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Tue, 02.07.1933

Cal Jones, Iowa Football Legend born

Calvin "Cal" Jones

Cal Jones was born on this date in 1933. He was a Black college and professional football player.

Calvin Jack Jones was born on the south side of Steubenville, Ohio, the youngest of seven children. His father died when Jones was about one year old. His mother, Talitha Jones, raised Jones and his six older siblings during the Great Depression and World War II. Jones began playing organized football in the fifth grade. By the time they neared the end of their time at Steubenville High School, college football programs were courting Jones and two friends, Eddie Vincent and Frank Gilliam.

Ohio State offered a scholarship only to Jones. Jones committed to play at Ohio State, while Vincent and Gilliam accepted scholarships for the University of Iowa.  Before the fall of 1952, Vincent and Gilliam drove to Jones's house to say goodbye before leaving for Iowa. Jones shocked his friends when he said, "Wait a minute...I'm coming with you." Jones' sudden switch from Ohio State to conference rival Iowa caused Big Ten commissioner Tug Wilson to conduct a personal investigation. Iowa was cleared of any wrongdoing. When questioned, Cal Jones reportedly told Wilson, "I'll tell you why I came out here. They treated me like a white man, and I like it here. I'm going to stay."

Jones was a dominant figure on the field from 1953 to 1955. In 1953, Iowa finished the year ranked 9th in the final AP Poll, Iowa's best finish since the Ironmen in 1939. Jones was named a first-team All-American. In 1954, Iowa again had a winning season. Jones was named a consensus first-team All-American, despite playing the entire year with a broken wrist. That season, Jones also became the first college football player to be featured on the cover of the September 27, 1954 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine, which shows a tightly cropped, slightly blurry image of Jones's face wearing a football helmet.

This was the 7th issue of Sports Illustrated. In 1955, Jones was named Iowa's team captain. Though Iowa struggled to a 3–5–1 record, Jones was named a consensus first-team All-American for the second consecutive year. Cal Jones also won the 1955 Outland Trophy, which goes to the United States' top lineman in college.  He was the first Black player to win the award.  As a lineman, Jones also finished tenth in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy.

Jones graduated with a 3.0-grade point average at Iowa. He was selected in the ninth round of the 1956 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions but refused to sign with the team as the NFL paid Black players less than whites.  Instead, he went to Canada and signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. As a rookie with Winnipeg in 1956, Jones was named to the WIFU All-Star Team. The East-West All-Star Game in Vancouver would be Jones's final football game. Iowa qualified for the Rose Bowl after that season.  Frank Gilliam had sat out the 1955 season and was playing his final year for the Hawkeyes. Jones was to fly home to Winnipeg, gather a few possessions, and then fly to Pasadena to watch Gilliam in the Rose Bowl after the All-Star game.

On December 9, 1956, Jones overslept his morning flight from Vancouver, so he scheduled an afternoon flight to stop at Calgary and then travel to Winnipeg.  His flight on Trans-Canada Air Lines Flight 810, from Vancouver to Calgary, crashed at Slesse Mountain, killing all 62 people aboard. The Iowa Hawkeye team heard Jones's death as they prepared for the Rose Bowl against Oregon State. The team dedicated Iowa's first Rose Bowl appearance to Cal's memory and won the game, 35–19. The University sent the game ball to his mother in Steubenville.

Cal Jones is currently the only three-time first-team All-American in Iowa history, and Jones was inducted into the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 1971 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980. In 1989, Iowa fans selected an all-time University of Iowa football team during the 100th-anniversary celebration of Iowa football, and Cal Jones was selected to the team as a lineman. And the University of Iowa retired Cal Jones' #62. Jones is one of only two players so honored. The street where Steubenville High School's Harding Stadium is located is named in Calvin Jones' honor.

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