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They pulled Jacoby Jones all over Hollywood this week: Photo shoots, interviews, introductions, famous people. All those handshakes. Smile here, look there.
He met Karina Smirnoff, who will be his partner on Dancing With The Stars, and after a few minutes he realized she was a female version of him – so full of life. Then he went on Good Morning America. And could you believe it, Jacoby Jones on Good Morning America?
It wasn't all that long ago he was thrilled just to be on the Cox 10 channel back home in New Orleans.
"I haven't been getting a lot of sleep lately," he said Thursday morning after finally returning to the Baltimore Ravens' practice facility.
But this is his new life, the one born in a 2013 that has been like nothing he has known before. There was that catch in Denver, the 70-yard touchdown just seconds from defeat that instead sent the Ravens into overtime of a playoff game they would eventually win. Then came those two touchdowns in Super Bowl XLVII, the second a 108-yard kickoff return. If the catch in Denver didn't make him famous the Super Bowl did.
It's funny how life works sometimes. It was slightly more than a year ago – Jan. 15, 2012 to be exact – when Jones' Houston Texans lost a playoff game in Baltimore. Jones mishandled a punt, which some Texans fans decided was the reason their team lost. They egged his house. They burned his jersey. A few months later, the Texans released him. He signed a contract with the Ravens, of all teams. Most NFL fans barely noticed. Then came Denver. Then came the Super Bowl. And now Dancing With The Stars.
The thing is, his mother, Emily London-Jones, saw this coming. Back home in her living room at the house in New Orleans East – the one she rebuilt a year after Hurricane Katrina – she heard what she calls "a spiritual voice," and the voice told her that her son's "ladder will be greater than his past." She believed this voice and she told Jacoby he had to believe, too. She told him to believe in the positive. She told him to push past the pain of that bright, chilly afternoon when the punt didn't roll right into his hands.
And so he signed with the Ravens and he smiled. And on the field as he stretched for practice or waited to catch passes or took a break between drills, he did what he always does when he feels happy: he danced. And the Ravens players watched him shaking and sliding his arms and they laughed.
"You should be on Dancing With The Stars," they said.
Jacoby Jones liked that idea. He watched Dancing With The Stars. He knew well that football players like Hines Ward and Donald Driver and Jason Taylor had danced on the show. He knew, too, they had done very well. Why couldn't he? If only someone would notice. But Hollywood didn't seem to have much interest in the third receiver on a team in Baltimore who just months before had his house egged for muffing a punt.
[Related: How NFL players have fared on 'DWTS']
Jacoby Jones kept dancing. He danced before games. He started to score touchdowns with the Ravens and when he did, he danced in the end zone. People asked about the dances. And when they did, he always said the same thing.
"I'm trying to be on Dancing With The Stars."
This was something his mother told him, too.
"If you speak it in the name of Jesus and believe it, then it will come true," she said.
And the more he spoke about Dancing With The Stars, the more people agreed with him. He would be perfect. As 2012 and the regular season ended, his quotes about Dancing With The Stars sprinkled into stories. Maybe his mother was right: Maybe if he did talk about something it really would come true.
Then after the Ravens' Super Bowl win over the San Francisco 49ers, he was on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Kimmel asked him if he would like to be on Dancing With The Stars. Jones replied: "Do polar bears poo on ice?"
Which apparently meant yes.
Given Kimmel's show was on ABC, which carries Dancing With The Stars and the question seemed as much a setup as anything, he figured his dream might finally be about to come true. After a few days of negotiation with the network, it was. The show was making him a part of this season's cast.
And back home in the house in New Orleans East, Emily London-Jones watched the announcement of this year's cast during the Academy Awards broadcast and screamed so loud that she later said: "You'd have thought I was going to be on the show."
They always loved to dance, Emily and Jacoby. She divorced not long after Jacoby was born and surrounded him with a group of women in their 70s that included her grandmother and her great aunt. "Strong women and seasoned women," she called them. They called him "Coby." They spoiled him. They pacified him. They nurtured him. And they told him everything they had learned in life. "Be a kid as long as you can be and enjoy life because as an adult life gets serious," Emily's grandmother, the one Jacoby called "Maw Maw," said.
Somehow they always believed he was destined to be a star. When Jacoby was born, it was Emily's sister – Jeanette Larkins – who named him. She called him Jacoby Rashad Jones in a combination of two of her favorite football players at the time: Redskins offensive tackle Joe Jacoby and Vikings receiver Ahmad Rashad.
They believed he would be something big even after he transferred from Southeastern Louisiana to Lane College in Jackson, Tenn. And when pro scouts found him and the Texans made him their third-round pick in the 2007 draft they did what they always did: they danced.
Larkins pulled her car out in front of her house on East Adams Court in New Orleans East, rolled down the windows and played the Cupid Shuffle on her car radio. Then everyone spilled from the house and began to dance on the asphalt. And as the neighbors heard the noise and ran from their houses, too, they asked in true New Orleans fashion: "What are we celebrating?"
"My son just got drafted by the NFL!" Emily shouted.
Soon everybody who lived on East Adams Court was in the middle of the street dancing to the Cupid Shuffle blaring from Jeanette Larkins' car.
With a family like that, how could Jacoby Jones not love to dance?
On Thursday morning, he sat in an office at the Ravens' headquarters and laughed. It was the 410th day since the muffed punt but it felt like 10 years. The 59 days of 2013 have been such a blur. The worst part is that it came early in the first quarter of a game the Texans would lose by a touchdown – a game in which Houston quarterback T.J. Yates was intercepted three times. To blame Jones for the defeat seems silly, but a big group of Texans fans did.
He didn't even really fumble. The ball took a strange bounce on the turf and rolled slowly toward the end zone. Not wanting the Texans to be pinned along the goal line, he tried to pick up the rolling ball, when Baltimore's Cary Williams roared in and knocked the ball from his hands.
Jones said he was shocked when he learned that people had burned his jersey. Emily says she was "hurt" by the egging and the jersey burning. But then came the release, which he and his agent requested, and the new start in Baltimore with the dancing and the winning and the Super Bowl night in the Superdome when he made everyone forget that fumbled punt.
In the stands, Emily London-Jones prayed as the second-half kickoff came toward her son deep in the end zone. "Please let him catch the ball," she said. She has done this ever since last year and the fumbled punt, praying for every kick and pass that comes his way. Jacoby did, then he raced out of the end zone, and across the field for a touchdown. Her sister snapped a picture of her after the score. She was still praying.
Only now her prayers have been answered as have Jacoby Jones'.
He said Dancing With The Stars enough times and just like his mother told him, it has come true.
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