Throughout the season, 49ers.com will feature members of our 10-Year Club. Check out our latest feature on former 49ers tight end Brent Jones, who played for the team from 1987-1997.
In eleven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Brent Jones was the epitome of what was expected from the tight end position. Consistent performance, sound blocking, soft hands and over-the-middle play-making ability – Jones did all of those things and so much more.
He was also one of the most reliable targets for 49ers Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young during his career, catching 417 passes for 5,195 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Jones earned many accolades during his decade-plus career with the 49ers, and is honored to this day with a scarlet and gold plaque at the 49ers team facility, along with 44 other members of the San Francisco 49ers 10-Year Club.
“Certainly I have a ton of pride,” Jones said of his spot amongst the players who played with the 49ers for ten or more seasons. “It’s tough to last that long in the league and to stay with a team with the legacy and the greatness of the 49ers, you look at it now, and it’s a heck of an accomplishment.”
When he first saw the wall of plaques as a first year player, Jones never envisioned being in the same category as 49ers all-time greats.
“My thoughts on making the wall were, ‘Good luck.’ Those guys were phenomenal,” Jones said. “I remember it was a goal and once you got into the six to eight year range if you would make it to the 10-Year Club. But unfortunately, a lot of those guys didn’t make it. It’s a pretty exclusive club.”
Jones’ accomplishment is pretty special given his NFL beginnings.
In 1986, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Jones in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. But during the preseason, Jones was involved in a car accident that caused him to have a serious neck injury.
The Steelers placed Jones on Injured Reserve during the preseason and later released him in late September.
“To be with the Steelers and think that’s where you are going to end up living and having your career was exciting,” Jones recalled of his rookie season in the NFL. “But a couple of weeks later we got hit by a drunk driver and everything changed. I was on the IR and they didn’t think I was going to get better.”
Without a job, he decided to come back to the Bay Area, where he had played his college ball at Santa Clara University. Three months later, 49ers Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh called and offered Jones and early Christmas gift. Jones accepted and signed with San Francisco on the 24th of December.
“Coming home was pretty frustrating, because I thought my career was over before it started. Bill Walsh, the 49ers staff and management gave me a shot and I ran with it,” Jones said. “It was an exciting and nerve-racking time for the first year or two. You just never knew what the next day would bring. But there was nothing better than playing in your hometown in front of your family and friends. And with the success the 49ers were experiencing, the timing couldn’t have been better.”
The tight end spent most of the 1987 season on the reserve list with the pinched nerve in his neck before finally being activated for the last four games of the regular season.
Jones had to work his way up the depth chart in the beginning of his career, but in his second season, he and the 49ers reached the pinnacle of success, by winning Super Bowl XIX.
“You grow up watching the Super Bowl games on television, you see the guys celebrating in the locker room and all of a sudden to find yourself there experiencing it was quite remarkable,” Jones said.
Jones went on to win two more championship rings, but he still cherishes his first World Championship the most.
“All three Super Bowls were extremely memorable, but there’s really nothing like the first one,” he said. “In Super Bowl XXIII, we were behind and of course the famous two-minute drive with Joe [Montana] that finally culminated with a touchdown pass to John Taylor. Just to be so close to losing it and then winning it and to be in the locker room afterwards and to know that you’re going to be a proud recipient of one of the most treasured rings on the planet. There’s really nothing to describe that feeling. Just to wake up the next morning and say, ‘Was that real? Did I really do that?’ All of the Super Bowls were high in my memory in the list of accomplishments, but the first one is really remarkable.”
Playing in the spotlight of one of the best teams in the NFL, Jones quickly became well-known around the league as one of the best all-around performers at his position.
“I enjoyed blocking, but we made a lot of things happen through the air,” Jones said. “The ability to get down the middle of the field against the two-deep coverage was one of the things I really took as a challenge and enjoyed doing. I think understanding the complexity of the offense and understanding how it all fits together and being a part of it was the thing that stood out the most for me.”
Jones’ success on the field earned him four consecutive Pro Bowl selections from 1992 to 1995.
“It was really a tremendous feeling, I don’t know if it gets much better than that,” Jones said. “Winning a Super Bowl, from a team perspective is the ultimate and that’s everyone’s goal. But to be recognized for your accomplishments and your contribution to the success of a team, and then to go to Hawaii and see the best players to ever play the game in the locker room with you, I think is quite humbling. It’s a spectacular experience, there’s nothing like hearing you made the Pro Bowl for the first time. You want to keep making it, you never want to drop off that’s for sure.”
In 1994, Jones won his final Super Bowl on what could have been arguably the best team in 49ers history. Given the team’s loaded talent that year, Jones recalled how special the practices were that week.
“It was maybe the most flawless week of practice ever. We had some pretty amazing receivers, but it goes beyond that. It also goes to the quarterbacking, Steve was just on fire that week,” Jones said. “To think a ball didn’t touch the ground, we were so ready. I think we were pretty darn confident. It was the best that we had been and we had been awful good during the season.”
After Jones returned to the Pro Bowl for the fourth consecutive season in 1995, injuries began to limit his play on the field. In 1996, he missed five games with a dislocated left shoulder, but managed to come back for the playoffs.
As Jones entered the ’97 season, he figured it would be his last in pro football.
The 49ers went 13-3 but lost in the NFC Championship game 23-10 to the Green Bay Packers. For Jones, the game was painful in more ways than one. Not only was it his last game in the NFL, but he played the game with a torn calf muscle.
“You get used to playing hurt, but nothing like that,” Jones recalled. “I tore my calf on Friday before the NFC Championship game and I knew I was going to retire [after], I had just turned 35. There’s a certain age where the body can’t take it anymore. There was no way I would be denied from playing. I had to take a bunch of shots before the game, during the game, and at halftime – it was brutal. I would have loved to be at 100 percent. The fact that we were so close to going to another Super Bowl and not being able to go and the frustration of that combined with knowing it was the last time you’d be on the field was pretty emotional. It wasn’t the greatest way to go out. The walk off the field for the last time would’ve been nice to be as a winner, but the fans were great, my teammates, the front office, our ownership, it was a nice experience, but I would’ve liked to play one more game.”
Jones never played in another NFL game, but he routinely visited NFL stadiums as a seven-year member of a CBS broadcasting team.
Although he enjoyed being involved with the sport he loved, Jones had a hard time with dealing with his new role within the game.
“While TV was great, the toughest thing about being in the booth was that you never win,” Jones said. “You’re always just right in the middle. It’s great being involved in the game, but it wasn’t quite the same. You would come out of the booth after the game and listen to some executive producer tell you if you did good or not and the guy doesn’t know anything about football. It was kind of a strange deal. I actually walked away from a three year contract extension because I had started a business with a couple of friends who I played with on the 49ers. Business was going well and I just said instead of traveling all over the country for football season, I’ll just sit in my living room and watch the games.”
Since then, Jones teamed up with former teammates Mark Harris and Tommy Vardell to form a private equity business in the Bay Area that has raised 3 billion dollars in the last eight years.
Jones said it’s nice to be able to compete in the business world too.
And if the business venture isn’t enough to occupy his time, Jones has been coaching tight ends at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California.
“I’ve been working with the high school team and certainly that’s been a blast. I don’t think football will ever leave me. I think most of the guys who’ve played the game on that level feel the same way. Somehow you’re always drawn back and it’s exciting to be on the field coaching.”
Whether he’s coaching teenagers or working with former teammates, Jones will always be one of the most popular 49ers in the Bay Area. His legacy will forever remain a part of the 49ers history, and his plaque will forever hang as a member of the 10-Year Club.