On December 29th, 2013, the Eagles found themselves one minute and 59 seconds away from winning the NFC East title. As the TV broadcast went to a commercial break for the fourth quarter's two-minute warning, the scoreboard at AT&T Stadium displayed the Eagles' 24-22 lead over the Dallas Cowboys. It was fourth down for the Eagles, who were pushed back to their own 22-yard line.
At that moment, the Eagles' chance to clinch a playoff berth, in their first season under Chip Kelly and just a year removed from going 4-12, rested on the left foot of Donnie Jones, a journeyman who at one point of his career was unsure if he had a future in the NFL. The Cowboys were about to get the ball and they would need only three points to end the Eagles' improbable run.
"There was a timeout on the field and you're always back there kind of by yourself, and I look up and I see (long snapper Jon) Dorenbos and he's just having a great old time, getting a shot of water or whatever," Jones recalled. "Then I see the officials and I start to realize this moment that we're in, obviously if you hit a bad punt, there's a chance that you lose the game because they're in field goal range, so my body just started going numb."
Even for a 10-year veteran, the weight of the moment became tough to take. But fortunately for Jones and for Eagles fans everywhere, the even-keeled Eagles punter was able to find solace.
"And then 'Crazy Train' came on, and I happen to like Ozzy Osbourne, so that kind of relaxed me a little bit," Jones explained. "It's just the different situations that you're faced with during the game and trying to go out and perform the best that you can in those situations."
Eagles fans, you owe Ozzy a big thank you. Jones connected on a 56-yard punt to pin the Cowboys at their own 25-yard line. On the next play, Brandon Boykin intercepted Kyle Orton and the Eagles were off to the playoffs.
For the well-traveled Jones, it's always been about making the most out of whatever has come his way, and that is exactly what he did in 2013. After signing a one-year contract with the Eagles last offseason, Jones went on to set a number of Eagles franchise records, and on Wednesday, Jones was rewarded as he put pen to paper on a new three-year contract.
"I just think that whatever situation that you're faced with, you just go out and try to make the most of it," Jones said at his Wednesday press conference, the first such event in his career. "I signed the one-year contract in Houston when I left St. Louis and then obviously I came here after having a really good year in Houston and signed a one-year contract and then had to beat out Brad Wing in Training Camp … To be here today, knowing that I'm going to be the punter this year really feels good.
"I can go home and enjoy being with my family for the rest of the offseason and know that, come this fall, I'm going to be the punter here, and it's just really exciting. I really look forward to working with (special teams coordinator Dave) Fipp again. He's an outstanding coach and he's done an outstanding job. I just really look forward to being an Eagle for the next three years."
After signing for the veteran minimum last season, Jones could not sign a new contract with the Eagles until free agency officially began on Tuesday at 4 PM. Within an hour, the Eagles had announced Jones' new deal. The punter explained that with impending free agency, there always comes a level of uncertainty, but he remained confident that he would be able to stay in Philadelphia.
"I wanted to be back and the team expressed interest in signing me back," Jones explained. "Unfortunately, nothing could be done until free agency started because of the minimum salary benefit contract that I signed last year. My agent was able to start discussions with them, I believe it was Saturday, and we were able to get things worked out pretty quickly and as soon as free agency opened, I was able to re-sign. So I'm very excited about the opportunity to come back, to have some security.
"I always wanted to be here in Philadelphia. For the first time in 10 years, I really felt part of a family. I think that with (Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey) Lurie, a really big thing of his is that he sees this football team as a family. To be able to obviously be several thousand miles away from home, bring my family up here and within a matter of months feel like a part of a community, part of a family, really meant a lot to me. It's just a great place, a great city, it's a great football town and the organization is great, so I never thought about going anywhere else, nor did I want to be anywhere else. Philadelphia is where I want to be, and hopefully, God-willing, I'll finish my career here and play here for many more years, not just three."
Jones' 2013 net-average of 40.4 yards was the highest in franchise history and his gross average of 44.9 was the third-highest ever by an Eagle. He led the league with 27 punts downed without a return and finished tied for fourth with a franchise-best 33 punts inside the 20-yard line. He also took home NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors in back-to-back games against Washington (highlighted by a 70-yard punt) and Arizona.
"I think the opportunity was great for me last year and I was able to really go out and work hard and ultimately get rewarded for it, but it doesn't stop there," said Jones. "Obviously, I'm going to go home and work harder to have an even better year. Field position is huge in the game, and I don't want to slow down. I feel like I have plenty of years left and I just want to go out and make the most out of every opportunity that I'm given."
According to Jones, there may have been a secret to his success last year, and it's something that he's willing to try again in preparing for the upcoming seasons.
"Last year, I did a lot of yard work. I'm serious," Jones said with a smile. "I re-did my flower beds in my backyard and it actually took me about three weeks to do and I had to carry these bags of rocks from Lowe's. I must have had like 150 bags of rocks and 300 bags of mulch. We have a lot of (flower) beds at her house. My wife gets mad at me. She was like 'Every year we're going to have to do this?' This year I hired somebody, so this year I'm going to go back to running and some light lifting and stretching.
"Obviously as you get older, you want to let your body recover and rest, and I know I said that about the yard stuff, but I'm starting to think that I felt I played really well and I didn't do as much lifting (last year), so maybe I should try that again this off season."
It's obvious to see why Jones has become a favorite both among his teammates and among the city of Philadelphia. "Donnie Longball", "Donnie Football", whatever you want to call him, Jones took the opportunity that was presented to him and made the most out of it in 2013. Now, with a three-year contract in hand, Jones is ready to improve upon last season in a city that has welcomed him in.
"I'll be 34 this season," Jones said. "If you would have asked me years ago if I'd play 11 seasons in the National Football League, I probably would have said 'No'. That in itself is just a blessing. Obviously with what I've been through in the last two years, to have security and to have a three-year deal from this team means a lot.
"For me, the last couple of years have been hard because I've been on one-year contracts trying to prove myself. I really feel at home here in Philadelphia. The city is awesome. It's the best fan base that I've been around in 10 years of playing football. Everything about the organization- this is going to be a very attractive team for guys to want to come in and play for Coach Kelly and for Mr. Lurie, who is an outstanding owner. I'm just really blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to be here for three more years."