By Zane Miller
After being taken with the second overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft by the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts, Bert Jones began his pro football journey with a bit of a rough patch. Playing in a quarterbacking tandem with incumbent starter Marty Domres, both Jones and the Colts struggled in 1973 and 1974 with losing records, with the team falling all the way to last place in the league at a 2-12 record.
However, once Jones was given the reins on a full-time basis in 1975, the team immediately turned their fortunes around, shooting back up the standings with a 10-4 record to qualify for the postseason. Despite the Colts getting knocked out in the first round by the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, there was still a lot to be excited about in the Charm City going into 1976. Jones would deliver on that hype.
Jones’ most effective performance of the 1976 season would come on September 19th at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, as he threw for three touchdowns and 301 yards as the Colts went on to secure a 28-27 win. Baltimore also continued on to claim an 11-3 record at season’s end, with Jones starting all 14 games. The team won the AFC East title in a tiebreaker over the also 11-3 New England Patriots.
Jones completed the year with 24 passing touchdowns and 3,104 passing yards, as he became the only quarterback on the year to pass for over 3,000 yards, while the touchdown pass totals put him in the second spot, just three behind league leader Ken Stabler of the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders. Thanks to this dominating showing, Jones secured MVP honors as well as Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-Pro selection. However, these accolades would not help the Colts through the first round of the playoffs.
On December 19th, the Colts remained at Memorial Stadium to take on the AFC Central-winning Pittsburgh Steelers, as Baltimore looked to take advantage of the opportunity to avenge their first-round exit to the same team a year prior. While many NFL playoff games are competitive and tight contests which go all the way to the final seconds, this Steelers-Colts matchup was about as far from that as possible. While Baltimore was able to stay in contention through the first quarter as they were only down 9-7, by halftime it was all Steelers as a pair of touchdowns from quarterback Terry Bradshaw led to a 26-7 lead. The rest of the game went little better for the Colts, losing 40-14 as the Steelers took them down for the second year in a row, although this year would not result in a Super Bowl win as they fell to the Raiders in the ensuing AFC Championship Game.
While Bradshaw ended the day with three touchdown passes and 264 yards, Jones managed just 144 yards and one touchdown pass, as he found wide receiver Roger Carr for the team’s only points of the first half. This disparity helped lead to the uneventful first-round exit, as the main noteworthy event came after the game was over, as a private pilot named Donald Kroner crashed a small airplane into Memorial Stadium’s upper deck in a botched stunt shortly after the final whistle. Thankfully, with most of the crowd already dispersed, there were no major injuries in the incident, and Kroner was promptly arrested as he spent the next three months in prison.
As for Jones, while he would never again reach the over-10 win plateau, he would continue on in the league in spite of multiple injuries, most notably in 1978 and 1979 as he only played a combined seven games out of 32. In 1982, Jones was traded to the Los Angeles Rams and took over as starter, though this stint would end prematurely after a neck injury near the season’s midway point. Jones retired soon after, ending his career with 47 career wins.
After his retirement, Jones mostly stayed away from football-related work, instead focusing on his family-owned lumber business, named Mid-States Wood Preservers. However, Jones briefly re-entered the NFL spotlight in 1990, as he was invited by the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers to join as a backup to rookie Billy Joe Tolliver, though Jones reportedly declined the offer.