He’ll always be known as “The Three-Sport Man,” the title of a feature story Sports Illustrated did on him in 1981.
And Dan Jones (Marshall, 1977) is fine with that.
“I think I did what I was supposed to do,” he says.
In 1980-81, Jones was a junior at Lewis & Clark College and starring in football, basketball and baseball when SI came to profile his unique, year-round prowess.
“The Last of a Glorious Species,” the magazine’s headline said.
Jones’ roots go back to his youth in Southeast Portland and sports at Marshall High School, where he took part in football, soccer, basketball and baseball – on top of many childhood years playing high-quality club hockey in rinks around the city and beyond.
The legendary Kenny Moore, a former University of Oregon distance runner, wrote the SI story on Jones, who graduated from Marshall in 1978. Moore invoked the names of some previous three-sport college stars you might have heard of: Jim Thorpe, Jackie Robinson and Jim Brown. Not bad company.
Jones might not have been at those gentlemen’s elite level — who is? — but he was very good.
The 6-1, 185-190-pounder played L&C football for coach Fred Wilson, guard in basketball for Dean Sempert and third base in baseball for first Mickey Hergert and then Jerry Gatto.
Jones went to L&C for football and baseball only, but one day early in the basketball season his freshman year he was asked to help fill out the junior varsity roster. “I never dreamed of playing college basketball, but I could always shoot,” he says.
Right after scoring 47 points in one of his first JV games, varsity coach Sempert approached him and said simply: “See you at practice Monday.”
Jones worked hard in the classroom as well at L&C, becoming an Academic All-American. He majored in business and communications, which eventually led him to a 29-year career with Nike.
He retired three years ago and these days spends lots of time on various Portland-area golf courses (7-handicap) and enjoying life with wife, Gina, son Dane and daughter Alexandra and four grandchildren.
A 2005 PIL Hall of Fame inductee, Jones was a 24th-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres and played three years of minor-league baseball, in Walla Walla, Miami and Reno, and would have been in Class AA ball the following year if he hadn’t decided it was time to ditch the long bus rides and earn some real money.
Jones grew up in the Mt. Tabor area, the son of a father who had set a prep 800 record for Nebraska and won the Big 8 Conference mile championship in college for the Cornhuskers.
“Back then, everyone’s first sports experience was Little League baseball, and that was mine,” Jones says. But by the time he was 9, he was competing in hockey, and shining on skates. He traveled on club teams and at 16 got to try out for the first Portland Winterhawks squad.
“Hockey was my winter sport,” he says. “It was my favorite sport, and I think it would have been my best if I’d stayed with it. Not till I was a senior at Marshall did I think I was good at the other stuff.”
Jones played soccer for the Minutemen before turning out for football for the first time as a senior wide receiver and defensive back. Marshall didn’t throw much, but Jones caught two touchdown passes in his first game and the M-Men won the PIL title under coach Darrell Everett. Jones made the all-state second team on defense.
He played three years of varsity basketball for Don Emry, then made an even bigger mark at third base for coach Al Simpson. Jones was second-team all-state in baseball and made it to the postseason all-star games, even batting fourth, one spot behind future major leaguer Darryl Motley of Grant, in the Metro-State series.
Oh, and Jones showed up on the track as a senior just in time to run the sprints at the PIL district meet as a senior. With little training, he made the 100-meter finals in 11.1 seconds.
Portland State wanted Jones for baseball and football, though football coach Mouse Davis didn’t want him doing two sports, he says. Jones also considered going to Oregon State — and not playing sports. But he wound up in uniform — make that uniforms — on Palatine Hill.
“I made a great decision,” he says.
“Great friends,” such as roommate Jeff Erdman, “kept me grounded” through his athletic successes and the publicity that came his way.
Jones was all-Northwest Conference four times in football (he played receiver and kicker) and four times in baseball. He was the NAIA District 2 player of the year in baseball as a senior. He was second-team all-NWC in basketball as well.
“Looking back, in some respects I think I earned (the publicity),” Jones says. “I started in all three sports and competed at a high level every year.
“It all worked out so well, and I had a wonderful career. I did things I never, never dreamed I’d do.”
Times have changed. Kids now tend to specialize, and often feel like they have to. They usually are asked to excel in one sport, not three.
“It wouldn’t happen today,” Jones says, of the opportunity he enjoyed, “and that’s OK.”