By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

Mike Jones made the biggest tackle in St. Louis Rams’ history. Now, he is grooming the next generation of game-saving tacklers at Hazelwood East. Every day he shows the young high schoolers how to wrap up as he did against Tennessee receiver Kevin Dyson in Super Bowl XXXIV and many other times in his career.

Jones retired after a stint with Pittsburgh in 2002. After attempting to catch on with a few more teams, the former Missouri Tiger moved on to other endeavors. He played 13 seasons in the NFL with Oakland, St. Louis and the Steelers. As a sort of sports hero in Missouri, Jones carries instant credibility anywhere he goes.

From his four-year (1987-1991) career at Missouri to his three years with the Rams, Jones is known across the state for a variety of reasons.

None of those reasons, though, is as big as what has come to be known simply as “The Tackle.” With the Rams leading 23-16 and the Titans driving for the tie, Jones was left with the unenviable task of stopping one of the most difficult patterns in football.

Dyson lined up wide to the right and when quarterback Steve McNair took the snap, Dyson burst off the line with a quick slant across the middle of the field. Jones read the play and reacted calmly, dashing toward Dyson from the right, wrapping him up around the waist and working down to the legs.

Many times, a receiver can break a tackle because of the momentum from the route, but not Dyson, not against Jones, not on that day. Part by part, Dyson fell to the ground. He fell a yard short, the Rams became Super Bowl champions and Jones became a hero.

Pictures of the play with the phrase “The Tackle” can be found in gas stations, homes or restaurants anywhere in the state. Jones even has fans in Chiefs’ country, for he graduated from Kansas City’s Southwest High.

Jones said he doesn’t mind being known for making the big play; after all, it beats the alternative.

“I have people ask me that all the time, but the way I look at it, it could have been worse,” Jones said. “I could have been the guy that missed the tackle. It’s funny because I have people come up and thank me for making the tackle. They thank me for doing something I was supposed to do.”

With Jones’ extensive experience in the game, it made perfect sense for him to get in to coaching. Jones turned down offers to coach in NFL Europe and a few other small schools before staying in St. Louis at Hazelwood East with his wife and kids. After all, it was the Gateway City where he became a household name.

Jones’ activities off the field, though, are as big a part of him as his desire to be on it. He runs free football clinics for children in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia and has started the Michael Jones Foundation. He teams up with other charities to have basketball games that raise money for both parties, including a game in Columbia pitting his team against a Columbia All-Star team. That game raises money for his foundation and the Columbia’s Youth Scholarship Fund. Jones’ foundation recently kicked off a football league for kids all over the St. Louis area, featuring 11 organizations.

With Jones’ background teaching kids how to play football, he has run the clinics since his fourth year in the NFL, maybe it isn’t a surprise he is working with kids again.

“I like working with high schoolers,” Jones said. “They are old enough that they can learn the game and I get to teach it. I am learning from them, too.”

Jones’ teachings on the field will no doubt come in handy to the Spartans’ defense, but judging by his work and experiences off the field, those kids will walk away from their high school days with two valuable educations.