ENDICOTT, N.Y. - The three brothers were together again, something that doesn’t happen nearly as often now that they are adults, now that their careers have taken them away from home, though they talk every day. Their parents were there, as they always have been.
As happens in life, it wasn’t just the five of them - it couldn’t be. There were significant others and babies, and at least one camera crew. But for a while they were all crammed together on one couch, just like old times, and glued to the television.
And then came a phone call, from a man widely considered to be the greatest professional football coach of this generation, whose team has become synonymous with winning, year in and year out.
Bill Belichick wanted Chandler Jones, wanted him so badly that he moved up six spots in the first round to draft him – and he hadn’t moved up in the first round, for any player, in nine years.
But clearly the Patriots coach saw something in the 6-foot-5-inch pass rusher from Syracuse - the size, the speed, the smarts, the potentially disruptive front-line force his defense hasn’t had on a consistent basis for several seasons.
On television, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Jones as the 21st overall pick in the draft, headed to New England.
The Jones boys - Arthur III, a defensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens; Jon, the mixed-martial arts champion; and Chandler, the newest member of the Patriots - celebrated, Chandler putting his arms around Arthur Jr. and Camille, the parents who have been there through triumph and tragedy.
Three sons, and now, three professional athletes.
“It was a great experience just having the whole family together, just sitting on the couch like we used to do growing up,’’ Jon said. “Growing up, we had such a small couch and we were all so big and we used to sit right in each others’ laps.
“So to do that again in my house, my first home, it was just a great feeling. It felt like the ultimate housewarming gift to have everyone there, and to share such a special moment with Chandler.
“It was a wonderful moment for me, a wonderful moment for our family.’’
Death in the family
The boys were born in Rochester, N.Y., but moved to Endicott, a village just outside of Binghamton, when Chandler was 8. Their father, Arthur Jr., is the longtime pastor of a small church in Binghamton, and mother Camille works in the ministry with him.
Years ago, Camille thought her oldest boy would be the only one who had a career in sports, perhaps as a coach. Jon, she believed, might be an actor. And Chandler, whom she still lovingly calls “her baby’’ would use his intelligence to do great things in the business world. Eventually, they would all be pastors, just like their father.
At least, that’s what she thought.
They are all 6 feet 3 inches or better, and Arthur jokes that their size is the result of the family’s home being next to a former IBM plant; perhaps some of the fumes, he said, caused the boys to grow so large. Camille points to the Southern-style cooking she and her husband served, making big pots of beans and rice (“and, when all else failed, spaghetti’’).
Whatever it was, it led to three strapping boys.
But it wasn’t always just the boys. They had an older sister, Carmen, who was almost 6 feet and played some basketball but was more of a girly-girl, happiest doing hair, cooking, or redecorating the family house on a whim.
Not long after the Joneses moved to Endicott, Carmen was diagnosed with brain cancer. Over the next two years, Camille, Arthur Jr., and her brothers took care of her; Carmen made it clear she didn’t like nurses. So they all had a role in tending to her, holding her while her mother bathed her and smoothed lotion on her, helping with her feeding tube, until she lost her fight and died just shy of her 18th birthday.
Until recently, none of the brothers talked about Carmen, certainly not outside of their home and sometimes not even inside it.
“They didn’t want to talk about her, they felt that a conversation about her was very sacred and they just didn’t want to share her,’’ Camille said.
Arthur III and Jon will talk about Carmen now, but Chandler, who was just 10 when Carmen died, is still reluctant.
“It affected us a lot,’’ Arthur III said. “It caused us, as young kids, to grow up. It’s funny because when they see us, people say you’re really mature to be only 22, 23, 25, whatever, but it’s because we’ve been through a lot.
“When other kids were outside playing sports, we had to be in the house taking care of our sister. It definitely pushed us in a way to grow up faster.’’
None of the boys complained, Camille said. Perhaps it was because Carmen had taken such good care of them, cooking meals and doing chores - the chores she was supposed to dole out to her brothers. It wasn’t until after she died that Camille realized none of the boys knew how to do housework; they admitted that they never had to, because Carmen had done it for them.
“She’s in a better place watching us, front row, in all the arenas we play in,’’ Jon said.
A mother’s challenge
The experience of caring for and ultimately losing Carmen brought the family closer. Their faith has bonded them, and continues to provide solace now, as Camille wages her own battle with diabetes. The disease has robbed her of her sight.
She still attends every football game, every fight. Arthur Jr. provides the play-by-play of what’s happening, though at times he gets too excited and forgets to tell his wife what’s going on. So Camille has learned to station herself next to Arthur III or Jon’s fiancée or Chandler’s girlfriend, and they fill her in.
