DENVER — There are about 17 or so former Broncos from the Super Bowl XXXXII and XXXIII teams who stay in regular contact all these years later on a group text chat.
Steve Atwater, a Hall of Fame safety on those teams, delivered the news Friday that his close friend and starting tackle on those Broncos’ Super Bowl-winning teams, Tony Jones had passed away in Georgia at the age of 54. Rod Smith, who also started on those Broncos' back-to-back Super Bowl teams and went on to become the franchise's all-time leading receiver in catches, yards and touchdowns, announced Jones' passing on his Instagram post.
"We’ve got a group chat and we were talking about it in disbelief," Atwater said Friday afternoon in a phone interview with 9NEWS. "Heckuva nice guy. Beautiful kids. It’s said thinking about the guys who have left us here recently. Floyd Little. Paul Howard. Kevin Greene. And now Tony. This is unreal."
Jones played 13 years in the NFL, mostly an offensive tackle – 9 years with Cleveland, one with Baltimore and then his final four seasons of 1997-2000 with the Broncos. He was a starting right tackle on the Broncos’ 1997 offensive line that steamrolled the Green Bay Packers’ defensive front in Super Bowl XXXII, a game in which running back Terrell Davis was named Super Bowl MVP. Davis ran behind enormous holes for 157 yards and three touchdowns in the game despite suffering from a blinding migraine in the first half.
When Gary Zimmerman retired after the 1997 season, Jones switched to left tackle where he helped Davis rush for 2,008 yards in the regular season while also protecting the blind side for John Elway in the quarterback’s final season. Elway was the Super Bowl XXXIII MVP in a 34-19 win against the Atlanta Falcons.
"Bone played wherever he had to play,'' Smith said in a phone interview with 9NEWS. "He was just a great dude. Always the life of the party. He was the best dresser on the team; he always had a coordinated suit. He was just a great teammate and all the fellas are really hurt by it. Just trying to make sure we all keep up with each other right now."
In a vote of fans last year to mark the 100th anniversary of the NFL, Jones was named to the Broncos' Top 100 players team.
Smith recalled one story that reflected the type of impact the massive Jones -- 6-foot-5, 290 pounds was massive 20 to 25 years ago -- had as a leader.
"I remember we were playing Seattle and I was tired and I came out of the game,'' Smith said. "And Justin Armour went in the game, it was third down, and he dropped the ball. First of all, Alex Gibbs comes over there and cusses me out. I told him I was tired. And he said, your tired is better than those guys behind you fresh.
"I was kinda hurt. I was still a young guy. And I remember Tony coming over to me. 'Hey, man. We need you. All the time.' I never came out of the game after that. It's not that I didn't respect Alex Gibbs, but I had mad respect for T-Bone. For T-Bone to say that to me, I never wanted to let him or my teammates down again.''
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