Touchdown celebrations have become part of the fabric of NFL games.
“The Ickey Shuffle”, “The Lambeau Leap”, and “The Gronk Spike” are just a few of the many celebrations in the NFL after specific touchdowns have been scored.
With his “spike” of the football after a touchdown in 1965, wide receiver Homer Jones pioneered NFL touchdown celebrations.
In addition to his role in the development of the touchdown celebration, Jones was a great wide receiver.
Over his seven seasons in the NFL with the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns from 1964 to 1970, Jones scored 36 receiving touchdowns and averaged 22.3 yards per pass reception.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) February 18, 2021
We take a look at the life of Homer Jones – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Homer Carroll Jones was born in Pittsburg, Texas on February 18, 1941.
Pittsburg is located in northeastern Texas.
When Jones was growing up there, Pittsburgh had a population of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 people.
Jones was an only child.
His father was a steelworker, and his mother was a schoolteacher.
He attended Frederick Douglass High School in Pittsburg.
Jones had other interests in high school besides football.
He played the saxophone, hoping to pursue a music career.
In terms of sports, Jones was on the basketball and track teams.
He especially excelled on the track team, running the 100 yard dash in 9.3 seconds and the 200 yard dash in 19.9 seconds.
He did not even try out for the football team until his senior season.
However, he was an immediate success at football.
Playing fullback, on his first play from scrimmage in high school, Jones rushed for 80 yards for a touchdown.
Jones received scholarship offers from nine universities.
His college decision ultimately came down to Grambling State University, in Grambling, Louisiana, and Texas Southern University, in Houston, Texas.
Preferring an urban campus to a rural campus and a campus that was closer to his home, Jones headed to Houston to attend Texas Southern.
Jones played football for Texas Southern from 1959 to 1962.
Considered an “HBCU” school, Texas Southern then played in the NCAA College Division as a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
As a freshman, Jones played linebacker for Texas Southern.
He then moved to halfback as a sophomore and to flanker as a junior.
As a senior, Jones injured his knee.
Knee injuries were to plague Jones throughout his football career.
While Jones was on its football team, Texas Southern posted records of 7-7 in 1959, 3-7 in 1960, 8-4 in 1961, and 7-3 in 1962.
In addition, Jones was on the track team at Texas Southern.
As a sprinter, Jones also was a member of the 1962 United States track team.
He competed alongside future Pro Football Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Bob Hayes.
After playing at Texas Southern, Jones moved on to professional football.
The Pro Football Years
Jones was drafted by the New York Giants in the 20th round of the 1963 NFL draft.
He was the 278th overall pick.
He also was drafted by the Houston Oilers in the fifth round of the 1963 American Football League (AFL) draft, as the 33rd overall pick.
Jones decided to play for the Oilers.
However, Jones suffered another knee injury in training camp and was cut by the Oilers.
Fortunately for Jones, the Giants remained interested in Jones, and they then signed him as a free agent.
With the Giants, Jones underwent surgery on his injured knee.
He missed the entire 1963 NFL regular season, as he rehabbed his knee after the surgery.
1964 was Jones’ rookie regular season.
He played in three, but did not start any, regular season games in 1964.
Jones accumulated all of his receiving and return statistics in 1964 over two regular season games.
On December 6, 1964, Jones had his first NFL regular season pass receptions, as he caught two passes for 41 yards, including a 23-yard pass reception, in a 30-21 New York loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Well like I told the last Tweeter that asked…He said he couldn’t go that far back..lol
Homer Jones pic.twitter.com/M0ihU3jV8I
— Jay Hawkey (@JBHawkey) May 29, 2021
He also returned three kickoffs for 50 yards.
The following week, on December 12, 1964, in a 52-20 Giants loss to the Cleveland Browns, Jones again caught two passes for 41 yards, including a 30-yard pass reception.
In addition, he returned three kickoffs for 61 yards.
The Giants had a 2-10-2 record in 1964.
In 1965, Jones played in all 14, and started three, regular season games.
— Tom's Old Days (@sigg20) April 26, 2021
Jones scored his first NFL regular season touchdown on an 89-yard touchdown pass from Giants quarterback Earl Morrall, in a 35-27 New York victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on October 17, 1965.
Jones caught two passes for 102 yards.
Besides being Jones’ first NFL regular season touchdown and the longest pass reception in the 1965 regular season, the 89-yard touchdown reception by Jones has significance for how Jones acted after crossing the goal line.
“I was fixing to throw [the football] into the grandstand. But just as I was raising my arm, the reality snapped into my head. [NFL Commissioner Pete] Rozelle would have fined me [$50]. That was a lot of money in those days. So, I just threw the ball down into the end zone, into the grass. Folks got excited, and I did it for the rest of my career.”
