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Sports >  EWU football

Former Eastern Washington RB Taiwan Jones keeps chugging along, hoping to help lead Buffalo back to the Super Bowl

Feb. 11, 2023 Updated Sat., Feb. 11, 2023 at 5:01 p.m.

By Dave Cook For The Spokesman-Review

Taiwan Jones was just a youngster when the Buffalo Bills went through an agonizing stretch of losing four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s. His quest to help get the Bills another chance for the first time in 30 years will have to wait.

But an even more pressing issue is that his biological clock – by National Football League standards – is ticking.

The former Eastern Washington University All-America running back has weathered a dozen seasons in the league, and his 12th came to a disappointing end for Buffalo’s special teams captain on Jan. 22 at home. A 27-10 loss to Cincinnati in the divisional round ended Buffalo’s inspirational season.

But in an interesting twist to normal longevity in the professional ranks, Jones said his body is telling him to come back for more.

At age 34, Jones is old by NFL standards, and his teammates kid around with the “old guy” as such. But having preserved his body through the years – most recently playing exclusively on special teams – he has avoided the wear-and-tear that usually is accompanied by limited longevity in the league.

“(It) definitely helped preserve me to be able to play three or four more years, God willing,” he said.

Things might be different had he kept the same pace he set as a running back at Eastern Washington more than a decade ago. From 2008-10, he proved to be a workhorse for the Eagles in 31 career games.

Once converted from cornerback to running back, he had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons for the Eagles and his average of 7.7 yards per carry is still an FCS record for players with at least 350 carries.

He touched the ball 503 times as an Eagle – including 383 rushes for 2,955 yards and 29 scores. He had another 64 receptions good for 903 yards and seven scores, plus returned a total of 56 kickoffs and punts. In all, he had 5,021 all-purpose yards, and added 56 tackles – most when he played as a cornerback in 2008.

By contrast, he’s only had 53 carries (223 yards) and 19 receptions (260 yards) in the NFL regular season in stints with the Raiders, Bills and Texans, plus another 84 kickoff returns and one punt return. Add two playoff receptions and one more return, and that’s just 160 touches in 12 seasons.

As a kick coverage specialist, Jones has had 79 regular-season tackles and eight in the playoffs. In all, he’s had 2,158 special teams snaps in the regular season, plus 133 snaps on offense in a total of 137 games played (127 regular season, 10 playoffs).

“I feel good,” Jones said. “I tip my hat to our athletic training staff and coaches to help me get through the season without missing a game. That was definitely a goal on my list coming into the season.”

With a deep appreciation for others, Jones hopes its enough to keep him playing a few more years – and someday win a Super Bowl. If it’s in Buffalo, he said, that would be ideal.

“As a special teams player, you don’t really get into the limelight,” he said. “But to hear I still have fans that look for me on special teams plays makes me appreciate them and want to go out and represent those people.”

Resiliency was a lesson learned back in 2010 when EWU ended the season as FCS National Champions following a 20-19 thriller over Delaware.

Jones, who was the offensive catalyst that year with his shifty running and breakaway speed, had to watch the final two games of that historic season from the sidelines.

He broke his foot in the quarterfinal victory over North Dakota State. Jones, who had rushed for 238 yards, went down early in the second half with the injury – specifically called a “Jones Fracture,” named after Sir Robert Jones, who first described this fracture pattern in 1902.

“I’m a player who thinks everything happens for a reason,” said Jones, whose calm demeanor probably prevented him from getting too down following the injury. At EWU, Jones was so laid back and nonchalant, in fact, that assistant coach Chris Hansen would have One-Hour Energy drinks on hand for an extra boost of adrenaline.

“My journey has been tough,” Jones said. “But there is always a lesson there and hopefully, I’ve learned from them. I think it’s made me tougher and who I am today. It’s unfortunate that I’ve experienced those things, but I truly believe all those events have made me stronger and as relentless as I am today.”

