Ex-Notre Dame champ dies at 42

Andre Jones, former Irish linebacker and father of current Notre Dame sophomore T.J., passed away Wednesday, at the age of 42 after suffering a brain aneurysm.

A sleek, seemingly massive #7 jersey – the same his son dons today – augmented his 6'4" 225-pound frame, ideal for an outside linebacker of that era. Jones looked the part and played up to the standards his imposing stature suggested.

Including bowl bids, Jones started 24 games, played in 46, and was part of a class that won 41 of 49 games over four seasons. Three of his Irish squads competed on the season's last day for national titles, winning in 1988 to cap a 12-0 campaign.

Andre's days with the football team were the program's best in recent history, and among the University's best of any era. His Irish squads dominated, both inferior foes – losing just once to an unranked team in his three seasons as a starter (1988-90) – and the cream of the crop, finishing 15-3 vs. teams ranked among the Top 20…and a staggering 11-2 vs. those in the nation's Top 10 during that three-season span.

His recent affiliation with the University was through his son, current Irish sophomore wide receiver T.J., the first true freshman to start a season opener since Milt Jackson in 1982 – an accomplishment naturally more important to the proud father than for the competing son.

The elder Jones joined IrishEyes for a radio spot last December, amiably discussing his son's first-season impact, Brian Kelly's first season at the helm, and Notre Dame's upcoming bowl game vs. the chief rival of his era, Miami.

He, like all proud athletes, or any of us that grew up on Notre Dame football during his era, bristled at comparisons to recent teams Notre Dame has produced since his campus exodus. Still, Jones, like most proud alums, believed the current Irish staff, squad, and his son were the group to bring Notre Dame back to consistent national prominence.

I met Andre Jones for the first time during the 2010 season. He and my former colleague, Jeff Baumhower, had stayed in touch following the recruitment process of his son T.J., and Jeff offered introductions during a home game's closing moments.

But I've "known" Andre Jones, the football player, for the bulk of my teen and adult life, dating back 22-23 years to a time in which Jones had earned the all-important moniker among my local high school friends as, the "coolest looking" player on Notre Dame's team. (Important, at least, to most teenage wannabe athletes, and no small feat as a member of the juggernaut Irish of the late 80s.)

During my later high school and early college years, I made a football highlight tape of Notre Dame's best plays, players, and games, and the bulk of those highlights coincided with Jones' era – the best I'll likely know.

In truth, I had watched that grainy VHS tape so often, I didn't need the refresher viewing I enjoyed last night.

But there was Jones and his streamlined #7 jersey, stunting on a blitz up the gut as I remembered vs. USC and Rodney Peete. There was Jones in the backfield for a third-down sack of Miami's Craig Erickson, punctuated by an uppercut fist pump in celebration with Chris Zorich; and Jones coming off the field, spent after a goal line stop, but still congratulating teammate Michael Stonebreaker on his game-changing end zone interception, under the lights vs. Michigan.

I've rarely since thought of those halcyon days for the Notre Dame program without evoking some memory of #7 – either making a play, or simply appearing larger than life to me and my high school friends.

In an effort to remain professional, I never told Andre that anecdote last winter when we spoke on the phone. I guess that's probably why I am now.

Andre Fitzgerald Jones (1969-2011)

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