On October 17, 1965, Homer Jones gave birth to the “spike” and touchdown celebrations.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) April 20, 2021
For the 1965 NFL regular season, Jones caught 26 passes for 709 yards and the above-described six touchdowns.
He also rushed for 17 yards on one rushing attempt.
The Giants posted a 7-7 record in 1965.
In 1966, Jones played in all 14, and started 10, regular season games.
Jones caught 48 passes for 1,044 yards and eight touchdowns, and rushed for 43 yards on five rushing attempts, in the 1966 NFL regular season.
He ranked fourth in receiving yards, tied for sixth in receiving touchdowns, second in longest pass reception (98 yards), and third in average yards per pass reception (21.8 yards).
In 1966, the Giants had a 1-12-1 record.
Jones started all 14 regular season games and probably had his best NFL regular season in 1967.
On September 17, 1967, in a 37-20 New York win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Jones caught five passes for 175 yards, including two touchdowns on passes of 70 yards and 38 yards from future Pro Football Hall of Fame Giants quarterback Fran Tarkenton.
Tarkenton came to New York by trade in 1967, and he immediately developed an appreciation of Jones’ ability.
In praising Jones, Tarkenton stated:
“He was the biggest threat I’d ever seen. When I came into the league, Willie Galimore was a blur. Then Gale Sayers, and he was faster than Willie. Then I saw Homer. He was an ox. He was a bull! He ran faster than Gale, faster than Bob Hayes! . . . On the fly [pattern], I’d drop seven yards and throw it as far as I could. I couldn’t overthrow Homer.”
“[Jones] is like a man on a motorcycle waving a butterfly net high up in the air.”
For the 1967 NFL regular season, Jones caught 49 passes for 1,209 yards and 13 touchdowns, rushed for 60 yards and the above-described touchdown on five rushing attempts, returned two kickoffs for 38 yards, and recovered a fumble for eight yards.
Jones led the NFL in both receiving touchdowns and total touchdowns (14), and ranked second in both receiving yards and average yards per pass reception (24.7 yards), third in yards from scrimmage (1,269), and sixth in all-purpose yards (1,315).
Jones received his first Pro Bowl invitation in 1967.
He also was named first team All-Conference by the Sporting News, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, the New York Daily News, and United Press International, and second team All-Conference by the Associated Press.
The Giants had a 7-7 record in 1967.
Jones again started all 14 regular season games in 1968.
In the 1968 NFL regular season, Jones caught 45 passes for 1,057 yards and the above-described seven touchdowns and rushed for 18 yards on three rushing attempts.
Homer Jones yells, “I’m open!” (probably), and indeed he was. Jim Nettles is trailing. @Ol_TimeFootball @NFL_Journal @SportsDaysPast @SportsPaperInfo @pfref @FootballHistory @70sBaseball @Baseball1960s @60s_Baseball @nflthrowback @Giants pic.twitter.com/idaGmNZjP6
— Eagles Over the Years (@EaglesOrtheYear) March 12, 2021
Jones ranked tied for 10th in pass receptions, third in receiving yards, tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns, tied for fifth in longest pass reception (84 yards), second in average yards per pass reception (23.5 yards), and eighth in yards from scrimmage (1,075).
For the second consecutive year, Jones received a Pro Bowl invitation.
He also was named first team All-Conference by the Sporting News and second team All-Conference by the New York Daily News.
The Giants again had a 7-7 record in 1968.
In 1969, Jones, for the third consecutive year, started all 14 regular season games.
Relative to in the prior three seasons, Jones’ production was somewhat slowed in 1969 because of knee injuries.
Jones caught 42 passes for 744 yards and the above-described touchdown and rushed for eight yards on three rushing attempts, during the 1969 NFL regular season.
He ranked tied for eighth in average yards per pass reception (17.7).
In 1969, the Giants posted a 6-8 record.
On January 26, 1970, the Giants traded Jones to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for three players – running back Ron Johnson, defensive tackle Jim Kanicki, and linebacker Wayne Meylan.
The Browns in part acquired Jones to replace their future Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield, who Cleveland traded to the Miami Dolphins in 1970.
In 1970, Jones played in all 14, and started four, regular season games for the Browns.
Jones made an immediate impact in his first regular season game for the Browns against the New York Jets on September 21, 1970.
It was the first game on ABC’s Monday Night Football.
The second-half kickoff by the Jets was returned by Jones for a 94-yard touchdown.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) March 21, 2021
On the kickoff return, Jones ran down the right sideline, moved to the middle near midfield, and outran the final two defenders.
