FOXBOROUGH, Mass.--Camille Jones grins her gap-toothed grin. Her eyes are hidden behind this humongous pair of tortoiseshell, Jackie-O sunglasses, but you just know they’re twinkling.
“We were supposed to have 10 kids,” she explains with a cackle. You get the sense she’s told this story before. “But after four,” she continues, “I told Arthur he’d have to have the rest for me.”
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First came Carmen, at 8 pounds, 6 ounces. Then, four years later in 1986, Arthur III was born. He tipped the scales at 11 pounds, 2 ounces, and Jon, born 13 months later, was just four ounces lighter. Finally, there was Chandler, born in 1990 and nearly as hefty as the oldest boy; he weighed 11 pounds on the nose.
That was when Camille drew the line. She simply was not going through the process of squeezing another Buddha baby out of her, and by then, she realized the odds of even an average-sized newborn were nil. Her husband, after all, had been too big for the scale that the midwife who birthed him had provided. It could handle up to 12 pounds. Arthur Jr. could have weighed 14, for all anyone knows.
And so Camille ruled that there would be no more, with not a clue as to what lied ahead, not a clue about the heartbreak and the success that defies all odds. All three of her boys would grow up to be professional athletes. Her girl wouldn’t get a chance to grow up at all.
On Sunday evening, at the AFC Championship Game between the Colts and Patriots, Camille and Arthur Jr. are standing in the Putnam Club, a luxury suite level at Gillette Stadium. Their apparel is custom-made. Team Jones. On the front of the shirts and jackets are two helmets, one Colts, one Patriots. No. 97, Colts, is for Arthur, no. 95, Patriots, for Chandler. Both play on the defensive line, Arthur at tackle and Chandler at end, and the Patriots’ 45-7 victory marked the fourth time the Jones family has been divided, necessitating such wardrobe improvisation.
Don’t forget the backs, though, of the shirts and jackets the Joneses had made at a small shop in Binghamton, N.Y., near their home. The back is where TEAM JONES is most prominently displayed, and there’s a screen-printed a photo of their middle son, Jon, a UFC fighter who’s defended his light heavyweight title eight times. Jon is here on Sunday too, but he isn’t talking -- or even sticking around the family’s table long enough to talk. After a positive test for cocaine in early January, Jon spent a night in rehab and is facing a $25,000 fine. He’s doing fine, and the test was a wakeup call -- that’s what his mother and Arthur say for him -- and just the fact that he’s here, in this crowded suite chock full of Patriots fans, is enough. Camille so rarely gets to see all three of her boys at once.
'See': it’s her word, not mine. It’s a funny choice, because Camille does not see. Not her sons, not their games, not the grandkids scuttling under the table on Sunday. She hugs and she banters. She is her sons’ loudest, wildest cheerleader, but she hasn’t seen them, not really, since Arthur was in college.
This must be the heartbreak, you think, except the heartbreak came harder and earlier. When Carmen was just shy of her 18th birthday -- Chandler was only 10 -- she passed away from brain cancer. Not long after that, diabetes began to seriously affect Camille’s vision. Those years were enough to test anyone’s belief in God, and yet the Joneses somehow have faith to spare.
Camille can still see some shapes and shadows, but certainly not a football game. That’s why the family chooses to sit where it sits, in this indoor suite with televisions aplenty. The sound is pumping in, over the sound of chicken fingers being ordered and beers being guzzled, so Camille doesn’t have to rely on Arthur Jr. or a daughter-in-law for play-by-play.
“I swear I still can hear her in the stands, out of everyone else,” Arthur says. “It's always a pleasure having her there. … Her spirits are super high. You won't even know she's blind if you talk to her on the phone."
And Camille loves her some football. She admits that she hasn’t always had the lingo down, but over the years, she’s learned the sport by osmosis. Even now, with no ability to see, she knows it better than she did when her boys were in high school and she told friends that Arthur played “center-back.”
“Arthur’s in the middle,” she explains now. “It’s the center, but he was in the back section. There’s a quarterback, so Arthur was obviously a center-back. So all my friends was okay with him being a center-back, but whenever people would look at me strange, I never knew why.”
When their boys were in high school, the Joneses were anything but the over-involved football parents. The boys’ coach at Union-Endicott High School, Shane Hurd, jokes today that if all parents were like the Joneses, his job would have been significantly more pleasant. You see, Arthur Jr. and Camille didn’t care what their boys excelled at, be it sports or science or oil painting. Arthur Jr. had been a wrestler, and that was where they got their start in sports, on mats in the family’s apartment’s basement. Jon and Chandler would gang up on their older brother -- he had the weight advantage -- and some days, they’d rip the place to pieces. The bannister shattered. Holes were banged into walls. Pictures fell off their hangers. Luckily, Camille worked regular hours, and the boys and their father knew their deadline each afternoon for putting the place back together. Over the years, it became an art. “The sofa could be broke,” Arthur Jr. explains, “but if you can’t see it, you can’t see it. You’ve just got to know where the sore spot is.”
