IRVING (AP) — Only once in his eight-year NFL career has Thomas Jones stood on the sideline whenever his team didn’t have the ball just so he could watch the opposing running back.
It was Thanksgiving 2004 and the ball carrier was his kid brother, Julius.
“I remember walking up to the line of scrimmage, looking over to their sideline and I see him looking at me. I gave him a little head nod,” Julius said, smiling. “It’s little things like that that mean a lot to us.”
The Jones brothers of Big Stone Gap, Va., have gone from spending childhood Thanksgivings pretending to be NFL players like Joe and Jamie Morris to providing the same inspiration to thousands of football-loving siblings growing up in the 2000s. In case anyone missed it a few years ago, the league has arranged for it to happen again Thursday afternoon.
Julius and the Dallas Cowboys will play host to Thomas and his latest team, the New York Jets. With Dallas 9-1 and New York 2-8, expect the television coverage to be heavy on the Jones family angle.
There will be plenty of shots of their parents, Thomas and Betty, along with their five sisters and several other relatives in the stands. They’ll be easy to spot — all will be wearing jerseys featuring both teams’ logos on the front, split by a football bearing the words “Thanksgiving Day 2007;” the back has J. Jones and T. Jones and their numbers.
“They went all out this time,” Thomas said. “Last time, they split ’em up. Half wore my jersey and half wore his jersey.”
Thomas made sure two extras were made, one each for him and Julius. Those will be framed and hung on the walls of their homes.
“It is just a special time and a special occasion,” he said.
The relatives began arriving in Dallas last week. Thomas was to be the final one in town, flying in with his teammates Wednesday. Julius was going to pick up Thomas at the team hotel and bring him back to his house for a family Thanksgiving one night early. It will be the largest gathering for the family since … the last time the brothers squared off on Thanksgiving.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Thomas said. “You get to my brother’s house and get into a comfort zone with all your family members, then it’s time to go and you realize you're down there for a business trip.”
Dallas won the initial Jones Bros. Bowl, with Julius rushing for 150 yards and two touchdowns in only the third game of his career. Three years later, it remains one of his most productive days.
Julius hasn’t lived up to expectations built by his rookie year, when he gained 819 yards in eight games. This is his second straight season practically splitting carries with Marion Barber and likely the last; Julius is headed into free agency. Even if the Cowboys want him back, he’ll probably find another team willing to make him a bigger part of the offense.
Since Dallas spent its top pick on him in 2004, Julius’ carries have dropped each year, from almost 25 per game as a rookie to just over 11 per game this season. He’s coming off a 27-yard outing that’s not even his worst of the season. His best was 66 yards, and that was way back in the opener.
But it’s not like he can really complain. The Cowboys leads their division, are tied for the best record in the NFC.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE; New York Jets (2-8) at Dallas Cowboys (9-1); 3:30 p.m. (CBS) — Texas Stadium