Few have lived a Bay Area-centric dream quite like Brent Jones. After starring at Leland High School and Santa Clara University, he signed with the San Francisco 49ers during the greatest years of the franchise. Playing alongside some of the game’s greats, Jones lived a childhood dream and won three Super Bowls along the way to becoming one of the greatest tight ends in franchise history. This is his story.
Brent Michael Jones was born on February 12, 1963 in Santa Clara, California. When he was young, the 49ers were not very good and had faded into oblivion by 1978. When his brother got a 49ers jacket for Christmas, their mother wanted him to wear it to school. His brother cried at even the thought of being embarrassed in such a manner. After starring at Leland High School in both football and baseball, Jones accepted a football scholarship to Santa Clara University.
Entering college as a wide receiver, Jones worked to build his body into a tight end, making the switch in his sophomore year. In that first year as a tight end, Jones gained 599 yards and scored seven touchdowns. He gained 672 yards as a junior and scored eight touchdowns. As a senior, he gained 665 yards and scored four touchdowns. He was selected in the fifth round of the 1986 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers but was soon involved in a car accident, seriously injuring his neck. The Steelers initially placed him on injured reserve but cut him in late September. The following year, he signed with the 49ers who had by now become a dominant force in the NFL. Brent Jones couldn’t even imagine the height that his hometown team would rise while he wore the Red and Gold.
When Brent Jones became a 49er, he was assigned a room with Steve Young in training camp. The two didn’t know each other very well but they were both new to the team and both shared an intense desire to start and to be great. Over the next decade, they would build a bond together through the adversity and the triumphs that they shared on the field. As new members of the organization, they would grow into legends of the franchise together.
The team already had John Frank as their tight end when Brent Jones came to San Francisco, forcing him to sit back and learn one of the most complicated systems in football. He only appeared in four games in 1987, catching two passes for 35 yards. The following year, he switched jersey numbers from 88 to 84 and would keep that number for the rest of his career. The 1988 season was also John Frank’s last year in the NFL, having decided before the season began that he would retire to pursue a medical career.
Jones got more opportunities in 1988, playing in 11 games and catching eight passes for 52 yards and two touchdowns. When the 49ers won the Super Bowl over the Cincinnati Bengals, John Frank announced his retirement, giving Brent Jones the opportunity he had always craved. The best was yet to come.
In 1989, Brent Jones was a starter on his hometown team at last. It was a breakout year for him as he caught 40 passes for 500 yards and four touchdowns. The 49ers steamrolled through the competition in the playoffs and a thoroughly annihilated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl 55-10. It is still the greatest deficit in Super Bowl history.
Brent Jones was even better in 1990, catching 56 passes for 747 yards and five touchdowns. The 49ers enjoyed another great year led by Joe Montana, who earned the NFL MVP award for the second straight year. As a Christian, Brent Jones wanted to use his platform as an athlete to make a difference on the field. As a result of his ambition, he helped begin the postgame prayer circle with 49ers chaplain Pat Richie after a Monday Night Football win over the New York Giants on December 3, 1990. The game was a brutal affair, with the 49ers prevailing 7-3 and an on-field scuffle happening after the game right where the prayer circle was supposed to take place. Jones and several other players moved 15 yards away from the scuffle and began to pray, joined shortly by a couple of Giants players. It was a powerful moment in the midst of a very tense night and remains a tradition which still goes on to this day.
After that moment, San Francisco went 14-2 for a second straight year but fell short of three straight Super Bowls against the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. When Montana was knocked out of the game by defensive end Leonard Marshall, it was the beginning of the end of his time with the 49ers. Joe Montana would never start another game for the 49ers who ultimately traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs after the 1992 season. Steve Young took Montana’s place in 1991 when it became clear that he was not ready to play. Young’s and Jones' chemistry would pay off soon enough.
Fighting for the Fifth
The 1991 season was a tough one for the 49ers who despite finishing 10-6, were left out of the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Initially, Steve Young struggled as a starter, bearing the full weight of replacing a legend. Brent Jones was also hurt for a six of the 49ers games and only caught 27 passes for 417 yards, having never recorded a single touchdown.
The following year was an entirely different story for the organization. Steve Young had fully taken the reins as the franchise quarterback and led the team to a 14-2 record, the best in the NFL. It was also a great year for Brent Jones who earned a spot in the Pro Bowl and was named an All-Pro after catching 45 passes for 628 yards and four touchdowns. It would be the first of four straight trips to the Pro Bowl. The 49ers were humbled by the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship 30-20 and were forced to watch their nemesis win the Super Bowl.
The next year was tougher for the 49ers who could not get the spark that they needed to overthrow Dallas for the NFC crown. They went 11-5 that year as Jones caught 68 passes for 735 yards and three touchdowns while being named an All-Pro for the second time. Dallas defeated the 49ers 38-21 and San Francisco was once again forced to watch their nemesis win the Super Bowl
The 1994 season felt different. Empowered by an offseason spending spree, the 49ers were loaded with talent and were solely focused on defeating the Cowboys and winning their fifth Super Bowl. The season began with a win over the Los Angeles Raiders but the following week was against he Kansas City Chiefs and Joe Montana. Both Steve Young and Jones wanted desperately to prove themselves against their former teammate. In a hard fought classic, Brent Jones caught six passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t enough as the 49ers lost to the Chiefs 24-17.
After a bumpy next couple of weeks, the 49ers found their rhythm and breezed through the rest of the season. Brent Jones caught 49 passes for 670 yards and nine touchdowns. The 49ers tore through their schedule, going 13-3 as Steve Young earned his second league MVP award. The 49ers entered the 1994 NFC Championship Game determined to avenge their previous losses to the Cowboys. Brent Jones caught three passes for 37 yards as the 49ers finally defeated their nemesis 38-28. Two weeks later they defeated the San Diego Chargers 49-26, winning their fifth Super Bowl.
Following their victory in Super Bowl XXVIIII, there was no reason to believe that the 49ers would not win another championship in the decade. However, injury and retirement doomed a once great dynasty. Brent Jones continued his excellence in 1995, catching 60 passes for 595 yards and three touchdowns while being named an All Pro for the third and final time of his career. The 49ers lost to the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs each year from 1995 to 1997, ending once promising seasons.
The 1997 season was Brent Jones’ last and he took advantage of his last hurrah, catching 29 passes for 383 yards and two touchdowns. After losing to the Packers in the NFC Championship Game on a rainy afternoon in Candlestick Park, Brent Jones retired from the NFL. He retired as the 49er’s all time leading tight end in yards (5,195) and touchdowns (33). He once coached at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California and is now a venture capitalist.