Before the game Joe was concerned that his redshirt year would have been completely wasted if he got cut now. "I don't think it's fair about having to cut players to hold the squad to 95," he said. "I was real worried my freshman year when Coach Bryant said eight players had to go. But really I don't think it's me now. I hope."
Joe added that no matter what happened he would come back to Alabama to finish his education. "I've always been an Alabama fan," he said. "When I was 10 my grandmother gave me an Alabama jacket. When I was a sophomore in high school I had an-Alabama T shirt. And when I took art as a senior I made this papier-mâché Alabama elephant that I painted red and white with little black toes. My whole family's been converted."
Today's game is also special to Joe because his parents and girl friend have driven in from Thomaston to watch him perform. At the beginning Joe plays only on the punting and kickoff teams, but late in the first quarter he is sent in to relieve Nathan. As he lines up in a three-point stance, Joe looks compact and determined, but the fingers on his free hand twitch nervously. Not until three minutes into the second quarter does he carry the ball for the first time. He gains three yards. There is nothing spectacular about the run, no vaults or stiff-arms or whirls, just three hard-fought yards off tackle. Shortly after that, Joe throws a nice block on the defensive end, sticking his helmet across the player's leg the way the coach had asked.
After an exchange of punts, the Whites drive to the Reds' six-yard line, and the Reds dig in for a goal-line stand. Two running plays net another four yards. On third-and-goal, Quarterback Don Jacobs calls the signals, sprints right, then pitches back to Jones. The only player between Joe and the goal line is Red Safety Ricky Tucker. The crowd screams, anticipating some sort of feint followed by a footrace to the corner.
But Joe Jones doesn't fake at all. He simply lowers his helmet and aims directly at Tucker. A tremendous crash follows, with both players straightening up, wavering and tumbling into the end zone. The referee signals touchdown.
On the sideline the White team mobs Jones, who still seems woozy from the collision. Mike Inman hobbles up and beats Joe on the back. "I was expecting some sort of swivel hips," he shouts. "But no! It's boom, Joe Jones the crusher." Joe smiles and shakes any hand offered him.
In the second half the Reds score on a long pass, the White offense fizzles and the game ends at 7-7. For the day, Joe Jones has rushed seven times for 30 yards and one touchdown. His long run of 14 yards is second only to a 21-yarder reeled off by Nathan.
Outside the locker room, Backfield Coach Shorty White tries to analyze Joe's potential. "You have to face it, he's not a great athlete. But he can get to be a consistent athlete, a steady one," says White. "And that's not bad, either. You don't have many great players—the Ozzie Newsome, Jeff Rutledge, Johnny Davis types. You need them, of course, to be a great team, but the majority of college players are the Joe Jones type."
One week after the scrimmage, after the coaches have had a chance to analyze the films, Joe Jones is named the winner of the Johnny Musso Most Improved Offensive Back Award for the spring, 1978. It is proof that the coaches have noticed Joe's efforts. Perhaps more significant is the fact that Tony Nathan won the award in 1977.
On May 6, school ends and Joe Jones packs up his belongings and drives back to Thomaston. He has a few free days and then he begins his $3-an-hour summer job in the machine shop at a Thomaston cotton mill. "It's pretty much fun," says Joe in early June. "I'm sort of a plumber, really. I wear waders and climb around in trenches. I don't know if I'm learning much, but maybe I'll be able to fix the drains in my house someday."