Her blindness isn’t a reason to get down, Camille says. Arthur, clearly the family comedian, says they call her dark glasses her “stunner shades,’’ a hip-hop term for oversized sunglasses. The boys will poke their mother, aware that she doesn’t know who the culprit is until she hears his voice. Sometimes Camille will retaliate by turning off the lights in the room and saying, “Welcome to my world.’’
It doesn’t make her sad that she can’t see her sons excel in their sports; she has been blind for just a couple of years, so she has seen them in action. What bothers her now are things such as not being able to picture in her mind the beauty of the Denver area, even as her husband described it to her, when Jon had a bout there.
Camille has already ordered custom-made jerseys for Sept. 23, when the Patriots travel to Baltimore for a prime-time showdown; one half of the shirts will be New England road white, the other half Ravens home purple.
Arthur III says it may not sink in that baby brother is in the NFL until that day, when he sees Chandler on the field in his uniform.
It began with a bang
For Shane Hurd, the Union-Endicott High football coach who has known the Jones boys for more than a decade, and athletic director Josh Gannon, it isn’t a surprise that Chandler is about to begin a career in the NFL.
Hurd loves to tell the story from the start of his sophomore year, when Chandler was in his first season with the varsity team and still a middle linebacker, still a “bit goofy’’ and getting used to his new body after a major growth spurt.
U-E had traveled to face Shenendehowa for a preseason scrimmage. The Shenendehowa quarterback rolled to his left, then reversed field, looking for all the world as though he were going to run out of bounds. Only he didn’t. He cut back near the sideline.
Chandler, the gangly kid with the great hips who had been pursuing the quarterback from the far side of the field, hit him in full-on sprint – wham! The collision was so violent it sent every coach on the field running toward the quarterback, afraid he’d been seriously hurt.
After that, U-E put its quarterbacks in red noncontact jerseys for scrimmages, not wanting a similar fate to befall them.
That play became the opening scene in Jones’s college recruiting tape. It showed that he could run, and it showed he could hit. He was moved to defensive end when he grew to 6-5, but those two things haven’t changed.
On the night of the draft, Gannon, who is a Massachusetts native and Patriots fan, and Hurd, who is a Jets fan, rejoiced. Hurd was overcome with emotion for his former star player, and he will happily put aside his dislike of the Jets’ biggest rival to don a New England jersey with “Jones’’ on the back.
“He is such a great kid,’’ said Hurd. “Someone like that, with that personality, he should have great things happen to him.’’
According to Gannon, Hurd uses all three Joneses as an example for current student-athletes – that you can be a success and still be a great person, that it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Thanks to his long arms, large frame, and Big East background, Chandler has already been compared to Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants’ pass-rushing demon.
His defensive coordinator at Syracuse, Scott Shafer, believes Chandler can be every bit the impact player that Pierre-Paul has become for New York.
“I remember watching Jason in high school, and I got to watch him live and I had to coach against him when he was over there getting sacks at South Florida, and I really do, I think Chandler can definitely do those things,’’ Shafer said.
“He’s got some of the same skill set. He’s got a little bit different style to his game than Jason. One thing about Chandler is that he is an extremely intelligent young man, too. Playing for Coach Belichick and that scheme and those coaches there, I think they can really develop him into being an extremely productive guy in that league.’’
When Jones was out with his knee injury, Shafer said, he didn’t get down, and instead spent time with the team’s younger defensive ends to get them as ready as they could be to step in during his absence.
That’s where his leadership showed. Chandler isn’t much of a fire-and-brimstone type, but Hurd, the high school coach, recalled that if U-E was having a bad practice, Chandler would provide inspiration by putting a hard hit on a teammate (which his target likely didn’t appreciate as much as the rest of the team did).
He’ll do whatever is asked of him in New England, from the film room to the weight room to the practice field, Shafer said.
They’re all biased, of course, but everyone - from Hurd and Gannon to Shafer to Camille, Arthur III, and Jon - boasts about Chandler’s magnetic personality, his great character, his work ethic, and his quest for perfection on the field.
“They’re getting an awesome person,’’ Jon said. “They’re getting a person who is a winner, a person who comes from a family of winners, a person who is a hard worker, a person who has great energy, very charismatic, he’s a gentleman. You’ll never have to worry about Chandler getting in any bar fights or DWIs.
“He’s extremely passionate. He’s just a great, great individual, a total winner, in the true sense of the word ‘winner.’
“I think with years under Belichick and just being around the team and Tom Brady, being around greatness, he’s going to mold right in and be a great individual and a great player.
“Chandler’s a special kid; he really is. I think that’s why Belichick picked him. He recognized the talent when he sees it. He’s something special, and you guys are going to be able to see it.’’