Jones returned two kickoffs for 116 yards, as Cleveland defeated the Jets 31-21.
The following week, on September 27, 1970, Jones returned four kickoffs for 105 yards, in a 34-31 Browns loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
In a 28-0 Cleveland shutout of the Miami Dolphins on October 25, 1970, Jones had his first “Cleveland Browns” regular season pass receptions, as he caught two passes for 22 yards, including a 12-yard pass reception.
Jones returned four kickoffs for 117 yards, in a 23-20 Browns loss to the Oakland Raiders on November 8, 1970.
The knee injuries which somewhat reduced Jones’ performance in 1969 had an even more adverse impact on his play in 1970.
For the 1970 NFL regular season, Jones caught 10 passes for 141 yards and the above-described touchdown and returned 29 kickoffs for 739 yards and the above-described touchdown.
Jones ranked sixth in kickoff return yards and ninth in average yards per kickoff return (25.5 yards).
Cleveland had a 7-7 record in 1970.
Jones’ play helped the Browns rank in the 1970 NFL regular season seventh in total passing and rushing yards (4,161), fifth in passing yards (2,582), and ninth in average yards per kickoff return (22.8 yards).
On July 13, 1971, Jones was traded by Cleveland to the St. Louis Cardinals for an undisclosed draft pick.
However, Jones never played for the Cardinals, as he retired from the NFL on July 24, 1971.
The Years After The NFL
Jones was married.
Two of Jones’ cousins also played in the NFL – Pro Football Hall of Fame Washington Redskins wide receiver Charley Taylor and Cleveland Browns defensive end Joe “Turkey” Jones (who played for Cleveland from 1970 to 1973 and 1975 to 1978).
Jones was inducted into the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
For his play with New York from 1964 to 1969, Jones is considered one of the best receivers in Giants history.
He ranks 24th in Giants career regular season pass receptions (214), sixth in Giants career regular season receiving yards (4,845), tied for sixth in Giants career regular season receiving touchdowns (35), second in Giants career regular season longest pass reception (98 yards), and first, among Giants players with at least 20 pass receptions, in Giants career regular season average yards per pass reception (22.6 yards).
As outstanding as the above statistics are, it is another statistical measure that truly shows Jones’ greatness as a pass receiver.
Jones ranks first, among all NFL players with at least 200 pass receptions, in NFL regular season average yards per pass reception – 22.3 yards.
Simply stated, among all the outstanding pass receivers in NFL history who caught significant (at least 200) passes, no one was better than Homer Jones in gaining yards from pass receptions.
In this statistical category, Jones ranks ahead of his above-described contemporaries Bob Hayes and Paul Warfield, ahead of other Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receivers, such as Lance Alworth, Don Maynard, James Lofton, Dante Lavelli, and Don Hutson, and ahead of other wide receivers who are associated with long pass receptions, such as Flipper Anderson, Willie Gault, Ray Renfro, DeSean Jackson, and Cliff Branch.
Jones also should be recognized for his 8.6 average yards per rushing attempt (146 yards and one touchdown on 17 rushing attempts) and his 24.0 average yards per kickoff return (888 yards and one touchdown on 37 kickoff returns).
Why then does Jones not receive more attention in discussions about the best receivers in NFL history (including about the Pro Football Hall of Fame)?
Part of the problem is that Jones only played in 87, and only started 59, regular season games over his seven-year NFL career.
In addition, in terms of discussing Jones’ career, Jones has both the blessing and the curse of never playing on a playoff team.
The blessing is that people will say that Jones “over-achieved” with his statistics by not being surrounded by outstanding talent, as generally is the case for a non-playoff team (although to be fair, Jones had an excellent quarterback, Earl Morrall, and a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, throwing him passes for much of his career).
The curse is that people will often forget the careers of NFL players such as Jones who did not receive national public attention from playing in playoff games.
Unfortunately, Browns fans did not have the opportunity to fully appreciate the talent of Jones.
In his one season with Cleveland in 1970, Jones’ performance was adversely affected by injury, and his production was not what it had been in his years with the Giants.
Nevertheless, Jones does rank sixth, among Cleveland players with at least 25 kickoff returns, in Browns career regular season average yards per kickoff return (25.5 yards).
Jones’ 94-yard kickoff return touchdown against the Jets and 43-yard pass reception touchdown against the Broncos in 1970 also gave Cleveland fans at least some hint of what Jones could have accomplished with the Browns had he played for them earlier in his career.
A good description for Homer Jones’ 1970 season with Cleveland would be the final act of a great NFL career.