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Former USC quarterback connects with church

February 07, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

GREENCASTLE, PA. - With ushers dressed as referees, worshippers in football jerseys, a renowned ex-player, an indoor tailgate party, "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the crowd doing the wave, Sunday's Super Bowl Service at Antrim Brethren in Christ Church had all the trappings of a pregame rally.

Former University of Southern California quarterback James Jones was there to pump up the crowd, but not for the game later that day between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots.

"God still reigns. He is the most important thing of this day," Jones told more than 600 people at the special service.

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Jones won 33 straight games as quarterback of John Harris High School - now Harrisburg (Pa.) High School - but might never have played the game had fate not intervened. He spent his early years in Kennett Square, Pa., a town whose high school had no football program at the time.

His family moved to Harrisburg when their home burned down, he said.

"I would never have been able to accomplish the things I accomplished," Jones said.

The kind of success Jones enjoyed in high school athletics, however, can be deceiving, he said.

"You kind of get a false sense of what life is all about," said Jones, who graduated in 1968.

After receiving scholarship offers from more than 100 colleges and universities, Jones settled on USC for a couple of reasons.

"I remember Ricky and Lucy taking that trip to California" he joked, referring to characters on the television show, "I Love Lucy."

He told the congregation and guests that he saw USC as his best opportunity to play his position for a major college football program.

"I was playing quarterback at a time when it wasn't fashionable to have an African-American quarterback," he said.

Fashionable or not, Jones led the Trojans to a 9-0-1 regular-season record in 1970 and the Rose Bowl, where his third-quarter touchdown pass to Don Chandler was the difference in a 10-3 win over Michigan.

Despite his success in college, he was ignored in the NFL draft, getting only a tryout with the Denver Broncos, who wanted to convert him to a defensive back.

"We normally turn to God in low moments," said Jones, who reaffirmed his faith during that period before going on to a career in the Canadian Football League, where he won the 1974 Grey Cup championship with the Montreal Alouettes.

"So many times, we're looking for the Super Bowls to put the stamp of success on us," when faith and family provide "the real quality moments of our lives," said Jones, now a play-by-play announcer for WHBG-TV in Harrisburg and a counselor for the Susquehanna Township School District.

It takes work and discipline to understand and follow God's word, Jones said, encouraging worshippers in their efforts.

He reminded them of Proverbs 1:7, which reads, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction."

"Awesome" was how Dwayne Miles of Shady Grove, Pa., described Jones' appearance. "I think your ministry - that's the best," he told Jones.

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