Arthur was the first standout athlete of the bunch, and he committed to Syracuse as a star defensive lineman. (Jon played with him one year in high school, and Hurd thinks he came close to leading his team in tackles -- only because everyone blocked Arthur.) But even with his size and menace on the field, Arthur has always been a calming, gentle presence. When Hurd’s son was a baby and Arthur a mere teenager, the defensive tackle could hold the baby in the palm of his hand. He loved carrying him around the gym, and Hurd never minded.
“It’s funny, because there was never a worry,” the coach, now at Cornell, recalls. “I never worried.”
These were not kids to worry about. Competition flourished on the wrestling mat and died outside their home. They were the best athletes, the coolest kids, and they intimidated no one, least of all one another. Jon never worried about following in Arthur’s footsteps, and Chandler hatched the plan of playing in the NFL before his older brother did. It was he, the youngest, who talked about playing pro football as a little boy, telling Camille that he wanted to play for a team whose name she won’t dare utter now. It’s a terrible team, she explains. He’s much better off where he is, on his way to his first Super Bowl.
Arthur takes credit for some elements of Chandler’s game: the way he uses his rangy body, his pass-rushing skills. He also advised Chandler to leave college early after he’d done just the opposite and seen his stock fall due to injuries; the move paid off for the youngest Jones, who was the 21st pick in 2010. But to say that Chandler simply mimicked Arthur would be to discount what he accomplished.
When Chandler was a sophomore in high school, the team began 6:30 a.m. weight-room sessions. The 15-year-old didn’t have a license, and his brothers had both graduated, so he was left with a choice: miss the sessions or walk. He chose the latter, and Hurd remembers passing him some mornings as he trudged through five inches of snow.
That’s the Jones family work ethic. Camille credits it to strong male role models, to a husband who’s a preacher and a grandfather, the first Arthur, who worked for years with heavy machinery. In fact, she muses, he built most of the roads in Broome County, N.Y. -- the same roads where Chandler’s footsteps tracked through the snow 10 years ago.
And those early-morning walks. Despite being a late bloomer, Chandler was able to follow Arthur to Syracuse, and because of Arthur’s decision to stick around for a fifth year, he got to play with his youngest brother for the first time. Despite the injuries, despite falling from a probable top-10 pick to an actual fifth-rounder, Arthur can’t help but smile. He can still hear the announcer in the first quarter of their first game.
“Tackle by the Jones brothers,” Arthur echoes five years later. “It was something unique, to hear that. It was definitely a blessing."
The week leading up to Sunday’s game was a funny one for the Joneses, but they’ve grown accustomed to these matchups, where they root for all defense and no offense from either side. Arthur spent the first four years of his career playing for the Ravens, and while he was in Baltimore, he matched up with Chandler’s Patriots three times, including in the AFC Championship two years ago. (After Sunday’s game, the brothers are 2-2 against each other, 1-1 in championship games.) Before their first matchup, in September 2012, Chandler wouldn’t take Arthur’s calls. The tension has eased, though, according to the eldest brother. This time around, Chandler’s trash-talking game was on point.
“He's talking all types of junk,” Arthur said Wednesday. “This week, he's feeling pretty confident. He's talking with a lot of swagger.”
Chandler won’t cop to it. “We’re both very busy,” was all he’d offer. He’s the consummate Patriot, not going to give an inch.
On Sunday, Chandler finished the game with a tackle. He also hit Colts quarterback Andrew Luck twice. Arthur had six tackles, but like most of the rest of his teammates, he wasn’t able to get to Tom Brady thanks to an impressive night from the Patriots’ offensive line.
At halftime, the score is 17-7. The Patriots have taken a commanding 14-0 lead, but a 93-yard Indianapolis drive has left Colts fans with a glimmer of hope. Colts fans, except for Arthur Jr.
He and his wife have already booked their Super Bowl travel by now. They’re going regardless, for Arthur or for Chandler, so there’s no need for Arthur Jr. to lie to himself; one of his sons is going to win, and one is going to lose, and nothing about that first half makes him think the night was going to end well for the Colts.
He and Camille begin to discuss their postgame plans. “I’m going to the winners,” Arthur Jr. says. His wife turns to him. “The Patriots,” he explains.
“No, no, no, no, no,” she snaps back. “I am going to Colts, to [Arthur].”
She wants to console her biggest baby. He won’t be getting his second ring, and there will be plenty of time to congratulate Chandler on this chance for his first. Plenty of time tomorrow. These are the choices you make if your sons are the two in who knows how many million who both make it to the NFL.
Arthur Jr. laughs. He shrugs. He is her eyes, and she isn’t going anywhere without him, and he isn’t going anywhere she doesn’t want to go.
He’s right, too. The Patriots go on to make a mockery of Arthur’s Colts, and as their youngest son waits on the field for the Patriots’ trophy presentation, there are Arthur Jr. and Camille in the tunnel. The sea of people around them pushes toward the Patriots locker room, and it parts for them. His arm clasps her back, and she follows his lead, slowly, and even if the eyes behind those sunglasses could see, Camille wouldn’t notice the crowd, wouldn’t let it stop her. She has to get to Arthur.