When Arena Football launched in 1987, one of the unique aspects of the sport was that most of the players on the field played both offense and defense. In what would be termed as “ironman football”, there were six players that played both ways…three lineman, a running back/linebacker, a wide receiver/linebacker, and a wide receiver/defensive back. On defense, there were two defensive backs labeled as “defensive specialists” and on offense, there was the quarterback and a wide receiver labeled as an “offensive specialist”.
Years later, the Arena Football League as well as other indoor football leagues like the National Arena League decided not to use ironman football rules. However, there have been situations where a player has been put in a situation where he has to go both ways. A case in point was this past Sunday right before the Streets’ 54-53 win over the Predators in Orlando when it was learned that Streets defensive back Denzell Thompson was unable to play because of an injury.
Head Coach Rick Marsilio immediately turned to wide receiver Rob Jones and told him that he was also going to play defensive back.
“DT never made it out of the locker room, so (Rob) needed to go both ways,” said Marsilio. “Rob is a special athlete and can play multiple positions.”
Marsilio knew that Jones could play defensive back because he had him on an undefeated York Capitals team that won the AIF championship back in 2015. So it was not a surprise to Jones when Marsilio recruited him to the Streets and it was not a shock to him when the news was delivered to him right before the opening kickoff that he was going to be an ironman.
“He knows my skills and knows I played a little DB back then for him as well,” said Jones. “He knows my skill set and I think that’s one of the reasons why he brought me in because he knows I’m one of those types of athletes that can do that for him.”
Jones also played defensive back at the pee-wee level as well as at other times throughout his career. Even going back to 2015, that was four years ago so it was certainly an adjustment he had to make quickly. But you could say it’s just like not riding a bicycle for a while…you don’t forget how to do it.
“It’s just been a refresher because going both ways at the professional level is a daunting task,” said Jones. “It was a little bit more difficult than I intended it to be but I did what I needed to do to help the team come out with the victory.”
In a throwback performance to the old days of Arena Football, Jones did a terrific job Sunday under difficult circumstances.
He had five catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns along with a tackle on defense. Jones also returned six kickoffs for 98 yards and had brought back a missed field goal 43 yards earning him NAL special teams player of the week honors for week five. It’s not a surprise that he could handle both jobs because as a receiver, he has an idea of what the defensive back is going to do and on defense he may know what kind of route the receiver is going to run.
Aside from playing football, Jones also has another job that helps him master ironman football.
“I’m a personal trainer,” said Jones. “So I teach defensive backs how to counteract what a receiver is doing to them so I just mix between the two.”
What probably also helped Jones on Sunday was that he didn’t know he was going to be an ironman until right before the game. His mentality may have been different if he knew about it at practice during the week, on the flight to Orlando, or maybe even the day or hours before the game. In his mind, knowing right before the game was better than knowing about it in advance.
“I probably would have psyched myself out or just probably would have tried to do too much to get myself prepared for it,” said Jones. “This way, I just was prepared like any other game just trying to come into it with a clear mindset.”
The 3-1 Streets will enjoy a bye this week that will give some of the injured players, including Denzell Thompson, a chance to heal up and be ready to get back on the field. But just in case the Streets ever need a little help in the defensive backfield in the future, they know they have someone that they can count on…
Rob “Ironman” Jones!
The Streets return to action on Memorial Day May 27th at 3pm when they host the Massachusetts Pirates at the Westchester County Center. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com. For season and group ticket information, call 1-833-697-8733 and choose extension one.