Final Say: Tebucky Jones
Jessica Hill/Associated Press
Tebucky Jones, 38, played in the NFL for eight seasons and won a Super Bowl with New England Patriots in 2001. He’s now football coach at New Britain High School, where he won a state championship as a player. He lives in the New Britain area with his wife and four kids, including son Tebucky Jones Jr., who currently plays football at UConn.
Are you ready for some football?
[laughs] There should be football all the time. I love it.
Why is football so popular?
People love the action. It goes back to gladiator times—people love the combat. My favorite movie is Gladiator.
Is it tough going from being the star to being the guy on the sidelines?
It’s funny—I had never tailgated until after my career was over. I was always playing, not watching, so it was weird to be up in the stands at first. I was surprised at how little people understood what was happening on the field. When I’m up in the stands, I try to tell them what’s really going on.
What’s been the biggest challenge going from playing to coaching?
The biggest thing, because it’s high-school level, is working with the kids. You have some high-level athletes and then you have kids who are not as athletic. Also, staying on top of them with the grades, making sure they do their school work. In the pros, football is your job, so you’re doing football stuff all day.
How has it been returning to coach at your old high school?
I used to tell people in high school—I already knew that when I was in high school, when I finished playing professional football, that I would come back and coach.
So you always knew then that you were going to play pro football?
Oh yeah. My moms told me in elementary school, “Oh, you’ll be playing pro football someday.” And you know what? I believed it. I believed it and it happened.
What do you tell your players who maybe have dreams of playing in the NFL?
I give them the percentages first, how it’s less than 1 percent. I tell them that there are more doctors out there than professional football players. But then I always tell them, “Whatever your dream is, if it’s football or whatever, you have to go at it 100 percent. If people say you can’t do it, you have to believe yourself that you can do it. Whatever you really believe, it happens.”
How did you let your son play offense instead of defense?
Well, I played offense. I only switched to defense my senior year in college. I was always a running back, and then I played defense my senior year. Then I ended up getting drafted as a defense back. The first time I was a running back in college, I rushed for over 150 yards on nine carries.
How has it been seeing the college football experience through your son’s eyes?
I’ve been able to guide him on things because I’ve done it. Little things so when he got to college, he was already prepared because he knew what to expect, so there was no really big surprise—you know, going to class, going straight to practice, studying hard after. He knew all of that before he even got there.
What’s the best advice you’ve given your son in regard to football?
Graduate. Then if you have the chance, go on and work on your masters.
Have you continued your education?
No, I finished. I got my degree and graduated. I’m not a school person. [laughs]
Your NFL career was cut short by injury—did that affect your feelings toward your son playing football?
It wasn’t really cut short. The average is two to three years, so I was way over that. But it didn’t really change how I feel. I look at it like this: If you play football—I don’t care if it’s Pop Warner, high school, college or the pros—you’re gonna get hurt. Everyone who plays eventually gets hurt, even little things. So that’s part of the game.
I have a bunch of guys who I’m still friendly with—Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Troy Brown. We still talk on a regular basis.
What’s NFL game day like from a player’s perspective?
Looong. For a one o’clock game, you get to the stadium at 9 a.m., get your treatments, do your warm-ups, get taped and all. Then when I ran out on that field at kickoff—it’s like I became another person. My adrenaline was pumping so much.
What about after the game?
My adrenaline would still be pumping for hours—like until two or three in the morning—before it would come back down. I’d stay up all night watching TV. Sometimes, it’d take until like one o’clock the next day before I’d be back to normal again.
What it’s like to win a Super Bowl?
It really is indescribable. I just know I always wanted to win one, and then we won it, and it was crazy, especially after 9/11 and all. It was also Mardi Gras in New Orleans, so after the game, it was a big party. Bourbon Street was even more wild than usual.
You were a first-round pick for the New England Patriots in 1998—local guy going to the local team—what were your expectations?
I really didn’t have any expectations. I wanted to go in and help the team any way I could, do what they wanted me to do, and do my best. I always knew I was a great athlete, and that I could contribute to the team.
As a great college athlete, how do you deal with temptations, financial or otherwise?
I got married when I was in college, and had a kid, so I was out of that scene. Some guys get there, even young players in the NFL, and they sort of go wild. But being married kept me in line, I had responsibilities, so I was able to avoid a lot of that stuff.
Who’s tougher: New Britain High School principal Michael Foran or Patriots coach Bill Belichick?
They’re both good guys, really easy to talk to. I know Belichick has that reputation with the media, but he’s great with players. He’ll come up and talk to you about football and life, work out in the weight room with you. He’s also a teacher, constantly telling you what you need to do to get better. “Technique, technique, technique.” If you follow him, work hard and buy into his system, you’re going to be successful, and we were.
What was your reaction when you were traded from the Patriots?
I had been franchised, so when that happens, you always know there’s a chance you’re going to be traded. So it happened, and you know, it was just business. I had a great run with the Patriots, and really enjoyed my time there. But then it was time to play somewhere else.
Scariest moment in the NFL?
I was down in a pile, and I got hit in the neck with a helmet. I remember it hurt, and I couldn’t get up at first. But I just told myself I had to get up, I had to get up, and eventually I was able to get back on my feet and go on. It was scary for a few minutes, though.
Best NFL memory?
Other than winning the Super Bowl? Pretty hard to top that. But I’ll give you my No. 2 memory. Before we won the Super Bowl, we had a game [against Miami] where it was close late in the 4th quarter. They were down by a touchdown, and were driving down the field to tie the game, and were inside our 10-yard-line. The running back caught the ball coming out of the backfield and I laid a serious hit on him, knocking the ball loose. We recovered the fumble, and were able to hang on to win the game. We then went to the playoffs and won the Super Bowl.
Best college football memory?
My senior year, I had an injury to my ankle, and the doctors told me I needed surgery, and that I’d be out 6 to 8 weeks. I said no way I was going to miss that much of my senior season. I had the surgery, and then was back a week later. In the game, I intercepted a pass at our 5-yard-line and took it all the way back to the house for a touchdown. All the way on a bad wheel. While I was running, I was like, “Hey, I’m the one with the hurt ankle here, and no one’s going to catch me?” [laughs]
Best high school football memory?
The state championship game [in 1992], my senior year, when we beat Greenwich for the Class LL title. They were huge, all their linemen were like 250, 300 pounds. They were favored, but we kicked their butts. I scored four touchdowns in the game, including an interception return and a kickoff return for touchdowns.
You’ve lived in Connecticut all your life, outside of when you were in the NFL and were—what is it that you enjoy about the state?
I really love the seasons, although maybe not so much now that I’m getting older. [laughs] I like the pace of life—when I was playing down in New Orleans, everything was so much slower. I was sort of going crazy down there. But up here, it’s great. Playing in Massachusetts, it’s a lot like Connecticut, so it’s the same. I also like being able to drive to Boston and New York.
Last year, you got New Britain High back on the winning track—what are your expectations now?
Like I tell the players, my only expectation is to win. Win. That’s the only thing that matters. Everything else will take care of itself.