Photo: Clinton Jones wore a green suit and snappy bow tie the night he was inducted into the Michigan State Hall of Fame on Sept. 20, 2012 at the Wharton Center.
Clinton Jones dressed in a tuxedo 49 years ago for his first invitation to the Waldorf Astoria’s august ballroom in New York. He represented the Spartans as a two-time Michigan State All-American halfback three weeks after the 1966 Game of the Century.
He’s been invited back for the 58th annual National Football Federation and College Football Hall of Fame Awards Dinner on Dec. 8, 2015. He need a new tuxedo, but the fit 70-year-old says his plan for enshrinement night is to shed 10 pounds to reach his playing weight 215 pounds on his 6-foot frame.
The two black-tie trips to one of the world's best known luxury hotels are Jones' “That was Then, This is Now” moments.
Then: was Dec. 6, 1966, when Jones, the late Duffy Daugherty, Michigan State’s head coach, and the late George Webster, his teammate, close friend and fellow two-time All-America as a linebacker, accepted the MacArthur Bowl as co-national champions with Notre Dame. The teams played to an immortal 10-10 tie in the Game of the Century on Nov. 19, 1966 at Spartan Stadium. Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian and Irish All-American linebacker Jim Lynch were in attendance that night, too.
Now: will be on Dec. 8, 2015, when Jones is enshrined among 15 players and two coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015. The National Football Federation announced on the Friday the vote results.
He will be joined in spirit by Daugherty, inducted into the College Hall in 1984; Webster, 1987; and the late Bubba Smith, another teammate who was enshrined in 1988. Gene Washington, a fourth two-time All-America among them who turned 70 in November, can join his long-time good friend in New York just four years after his own Hall induction at the Waldorf-Astoria.
But only Jones and Webster were with Duffy nearly a half-century ago.
They represented the Spartans as their elected team captains, yet another example of Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football under Daugherty. The 1966 Spartans were the first integrated college team to elect by a vote of the players two black captains. Michigan State teams in 1954, 1960 ad 1963 had previously featured a black team captain but with a white teammate sharing the role.
"To have two black captains and Jimmy Raye as a black quarterback in that time period was incredible," Jones said. "Kids today don't understand how incredible that was."
As team captains at the Waldorf Astoria, Jones and the Webster stood behind Daugherty in their dapper tuxes as their gregarious coach entertained the audience. Just down from them at the head table, Parseghian and Lynch were seated, their presence captured in the scene from a New York Times photo taken that night.
It’s ironic that Jones needed a half-century to join not only his head coach and teammates in the Hall of Fame but also his rivals; Parseghian was inducted in 1980 and Lynch in 1992. During Jones’ career his talent and feats were such that he was usually at the head of the class.
He was sixth in the 1966 Heisman Trophy voting that was won by Florida quarterback Steve Spurrier. He was the only Spartans player in the Top 10 that included two Notre Dame athletes (Nick Eddy, third; Terry Hanratty, eighth) and one other Big Ten representative (Purdue’s Bob Griese, second).
Jones was second in the 1967 NFL draft among the four senior Michigan State two-time All-Americans selected in the first round (Bob Apisa was a fifth two-time All-America in the iconic Michigan State photo snapped in 1966, but he was as sophomore and junior in 1965 and 1966).
Smith was the first pick by the Baltimore Colts; Jones, second by the Minnesota Vikings; Webster, fifth by the Houston Oilers; and Washington, eighth by the Vikings. No school has come close to matching four picks in the top eight.
It’s also inexplicable that Jones was so long overdue for the College Hall of Fame, but he has accepted the oversight with the same grace he displayed in 2012 when Michigan State, in a more perplexing delay, enshrined him into the school’s Hall of Fame; Webster, Smith and Washington entered without him in the inaugural 1992 class.
It’s a hollow feeling to be left behind without a reasonable explanation. But on the day Jones finally joined Duffy, Bubba, George and Gene on Sept. 20, 2012 in a ceremony at the Wharton Center, he said: “I never even thought about the Hall of Fame until someone asked me about it about a year ago. I didn’t feel unfilled but now that I’m in I feel more responsibility to represent Michigan State. It’s a great school.”
Serving as an ambassador to Michigan State is a role Jones carries well. He remains active, working as a chiropractor in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. He and his wife, Rosielee, met in chiropractor school and have been in business for 35 years: Jones Chiropractic, Wellness and Sport Center.
He had encouraged Smith, who was struggling with his weight and health, to enroll in his health programs before Smith died in 2011. He had called Webster daily when he was dying in 2007 with jokes to lift his spirits.
Now: on Sept. 12, 2015, Jones' College Hall of Fame induction will be additionally recognized when his name is added to the Ring of Fame at Spartan Stadium. He once again will be lined up alongside Bubba, George, Gene and Duffy and other all-time Spartans.
Then: on Dec. 8, 2015, Jones enjoys a triumphant return trip to the Waldorf Astoria separated by 49 years when he accompanied Daugherty and Webster. This time he will be alone, sadly, but there is no questioning he belongs.