GREEN BAY – Last year was the first time since James Jones was a child growing up in San Jose, Calif., that he didn’t spend his fall on a football field.
It gave the former Packers receiver – who officially announced his retirement Wednesday – time to sit back with his wife, Tamika, and their children and reflect on not only his NFL career, but life in general.
“From being homeless, I had one dream to play in the National Football League and I made that happen,” said Jones in a conference call with Green Bay media Thursday.
“Hard work, dedication and a lot of help from God out of certain situations and blessing me with an opportunity. I’ve just truly been blessed to play nine years in the National Football League. There are not too (many) guys who can say they did that.”
Jones, a third-round pick in 2007 NFL Draft, spent eight seasons with the Packers and currently ranks 10th in franchise history in career receptions (360), 12th in receiving yards (5,195) and ninth in receiving touchdowns (45).
Jones caught five passes for 50 yards in the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV victory and contributed to a 2011 passing offense that shattered the franchise record for single-season yardage (5,161).
Jones signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Oakland Raiders in 2014, but had the opportunity to return to Green Bay a year later after Jordy Nelson sustained a season-ending knee injury.
The 6-foot-1, 208-pound receiver instantly regained his chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers en route to leading the Packers with 50 catches for a career-high 890 yards and eight touchdowns.
Jones, whose return to Green Bay was widely praised by Packers fans, furthered his legend and legacy when he began wearing a hoodie in games late that season.
What started as a way to stay warm quickly developed a life of its own. After the announcement of his retirement Wednesday, social media came to life with photos and videos of Jones’ unique game-day gear.
“I absolutely did not think the hoodie would take off the way it took off,” Jones said. “It was strictly a California boy trying to stay warm. Playing in Green Bay, it’s cold and you’re trying to find so many ways to stay warm that’s legal. The hoodie was legal at the time, so I thought, ‘Man, we practice in it.’ Some say you practice like you play, so I’m going to put this hoodie on and I was extremely warm.”
Jones and the Packers each enjoyed a surge in the second half of the season after he threw on the hoodie. He took it off following a November win over Minnesota, but teammates quickly encouraged him to put it back on after the team lost the following week against the Bears.
So Jones wore it the rest of the season – both outside at Lambeau Field and inside domes such as University of Phoenix Stadium.
“Everybody was like, ‘You have to put the hoodie back on, it’s a good luck charm,’” Jones said. “So I was extremely hot in the dome wearing the hoodie, but when I was outside in the cold I was extremely warm.
“Everybody I’ve seen in college football has a little hoodie hanging out there, and I’m like, ‘Man, I started that.’ I’ll be able to tell my kids that (their dad) started the hoodie.”
Everything came full circle for Jones that year. He was reunited with Rodgers, Nelson and close friend Randall Cobb, but it also give him a chance to be teammates with Davante Adams.
The two were introduced to each other through a mutual friend, Keith Williams, who was Adams’ position coach at Fresno State. During Adams’ pre-draft process, he ran routes with Jones and the two developed a close bond.
When the Packers drafted Adams in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Jones immediately placed a call to Nelson to tell the Packers receiver this kid was the real deal.
“(Jones) gave me tricks of the trade kind of early and let me know what the league is all about,” Adams said. “Obviously things change over time, but he’s a great man and a good friend of mine. He’s definitely helped me out a lot.”
Jones later signed with the Chargers after the 2015 season, but he knew soon after signing his time was drawing near.
“The second day I was there, just calling my wife, (I was) like, ‘Mentally, I’m not in it. Physically, I feel great,’ but mentally, I just wasn’t there,” Jones said. “You’ve got to dedicate yourself to this game and, mentally, I just wasn’t in it. I gave it a year to see if I’d get that hunger back for football and I just never did. I’m just like, man, it’s my time.”
When asked about the possibility of the Packers Hall of Fame, Jones said it’s an honor he hopes to receive someday, but it’s not on the forefront of his mind at the moment.
Right now, Jones is enjoying his job as a father and recently accepted a position with the NFL Network working as both a commentator and broadcaster.
Jones looks back on his NFL career with fond memories.
“That’s what I tell these kids I talk to out there – dreams do come true and I truly lived in one,” Jones said. “For nine years, that’s what everybody always asked me, why do you always have a smile on your face when you came to practice every day and in the locker room smiling and all that? I was just living the dream.”