A recurrence of the “Jones Fracture” and other ailments have cost him numerous games in his NFL career, which began as a fourth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders.

This season, which was among his healthiest, proved to be one of the most difficult, as well.

Jones and his teammates endured the trauma of watching fellow special teams player Damar Hamlin suffer what was nearly a fatal cardiac arrest. Hamlin has since recovered.

In addition, two major blizzards pounded the Buffalo, New York, region this winter, forcing them to grapple with more than 100 inches of snow. More than 30 people died during the late December blizzard.

And a horrific shooting at a Buffalo grocery store last May left 10 people dead.

“As a community and as individuals, there have been so many hurdles and so much adversity,” Jones said. “But I’m thankful to be on this team because it all brings us closer and closer. The amount of love and brotherhood on this team is very special here, and you wouldn’t want to experience what we’ve been through with any other group. I’m blessed to be on this team despite what we’ve had to face – we have the guys who can endure and overcome it all.

“It’s like a TV drama, for sure. I’ve definitely never experienced so much in one season.”

Through the string of bad luck in Buffalo, Jones said he’s never been more connected to that community.

Former EWU safety Kurt Schulz, who spent eight of his 10 NFL seasons in Buffalo, can relate.

“I’m super proud to have been a part of the Bills organization,” said Schulz, who played in the 1993 Super Bowl loss to the Dallas Cowboys and still lives in Buffalo. “I can’t say enough about the players, coaches and staff. Like Buffalonians, they are grounded, passionate and resilient people … ready and willing to give you the shirt off their backs.”

Within days of Hamlin’s injury, his charity the Giving Back Fund ballooned to more than $8 million – which had an original goal of $2,500. To Schulz, who is formerly from Yakima, it’s indicative of the community he lives.

“With Damar’s horrific injury, the city turned their energy and support to a charity dear to Damar’s heart, including unimaginable monetary donations,” he said.

As the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles prepare to take the field Sunday for Super Bowl LVII, Jones is already thinking about Super Bowl LVIII. Nothing would be better than helping Buffalo avenge those four straight losses three decades ago.

“We feel like we’ve been the underdogs for a few years, and the task to win the Super Bowl has been our goal before now,” Jones said prior to the playoffs. “To see the world behind us and rooting for us is special.”

The legacy of Taiwan Jones is secure, especially when video floats around of him jumping out of swimming pools and jumping over cars.

His athleticism – namely his jumping ability and speed – are undeniable. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.27 seconds a decade ago, and he still claims he’s that fast now.

The blazing speed notwithstanding, Jones is even more excited talking about how’s he’s evolved as a positive force in the locker room.

“It’s taking pride of being on special teams and being a leader,” he said. “I’m not shy about working with the rookies – I try to give as much knowledge as I can to players with not as much experience. It usually makes the units better. I try to practice hard and lead by example, and I’ll be vocal when I need to.”

The words of Bills head coach Sean McDermott ring true for Jones.

“He said when you walk into the building you can either be a plus or a negative, and that has stuck with me,” Jones said. “Every day I try to add value to the team and help in all ways on the field and off the field. I try to get to know everybody and bring the team closer.

“I think the coaches see that. When you have that and a player who works hard and gives his all every play, it’s really helped me prolong my career.”

He’s even added “cheer” in front of the “leader” part.

“I’m definitely one of our team’s biggest cheerleaders,” he said of being exuberant on the field. “I’m big about having positive energy and cheering for my guys. That’s part of the reason I’m a captain – I’m selfless and I want to see everybody succeed.

“It’s real, genuine love when you see your brother doing something well, and that really excites me. I don’t hold back on game day. It’s exciting having a role here, and as one of the captains I try to lead by example. I go out there and have fun – I put the emphasis on enjoying the process and being in the moment.

“I try to cherish every moment and make the most of it.”

This is the second in a two-part story on Taiwan Jones. The first can be found at

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