons—the last four with the Big Red—Jones gained 1,204 yards on 299 carries and scored 15 touchdowns. He also had 87 receptions for 629 yards, all with the Cardinals.
After retiring from the NFL, Steve Jones remained in St. Louis and worked for Anheuser Busch. He currently still resides in the St. Louis area.
Too bad he couldn’t shake the injury bug. If Coach Coryell had remained in St.Louis I think it’s safe to say that a healthy Steve Jones would have caught his fair share of passes out of the backfield. Even after all these years he has the 2nd most rushing yards at Duke.
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Those nine TDs he scored for the 1976 Cardinals are mighty impressive. It says a lot about his skill and desire _ and the trust the coaches had in him _ to lead a Don Coryell team in TDs scored, especially one with Terry Metcalf, Mel Gray, J.V. Cain and others.
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