Sept. 20, 2012
Michigan State will induct six new members into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Thursday, Sept. 20. In the fifth of a six-part series this week on msuspartans.com, online columnist Steve Grinczel profiles former football All-American Clinton Jones.
The Mount Rushmore of Michigan State's 1965 and 1966 national championship football teams is complete.
Of course, George Webster, Bubba Smith and Gene Washington were the first to be immortalized when they were inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame inaugural class in 1992.
And this year, halfback Clinton Jones was added to the Hall for football and track and field.
So many amazing student-athletes contributed to the remarkable success and enduring fame of those teams, but Webster, Smith, Washington and Jones were the Big Four.
"It means so much to me to be back together with George, Bubba and Gene," said Jones, who was also inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame this year.
An All-American halfback as a junior and senior, Jones has been reflecting on the essence of his dual-recognition for nearly a year.
"I've been thinking about this for the past nine months, and my story is about gratitude and mentoring," he said. "This is an opportunity to acknowledge so many people because it wasn't like any one person. I'm representing my teammates and my coaches."
Jones, an All-American sprinter on the Spartan track team as well, is no stranger to honors and awards.
After rushing for 787 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior on MSU's 1966 Rose Bowl team, the Cleveland Touchdown Club recognized Jones as the nation's most outstanding player by presenting him with the Joe Fogg Memorial Trophy.
His star reached its pinnacle during the halcyon 1966 when he, Bubba, George and Gene led the Spartans to a 9-0-1 record and refused to flinch against Notre Dame in the infamous 10-10 "Game of the Century."
After college, Jones had a successful NFL career and accounted for 5,035 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns in six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and one with the San Diego Chargers.
Looking back, however, Jones realizes he has always considered athletics as a means to an end, even before his days at Cleveland Cathedral Latin High School.
"High school was the precursor and Michigan State was the next phase for preparing me to go out into the world," Jones said. "Life has blessed me with a lot of outstanding mentors.
"This Hall of Fame honor isn't about Clinton Jones. It's about all the people who contributed making Clinton Jones who he is today."
First and foremost is his mother, Emma.
"Without my mother, I wouldn't be where I'm at," Jones said. "She had me when she was 15 years and 10 months old and never made more than a dollar an hour until she was 40 years old. She worked many jobs to put me through school because she had to pay for tuition at the Catholic school.
"She was a father and a mother and very much a taskmaster. I was trained at a very young age that there wasn't any such thing as entitlement. A lot of guys don't know how to cook, sew and clean, and I was doing all that before I was 10 years old. Then, my education in high school was the equivalent of two years in college.
"My athletic mentoring started when I was nine years old when I started boxing and I was trained for four years by Jimmy Reeves, who was the middleweight champion. That was my first sport."
Jones was initially headed to the University of Detroit, which didn't have a varsity track team, until his Cathedral Latin coach, Dick Maribito, steered him to the welcoming atmosphere at Michigan State under the legendary Duffy Daugherty.
In 1966, Sports Illustrated listed Jones among what it called the "streaks" of college football: "Fast and tough and exciting... the newest and brightest twist in a game that has gone all out on attack."
Before playing Iowa in the eighth game of the season, Jones apologized to his teammates for what he called subpar play. Then, he broke the Big Ten single-game rushing record with 268 yards on 21 carries, including touchdown runs of 79, 70 and 2 yards in the 56-7 romp.
"I told them I didn't want to end my last year feeling that I let the team down, or Duffy or my family," he said at the time.
His deference and service to others hasn't changed a bit at the age of 67.
"There were a lot of influential people in my life, who I call unsung heroes," Jones said.
Treasured life lessons came to Jones from every corner of the athletic department, from equipment manager Ken Earley to trainer Clinton Thomas to Sylvia Thompson, Daugherty's executive assistant and later the executive assistant to eight different athletic directors, and venerated administrator Jack Breslin.
Jones even paid tribute to the so-called "White Rocks," who made up MSU's practice squad.
"You know, like the Rock of Gibraltar, that's how the White Rocks were," Jones said. "We had the green team and we had the white team and many of those guys on the White Rocks didn't even letter. But they scrimmaged against us and prepared us for every game. They didn't get accolades and attention for what they've done, but we wouldn't have had the team we had if it wasn't for them.
"These are the guys Gene Washington, Bubba, George Webster, Bob Apisa and Jerry West acknowledged as being so important to our lives. They're a part of our whole family. Guys like Pete Dotlich and a little quarterback named Eric Marshall from Mississippi. They were so unselfish, contributed so much, and were so proud to be Spartans. How can we ever repay our debt of gratitude?"
Before joining the Vikings as a the overall No. 2 pick in the 1967 NFL draft, Jones became engaged in the war on poverty by joining the Office of Economic Opportunity while taking classes at MSU. His immediate goal was to encourage out-of-school and out-of-work young men to join the Job Corps.
After pro football, Jones went to school to become a chiropractic physician in Los Angeles, where he still practices with his wife, Rosielee.
"Sports, football in particular as well as track, were an expedient means to take me to a place that was within myself," Jones said. "When I retired from professional football on my own accord, I wanted a philosophy and a profession that were one in the same.
"I wanted to thank the people who contributed to my life through my contributions to other people's lives. In other words, I just wanted to keep passing it along because I've been very, very fortunate."