One former Dubliner took a keen interest in Florida State University’s victory in last month’s national college championship in the Sugar Bowl. Willie Jones played for the Seminoles in the 1970s, when winning seasons were few and far between. Willie Jones, born in Dublin on November 22, 1957, spent his first decade of life here, attending Susie Dasher School and playing football. At the age of twenty one, he was one of the best defensive college players in the country.
Willie’s mother, Daisy Jones, worked long and hard hours at the Canady Restaurant and Motel in East Dublin. Willie’s sister worked with their mother. In the latter years of the 1960s, the Jones family left their home and went south - about as far south as one can go in the continental United States. The Jones family established their home in Homestead, Florida, just south of Miami. Willie attended South Dade High School, where he was a two-sport star in football and basketball. Willie’s size and speed led to his being awarded a scholarship to play football at Florida State.
Willie started in his freshman year at Florida State in 1975. At six feet four inches tall and two hundred and forty pounds, he was small as defensive lineman go. His speed was one of his best assets. In his first season, the last for head coach Darrell Mutra, the Seminoles had a dismal record of three wins and eight losses. In that year and the two years before, the Seminoles won only four games out of thirty three. The football program was in trouble. The university had to find someone to turn the program around.
School officials hired a coach, who had coached winning teams at Samford and West Virginia. Sportswriters called the period before his arrival in January of 1976 as "B.B.," before Bowden. In his first season at Florida State, Coach Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles won five games and lost six. Jones again started at defensive end in 1976 and gained his first honor of being named to the All South Independent team. In his junior year in 1977, Jones was named to the All-South Independent Team and as an honorable mention on the Associated Press’s All-American team. The Seminoles had their best season in many years, going ten and two with impressive victories over bitter rivals, Auburn and Florida. Jones played in his first and only bowl game, the Tangerine Bowl, following his team’s best season. For his outstanding play in the 40-17 stomping of Texas Tech, Willie Jones was named the game’s most valuable defensive player.
A collage painting of Willie Jones graced the cover of the 1978 Florida State Press Guide. School boosters and Coach Bowden touted Jones as one of the best defensive ends in the country. Opposing quarterbacks and running backs feared the big number 88 on the garnet red jersey. Offensive tackles did everything they could to keep him out of the backfield. The 1978 Seminoles slipped to eight and three, though two of their losses to Houston and Pittsburgh were by a total of ten points. Once again, the Seminoles dominated their bitter intrastate rivals, the Florida Gators. Willie Jones was on everyone’s All-America list. For the third straight year, Jones was named to the All South Independent Team. He was named Southern Lineman of the Week for his outstanding performance against Southern Mississippi. The United Press named Willie to its Second All American Team. The Associated Press and the Sporting News gave Jones honorable mentions on their collegiate all star rosters.
Following his successful career at Florida State, Jones was selected to play in college football’s top two All Star games. In the Senior Bowl, the granddaddy of college football all-star games, Jones sacked the North quarterbacks six times and garnered the Most Valuable Player Award. In doing so, Jones became the second Dubliner to win the coveted award. Twenty years earlier, Theron Sapp, Dublin born, Brewton raised, and a Georgia Bulldog legend at running back, won the same award. Jones was selected to play for the East team in the Hula Bowl in the paradise of Hawaii.
Professional scouts took notice of Willie Jones’s ability. The Oakland Raiders selected Jones as their first pick, which came in the second round of the 1979 NFL draft. As a rookie, Jones played in all sixteen of the Raider games, nine of which were victories. They included a fifty to nineteen romp over the Falcons, who were only slightly better than they were last season. In his sophomore season, Willie again played defensive end in all of the Raider’s sixteen games. The Raiders improved their record in 1980 to eleven wins with only five regular season losses. The Raiders breezed by Houston in the Wild Card game, squeaked by the Browns 14 to12 in the Divisional playoff, and defeated intrastate rival San Diego 34 to 27 to win the AFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl XV in the New Orleans Super Dome on January 25, 1981. The Raiders were the first team in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl after beginning the playoffs as a wild-card team.
The 1980 Raiders were a tough defensive team. They led the league in interceptions, ranked sixth in fumbles caused, and stymied their opponents in the last half of the season. Willie Jones scored his second and last career touchdown when he scooped up a fumble and ran it into the San Diego end zone in the second game of the season. Wearing number 90, he played left defensive end behind legendary Oakland Raider, John Matuzak. Also playing with Jones in that 1980 season were Hall of Famers, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Ray Guy, and Ted Hendricks. Several other members of that team will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the future.
Oakland jumped out to a 14 to 0 lead over the Philadelphia Eagles after the first quarter. This wasn’t the first NFL title game that a Dubliner had played in. Once again, Theron Sapp beat Jones to that honor when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles in their defeat of Vince Lombardi’s powerful Green Bay Packers in the 1960 NFL Championship game. The Eagles managed to put a field goal on the board in the second stanza, but fell behind to Oakland by the score of 24 to 3 after the end of the third quarter. A fourth quarter field goal ended the scoring and when Willie Jones intense pass rush forced Eagle quarterback Jaworski into throwing an interception. That fatal mistake iced the 27 to 10 victory for the Raiders in the first of only two victories by a wild card team in the Super Bowl game.
Willie Jones played in only eight games in his third and final season with the Oakland Raiders in 1981. The Raiders failed to defend their Super Bowl championship. They posted a seven and nine record and failed to make the playoffs. In 1989, Willie Jones was elected to the Florida State Athletic Hall of Fame.