EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Homer Jones, whose name remains in the NFL record book more than a half-century after he was one of the most prolific wide receivers in Giants history, passed away following a battle with lung cancer. He was 82.
His daughter, Lacarroll Jones Nickelberry, confirmed his death to KLTV in Pittsburg, Texas, where Jones was born and lived and was a graduate of the former Frederick Douglass High School there.
Jones was known for his dazzling speed, and he is recognized as the first player to spike the football after scoring a touchdown.
"Homer Jones had a unique combination of speed and power and was a threat to score whenever he touched the ball," said John Mara, the Giants' president and chief executive officer. "He was one of the first players (if not the first) to spike the ball in the end zone after scoring a touchdown and he quickly became a fan favorite. I remember him as an easygoing, friendly individual who was well liked by his teammates and coaches."
The Giants selected Jones in the 20th round of the 1963 NFL Draft, although he had already signed with the Houston Oilers of the American Football League. But the Oilers released Jones after he injured his knee in training camp. He called the Giants to ask if they would be interested in giving him a tryout. The Giants sent him a bus ticket to New York. After watching Jones – who had run a 9.3-second 100-yard dash at Texas Southern - coach Allie Sherman placed him on the Giants' taxi squad, that era's version of the practice squad, for the entire 1963 season and part of 1964.
In six seasons with the Giants, Jones caught 214 passes for 4,835 yards and 35 touchdowns. Jones' receptions total places him 25th in Giants history, his yardage total is sixth and his 35 touchdowns are tied for sixth.
Jones' finest season was in 1967 when he finished with career-high totals of 49 receptions, 1,209 yards (a 24.7-yard average) and a league-leading 13 touchdowns and made the first of two consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.
Jones played a final season with the Cleveland Browns in 1970 and finished his career with 224 receptions for 4,986 yards, a 22.26-yard average that remains the highest in NFL history for receivers with at least 200 catches. Buddy Dial, who played for Pittsburgh and Dallas from 1959-66, is second with a 20.83-yard average.
On Dec. 13, 1965, Jones caught three passes for 182 yards, including touchdowns of 72 and 74 yards, in a 27-10 Giants victory in Washington. His 60.67 yards-per-catch average is tied with Bill Groman (who had the same totals for Houston vs. Denver on Nov. 20, 1960) for the second-highest average in league history (minimum three receptions). Torry Holt of the St. Louis Rams averaged 63.00 yards (three catches for 189 yards) vs. Atlanta on Sept. 24, 2000.
Jones is credited with inventing the spike in 1965, when he threw the ball hard to the ground after scoring a touchdown.
In January 1970, Jones was traded to the Browns in exchange for running back Ron Johnson and defensive lineman Jim Kanicki. His debut with Cleveland was the first Monday night game in history, and Jones made the biggest play in the Browns' 31-21 victory when he returned the second-half kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.
Knee injuries limited Jones to 10 receptions that season and he soon retired at age 29. Jones then returned to Texas.
Nickelberry told KLTV that Jones is survived by six children. Funeral arrangements are pending.