Simmons: Jones is 'Large'r than life

Large. It tells you who he is, what he is, what his career in sports writing has been all about,...

Large. It tells you who he is, what he is, what his career in sports writing has been all about, what kind of impact he has left on the industry. (CHRISTINE VANZELLA/QMI Agency)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:56 AM ET

The nickname has always been perfect.

Large. It tells you who he is, what he is, what his career in sports writing has been all about, what kind of impact he has left on the industry.

You have to be Large to be honoured by the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The stories of our hockey life that mattered most were things we watched on television, heard on radio, purchased in video. Terry Jones didn't need any of that. He was there to chronicle the dynasties of the Edmonton Oilers and before that the New York Islanders. He was there when Mario scored in Ô87 and when Sidney scored in 2010 Ñ and so many memorable goals and moments in between.

For most of us, those are the where-were-you moments of your own personal hockey history: For Large, he knows where he was. He was there. In the press box, in the dressing room and in the bar, usually in that order. Telling the story quicker and better than anyone in the business. Somehow having the remarkable talent when the clock was ticking fastest and closest to deadline of finding the angle that succinctly told the story too many of us missed.

I would read Terry Jones every morning after we covered something at night to find out what I missed. I would read him because I had to, because I needed to, because it was the way to learn the business, because his legendary instincts weren't never easily explained.

You don't get where Large has gone and been and done without skills, without instincts and, in his case, without the craziest luck of any reporter I've ever known. The rest of us have to bust down walls sometimes to get stories. For Large, all it took some days was the right seat on an airplane.

One year, during one of Wayne Gretzky's remarkable scoring streaks, Jones had an idea. Why not get in touch with Joe DiMaggio, the baseball legend, he of the 56-game hitting streak, and talk to him about what Gretzky is going through, how much the streak plays on your mind?

Jones called the New York Yankees. No help. He called the baseball alumni association. No help. He called the Mr. Coffee, the company DiMaggio did television commercials for. No help. Jones had all but given up on getting in touch with DiMaggio when he got bumped up to first class on an American flight he was taking.

Sitting next to him on the plane Ñ none other than DiMaggio. Right place, right time: This is how you become an Elmer Ferguson winner. Stories have a way of finding you as much as you have a way of finding them.

You don't become Large and Hockey Hall without being inventive, without being aggressive and mostly competitive. One time, Jones travelled to Long Island with the Oilers for a second-round playoff series. When he got there, he picked up the New York Post and saw a controversial story on Gretzky. In those, the pre-Internet days, Jones did only what the best newspaper people could do. After seeing the story in the Post, he purchased all 17 copies of the paper in the hotel gift shop and made certain his competitor, who hadn't yet arrived, wouldn't see the story upon check-in.

When his competitor, Dick Chubey, walked into the gift shop he noticed there were no copies of the Post. He asked what happened.

"You won't believe it," said the woman in the store. "Some guy came in and bought all the Posts."

"Some guy," said Chubey. "What'd he look like?"

"Large," she said.

It is a difficult nickname to live up to, being Large all the time, in your market, in your newspaper, on the road, in your industry. When Gretzky finally made it official, that he would be playing his final game at Madison Square Garden on a Sunday afternoon, the best of the hockey-writing world gathered in New York to chronicle the end of an era. Gretzky looked around at his afternoon news conference on the day before the game and somehow noticed that Jones was missing. Most athletes, let alone superstars, wouldn't pay any attention to who was asking the questions Ñ but Gretzky wasn't like most athletes.

After the news conference, Gretzky picked up the phone and called Jones at his hotel room in New York.

"Do you need anything from me?" Gretzky asked.

In the end, The Great One took care of The Large One. One superstar looking out for another.


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