Jan. 26, 2009
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In the late 1980s, no Vanderbilt player was more ballyhooed than quarterback Eric Jones. After leading the Southeastern Conference in passing efficiency and total offense in his first season as a starter in 1987, Vanderbilt took a step into uncharted territory by beginning a full-fledged Heisman Trophy campaign for Jones in 1988, labeled "It's Showtime!"
The campaign, among other things, included Jones featured on posters, the cover of the media guide and even on gold key chains. Vanderbilt also mailed an Eric Jones highlight video to writers in a popcorn box with real popcorn. Although Jones' numbers actually were better in 1988, they were not enough to make up for the team's 3-8 record when it came to the Heisman Trophy, which was won by Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders.
Jones earned second team All-SEC honors in 1988 after throwing for 2,548 yards and leading the team in rushing for the second straight year. Jones' 2,548 passing yards remains the second-highest season total in school history by a senior. Combining his rushing and passing numbers, Jones amassed the third-most yards of total offense in school history -- 2,853.
Although he wasn't invited to New York City for the Heisman presentation, Jones remains very appreciative of the campaign.
"It was unbelievable," Jones said. "I enjoyed it. I think it was good that we had something when people were watching us and saying Vanderbilt is a viable team. It wasn't just me that they were looking at. It put the team on the radar a little bit."
The campaign brought recognition from media. While some may argue the media attention also brought added motivation from opposing players, Jones is quick to dispel those thoughts.
"I never believed in that," Jones said. "I never believed that a guy is going to play harder just because he's read something about you or something you said. I just think they were going to come after us either way. When our offense came to town, every defense had to be on alert. We moved the ball very well and were top in the SEC at that time."
The 2008 season marked the 20-year anniversary of Jones' Heisman campaign. To many Vanderbilt fans and even Jones, it is hard to believe it has been 20 years.
"That is pretty wild to think of," Jones said. "It isn't something that had even crossed my mind."
Now 42, Jones lives in Macon, Ga., where he works for Boston Scientific in its Cardiac Rhythm Management division.
"I sell implantable pacemakers and defibrillators," Jones said. "We have to be there to do the implants with the electro physiologists and cardiologists and surgeons so we have to be close. We travel hospital to hospital, but we are pretty much in the local area."
Jones has been in Macon since 2004 with his wife, Renee and two sons, Jason (10) and Justin (12), but his career path has taken him to many places since graduating from Vanderbilt in 1989 with a degree in economics.
After graduating from Vanderbilt, Jones tried his hand at professional football in the Canadian Football League, playing for the British Columbia Lions in 1989. However, soon after the NFL season began, Jones received a phone call from the Detroit Lions, who brought him in for the remainder of the 1989 season after Rodney Peete was injured.
"It was a wonderful experience," said Jones of his time in the NFL. "June Jones was the person responsible for giving me a shot. He played for the Falcons when I was young, and I lived in the Atlanta area. He had come down as a celebrity to a camp and saw my little league football team. He saw me back then and I had a great game. He reminded me of that when I was at the Combine. He remembered me, so when I was in Canada, he called and they brought me on."
Following his stint in the NFL, Jones played two seasons with Birmingham in the World League before the league was discontinued prior to the 1992 season.
With his football career over, Jones turned to the business world where he landed a job selling payroll and human resources software. Jones eventually was hired by Boston Scientific in 2000 and is now in his second stint with the company.
"I was with Boston Scientific from 2000-2003 with another division," Jones said. "Then I went to Guidant and Boston Scientific bought us. When they bought us in 2006, I ended up back with Boston Scientific. It has been pretty good."
Because of his work, Jones is unable to make it back to Nashville as often as he'd like, but he continues to follow the program closely, even attending the Vanderbilt game at Georgia this past fall.
"The last time I went back was in 2003 when I was living in Louisville," Jones said. "It's been tough since I've taken this new job because this is a position where I'm on call 24 hours a day, four days a week. Once a month, I'm on 24/7. The more implants you do, the more patients you have to check and reprogram."
It has been 20 seasons since Jones dazzled Vanderbilt fans with his arm and his feet. A Heisman Trophy or a bowl game may not have ever come to Vanderbilt during his tenure, but Jones can't think of a better 20-year anniversary gift then the one the 2008 Commodores have provided him and Vanderbilt fans everywhere.
"It's ironic I guess that this is the year they picked to finally break through and get to a bowl game," Jones said. "It's been unbelievable."