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Football is like calculus," says Bert Jones. "Someone has to show you how to do it, but once you've got 'er figgered, why, she's easy."
Yessiree. Last Sunday the Baltimore Colts' young quarterback worked his own brand of mathematical wizardry on the San Diego Chargers, and the solution was Baltimore 37, San Diego 21. Jones hit 18 of 25 passes for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Einstein of the AFC's Eastern Division multiplied his own sharp passing game by a factor of four—the legs of AFC rushing leader Lydell Mitchell, who pounded out 91 yards, and the hands of Wide Receiver Roger Carr, who caught three passes for 43 yards and two touchdowns—as Baltimore fattened its record to 8-1.
In the process Jones maintained his status as the AFC's top passer: he now has completed 136 of 223 (61%) for 2,067 yards and 15 touchdowns, with only five interceptions. So the 25-year-old, snuff-dipping country boy from Ruston, La. seems to have it all. A strong right arm that can whip the ball out of sight in a flat trajectory, and an eye that does credit to a frontier squirrel marksman. A resilient 6'3"-by-210-pound frame that can withstand the impact of massive tacklers. Long, strong legs that cover the 40 in 4.7 seconds and have already carried him to two touchdowns and 137 yards. A head that can sort defensive sets and shifts with the speed of a computer. And most of all, a driving, demanding quality of leadership that one normally associates with much older quarterbacks—men like Billy Kilmer or Fran Tarkenton or Roger Staubach—coupled with that rarest of graces in an NFL field general: a sparkling, joy-to-be-with personality.
The leadership was strong in his voice one black, cold morning on the outskirts of Baltimore early last week. A phone rang in a motel room and the party who answered heard these words in a firm, Deep South drawl: "Listen now. It's 4:30 in the mornin'. I'll be out in front of the lobby entrance at five o'clock on the button. You better be there." Click.
At precisely 5 a.m. a red and white Ford travelall wheeled up to the motel entrance. Stars blinked frostily in the Maryland night as Bertram Hays Jones stepped from the truck, resplendent in Levi's, a blue wool shirt and red-and-white suspenders, to one of which was pinned his hunting license. A green felt slouch hat topped the long, boyish face, and Bert flashed his huge, white grin. Shades of Davy Crockett grinning a raccoon out of the trees. The customary quid of "snoose"—Copenhagen snuff, of course—bulged in his lower lip, and he loosed a stream 10 feet across the driveway.
"Let's go goozin'," he said, throwing his passenger's camouflage hunting gear into the back of the truck, where boxes of ammunition and cased shotguns lay amidst a melange of empty snuff tins, expended shell cases and game-bird feathers. "It's an hour and change to the Eastern Shore where we're huntin'," he said, "and I'm afraid it'll be light when we get there. All them geese will be out and flyin'." He swung up into the cab and hit the accelerator. Country music whined from the FM radio—Dropkick Me, Jesus (Through the Goalposts of Life)—and Jones added his tremulous vocalizations to the cacophony as he drove.
It was hard to realize that just 24 hours earlier, this jolly young man was as sick as a gut-shot hound dog, and only five hours earlier he had run off the field at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium after whupping the Houston Oilers 38-14. "I came down with the bug on Friday," he said, "and I couldn't eat all weekend. Drank orange juice, mainly, and tried to rest. I upchucked just before the game, and again on the sidelines during the first quarter. But the fever broke about halftime, and I felt just great—a little hollow, maybe, but clear and quick." Yes indeed, clear and quick enough to complete 19 of 28 passes for 197 yards. Clear and quick enough to adapt his signal-calling to a weakness on the left side of the Oiler rush line, thus exploding Lydell Mitchell for 136 yards. Clear and quick enough, when Houston Cornerback Zeke Moore caught him running for the sidelines after finding his receivers covered, to hurdle clean over the would-be tackler's dive and avoid getting hit precisely at the knees. "That was a cheap shot, wasn't it?" he mused, recalling the episode. "OP Zeke was goin' for bone. I had to get over the top of him."
A Loosiana leadfoot from 'way back, Jones drove fast and loose down the Beltway, steering with one hand, now and then rolling down the window to wet the median strip with snuff juice, and free-associating on his life, past and present. (Never the future, not if you're a quarterback.) "If I had my Beechcraft Bonanza up here, we could of been out to the geese in 15 minutes," he lamented, "but I've got her down home in Ruston. I took up flying about a year and half ago out of necessity. The only Interstates in Louisiana run east and west, the rest is all two-lane blacktop. My girl, Danni Dupuis, lives up in Opelousas, and it used to take me five hours to drive her home. Now I do it in an hour flat. My brother Schump is a fighter pilot in the Air Force—graduated first in his class from flight school—and I always looked up to him. We're all pretty much of a sporting family. Ben, who's younger than me, was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals last year but got cut. It was the last cut, mind you. He's back at school studying mechanical engineering. Bill's a lawyer over to Houston with John Connally's firm, but he was a good college player at Louisiana Tech. Tom—he's the youngest, only 16—stands 6'3" and plays quarterback for Ruston High just like I did. He's the best of us, athletically. You watch out for him in years to come."
Bert's daddy, William A. Jones, owner and proprietor of the Ruston Lumber & Supply Co., wears the nickname of "Dub." On Nov. 25, 1951, when Bert was still in diapers, Dub Jones scored six touchdowns for the Cleveland Browns against the Chicago Bears—the high point of his 10-year career as a pro halfback and a mark that still stands in the record book. During his eight years under Paul Brown, Dub helped Cleveland win six straight conference titles and three world championships, teaming with such golden oldies as Mac Speedie, Dante Lavelli, Lou Groza, Marion Motley and Otto Graham.
"I grew up around the Browns," said Bert, "and when I was in high school, I was ball boy for four years at their camp there at Hiram College. Apart from shagging kicks for Lou Groza, lugging ice, cleaning shoes and washing uniforms, I got to warm up Frank Ryan and Jim Ninowski before games. They taught me the finer points of passing a football."