Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in this year’s draft and now the New York Giants‘ starting quarterback, was a Carolina Panthers fan born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He liked quarterback Jake Delhomme and wide receiver Steve Smith. Those were Jones’ guys on his hometown team.
Delhomme and Smith were the stars of the 2003 Panthers team that reached Super Bowl XXXVIII. It was there that they ran into Brady and the New England Patriots, much to Jones’ chagrin, even if he was a football novice.
“I remember where I watched it. Went to a friend’s house. The Dickens’ house. A family friend,” Jones told ESPN. “Obviously it was heartbreaking when [kicker Adam] Vinatieri made that field goal.”
At the time, Jones wasn’t mad at the quarterback who is now his contemporary and whom he will face Thursday (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. It doesn’t matter anymore that Brady led the other team 15-plus years ago.
There was never any hatred.
“Not really,” said Jones, now 22. “Don’t think I knew that much at that age. Knew I liked the Panthers.”
Super Bowl XXXVIII was one of Jones’ first professional football memories. What he knows now is there will be a feeling of admiration when he gets to play against the legendary Brady in prime time.
“I probably still had a babysitter at that time.” Giants safety Sean Chandler, who was 5 when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl ring.
That win against the Panthers was Brady’s second Super Bowl win. That total has since reached a record-breaking six.
“Grew up watching him. Obviously he’s won a lot, achieved a lot in his career,” Jones said. “So a lot of respect for that.”
The age gap between Brady, 42, and his rookie counterpart on Thursday night is almost laughable. It’s that way with Brady and a lot of players.
When Brady won his first Super Bowl in February 2002, Jones was barely out of diapers. He was 4.
“Is that what it was?” Jones said. “Yeah, he’s been doing it for a while.”
Most of the Giants players don’t even remember Brady’s first Super Bowl win. They were too young. Rookie defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, like Jones, was 4. He has no recollection what he was doing when Brady and Belichick hoisted the Lombardi trophy after beating the St. Louis Rams and the Greatest Show on Turf.
Safety Sean Chandler was 5 years old when that victory went down.
“I probably still had a babysitter at that time,” Chandler said.
The staggering part is that Brady has barely slowed. In his 20th NFL season he’s still among the league’s best quarterbacks. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in the Patriots’ first five games, all victories. This after winning the Super Bowl in February.
To be doing it since Jones and many of the Giants were preschoolers has earned him the admiration of his competition.
“Yeah, it’s very impressive,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “He’s been doing it for a very long time at a very high level. I mean, what more can you say about that?”
Jones never had a Brady jersey like he did of Eli Manning while he was growing up. The Manning jersey was simply by chance. His sister brought it home from a trip to New York as a gift because she liked how it looked.
But Jones has done some studying of Brady’s game in recent years. He’s done that for a lot of quarterbacks (including both Peyton and Eli Manning) while working at Duke with quarterback guru David Cutcliffe. What stood out when he watched Brady was the “consistency with everything he does.” The mechanics, the footwork, his throwing motion, decision-making.
“I think all that is extremely consistent and really high level,” Jones said.
Brady and Jones have never met. It’s something the rookie is hoping will happen eventually.
“That would be cool,” Jones said.
First, he’ll have his chance to pull a Brady-like upset. The Patriots were 14-point underdogs in their first Super Bowl against the Rams. The Giants opened as 16.5-point underdogs against the Patriots. It might end even higher given Jones is likely to be without several of his top weapons on Thursday.
Jones does have a fine resource on pulling a legendary upset at his disposal. He shares the same quarterback room as Manning, who defeated the Patriots in two Super Bowls.
Manning knows a little something about the way Brady and Bill Belichick operate.
“Yeah, I think just some of their tendencies and how they’ve evolved over the years,” Jones said. “I think they’ve changed a little bit from the times — but [Manning] has the experience from seeing that change. But yeah … who they are, the foundation of their defense, is helpful in preparing.”
If Jones is able to pull this upset, it will be almost as surprising. The Giants are more overmatched than ever before, with a talent-deficient roster further sapped by several key injuries. Plus, the Patriots have won 18 straight against first- or second-year QBs — the longest such streak in NFL history. And since the start of 2001, quarterbacks under the age of 25 are 0-27 on the road in the regular season against New England.
Of course, a win Thursday night wouldn’t truly compare to Manning beating Brady and the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Or come close to equaling the accomplishment of doing it again four years later. This is simply a regular-season game in a seemingly lost season for the Giants.
But it would be quite a résumé-builder for Jones, a sort of cosmic redemption for that 6-year-old who never got to see his hometown team win a Super Bowl because that Brady guy has been hogging the stage all this time.