Kim Jones isn’t working an NFL game this weekend, though unsurprisingly, she considered it. Jones is as prolific a reporter as there is in the business, and frankly, she is one of the best. You’re not seeing her familiar and trusted face this weekend on the NFL Network because Jones had another commitment that took precedence.
She had to go back to the place that saved her life.
A year to the day that Jones left a Washington Redskins practice by ambulance and was later admitted to Fairfax (Va.) Inova Hospital to undergo surgery to repair an aortic dissection, she stood in front of a packed ballroom, serving as emcee for Inova’s annual fund-raising dinner. She was honored to help celebrate the people who had helped her survive, an outcome one of her surgeons told her was akin to winning the lottery. Her winnings were more valuable than money though, coming in the form of perspective, renewed appreciation for the gift of life that comes from a brush with death.
It is a journey that belongs uniquely to Kim, but it is one I feel compelled to mark in my own little corner of the world, too.
You see, Kim Jones is one of my closest friends on the planet, a rare and treasured gift of a human being who came into my life almost two decades ago and immediately and lastingly changed it for the better. I am far from alone in my appreciation for her still being here — her mom and dad, her sister and brother-in-law, her niece and two nephews, they all get first dibs on gratefulness — but thanks to the platform I have in these Globe sports pages, I get to shout it out loud. Loud enough for my intensely humble friend to hear.
So much to be grateful for — that she is still here to answer my many phone calls with counsel, support or camaraderie, that she is still here to occasionally read my column drafts with intelligence, insight, and interest, that she is still here to respond to my random texts with wit, wisdom or humor. Rare are the friendships that start in this competitive, exhausting business and thrive through the craziness of our unpredictable schedules. Rarer are they still for women, based on the simple reality of how outnumbered we are across the sports journalism landscape.
When you find a real one, you hang on for dear life. And when that dear life is still around a year after it could have ended, you take a moment to appreciate it, to forget the terror of 365 days before, when a late-night voicemail from an unrecognized Maryland cellphone (thank you, emergency room nurse who let Kim use your phone) left a message of preemptive goodbye should surgery not go as planned. When you’re still here comparing travel notes and NFL injury reports a year later, thanks to the brilliant surgeons at Inova and the enormous confluence of timing and luck that put Kim so close to the leading cardiac hospital, you take a moment to remember the road that got you here.
From those earliest days we crossed paths — first in a brief overlap on the New Jersey college sports beat and then across three simultaneous years on the Giants beat (me for the Bergen Record, she for the Newark Star-Ledger from 2001-03) — we’ve shared countless rental cars, innumerable TSA lines, and endless Marriott concierge lounges. We’ve laughed through it all, perhaps never more so than on a post-practice walk off a Giants Stadium field when then-coach Jim Fassel relayed the story of his car getting stolen out of a gas station parking lot. He’d believed it to be a good Samaritan removing his car from harm’s way, only to admit, “And then I realized he wasn’t moving my car, he was taking my car.”
We laughed. And at times we cried. The 29-hour drive home from Denver in the wake of 9/11, when the two of us, along with colleagues Neil Best of Newsday and Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, leaned on one another during a heartbreaking cross-country journey, the subsequent flight to Kansas City when we covered the NFL’s return to work. They are indelible memories.
Here’s to making a lifetime more.
It’s no surprise my friend Kim has crushed her recovery. It’s the same way she’s crushed her career — her professional arc has astounded and inspired me. There’s nothing she can’t do. A beat writer who routinely broke news and crafted fascinating stories, she would go on to become an NFL columnist for the Star-Ledger before moving on to the YES Network as Yankees beat reporter. She emerged as an outstanding radio host on New York’s sports talk station WFAN, and of course, she’s shined since joining the NFL Network in 2012.
She has told amazing stories, but none more compelling than her own. During an interview on NBC’s “Today” in February, sitting alongside surgeon Liam Ryan, Jones helped raise awareness about aortic dissection, her contribution to Heart Month, telling of how she’d walked onto the Redskins’ practice field and felt her neck get hot on both sides, how she tripped before eventually making her way back inside, and from there, how Redskins personnel made the crucial and vital call to emergency personnel. Without any of those steps, this story would have had a different ending.
That voicemail, dated Nov. 15, 2018, is still in my phone. I probably listened to it 30 times that night, so fearful of what it might mean. I know I don’t need to keep it anymore. Kim is back, and better than ever. But I think I like knowing it’s there, an eternal gift from my friend, a reminder of what really matters in life is life.