Deion Sanders, the greatest cornerback of his time who texts him every morning, sees him as a guy that one day could be one of the top three corners in the NFL again. Chris Crocker, his teammate, sees him as one of the game's rare automatic gamebreakers. Marvin Lewis, his head coach, sees him as one of those good veteran soldiers every NFL team needs on the march to the Promised Land. NFL Nation eyes his baggage warily and his athleticism admiringly.
But to Tish Jones?
The mother of his child and his best friend for the past six years? For her, Adam Jones, the born-to-run and born-again Bengals cornerback, is something else. When their daughter was born just 2.3 pounds 15 months ago, he wasn't wearing No. 24.
"Clark Kent. He's like Clark Kent," Tish said the other day. "I don't know how he did it. But they called him and the next thing I knew it seemed like he got from Georgetown in about 30 minutes and somehow he got there in time to cut the cord."
A hamstring took down Superman when it wouldn't let the heart have its way, but even if Jones doesn't play Sunday in Tennessee (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) to complete the circle of one of the NFL's more remarkable comeback stories, Tish saw the joy return last Sunday in Seattle on The Return.
"He loves football so much. He just loves the game and he was waiting so long that you could see it coming out of him on the TV," she said. "I was running right there with him for every step."
But Tish is probable for Sunday. Jones doesn't look like he's going to be as lucky after pulling up with the longest Bengals punt return in eight years. He didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and he's been talking about being ready for the monthlong Valley Forge Express that starts next week and sends the Bengals into four straight AFC North games.
"I'm not going to be a hero," Jones said, but he already is to Tish and the baby they call "Miss Triniti."
"This is the way we see him. This is the way he seems to us. People see him one way, but to us this is him," Tish said. "He's grown in every way. We've grown together. He's a good man. If he knows I'm having a bad day, he takes the time to embrace me."
They've both had plenty of bad days. But Tish was there for Jones when everything in his life blew up and he became NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's poster child for bad behavior and he was there for her when her best friend died and her father had a heart attack.
And for Miss Triniti. On Aug. 13, 2010. She was supposed to be born Nov. 13.
"He would come to the hospital and in one way it was heartbreaking because our daughter was in the middle of all those tubes, but we were so happy she was here with us," Tish said. "The nurses would see him up there every day and say, 'Daddy never smiles.'
"But when he was able to hold her and he was able to put her on his chest, they were saying, 'Now we see the smile.' "
If this doesn't sound like public enemy No. 1, how do you think Jim Wyatt, The Tennessean's ace Titans beat man, feels? Jones's off-field problems turned Wyatt into the paper's most prolific cop reporter and Jones rarely ever talked to the media in a town where he was usually in hot water.
So when Wyatt turned in his request to interview Jones this past Monday to Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan in front of Sunday's return to Nashville, Wyatt figured it would disappear.
But Jones not only called him back, he gave him 25 great minutes. He blamed himself saying he was too immature at 21 when the Titans made him the sixth pick in the 2005 draft to handle the NFL life. But he also chided the Titans for not being there for him, and praised how former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher went to bat for him.
"He never opened up like that when he was here," Wyatt said. "Of course, a lot of the time he was here he was involved in an incident. But that was definitely a side I had never seen."
This is why Sanders thought Cincinnati would be a perfect spot for Jones's last shot back in the spring of 2010. It was a brand new start and it was a town where Sanders had made some personal growth himself while he played for the Reds in the mid-1990s. He had also played for Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in Dallas and felt that Lewis's firm but fatherly figure would be good for Jones.
"Cincinnati is under the radar with good people; they let you just go play," said Sanders, now with NFL Network. "Plus, I know how much Zim had an impact on my life. I thought Adam would respond to that kind of tough coaching. And Marvin is a guy with a lot of experience dealing with all kinds of players."
Sanders stays up with Jones every morning via his phone and likes what has been beeping in.
"What I like is that he's no longer playing the victim," he said. "That's something he really had to get over. Now you hear him taking responsibility for what he did and how he has to turn his life around himself. He's taken responsibility."
Sanders doesn't mind talking about punt returns. After all, he took back six himself during his career. But he thinks Jones has the brains and skill to become a top cornerback.
"You could make an argument that he was one of the three best cornerbacks in the league when he was playing; at least a top cornerback," Sanders said of '06. "He's got that skill and now he knows more."
Jones is a Deion Kid, the generation that grew up watching Sanders, and so he says things boldly with outrageous confidence.
"I've been scoring plenty of touchdowns on punt returns," Jones said this week when asked if he was disappointed the 63-yarder didn't turn into a score. "I don't think (anybody) has scored more than me except (Devin) Hester that's been playing since I've been playing, and I sat out two years. So like I said, 'we'll see.' "
Actually, Jones is one of seven active players that has scored at least three punt return touchdowns (see chart below) since Jones scored his first three in 2006, but no matter. He backs up his swagger and his teammates know it. Even a few weeks before Jones came off the PUP list, Crocker knew what to expect.
"I don't care how long he's been out," Crocker said. "When he gets his hands on the ball, he'll do something with it. Whether it's a kick or an interception, or a fumble, whatever it is, you just know he's going to do something with it. He's one of those guys that's a playmaker."
Jones has received the benediction from Lewis and this week it was, "We didn't know him years ago, but since we've had him and been around him, he's come a long way," and it backs up what guys like Zimmer and special teams coach Darrin Simmons have been saying even while he was rehabbing his neck for the first six games of the season. Zimmer is saying "he's all in," and Simmons is saying he's going all out.
"He's a shell of what this team is, though. He wants to do it for everybody else," Simmons said. "He doesn't want to do it for himself. He wants to do it for everybody else. Watch who's jumping up and down on (Brandon) Tate's punt return. It's him. That's a pretty good essence of what the team is, I think. He's the one jumping up and down."
Just like the Bengals young players have no idea about long losing streaks against Buffalo or Jacksonville, Simmons has no concept of Jim Wyatt's Adam Jones.
"He's been great. That's your guys' headline," Simmons said of the past. "This guy wants to do one thing. He wants to play well. He's been very focused this year. He's been dying to get out there. The guy's been busting his (butt) to get himself into position to play. To get himself in shape. Trust me. It's not because he got tired as the reason he pulled up. He's been running over there more than anybody on this team. If anybody is in shape, he's the one in shape. He's been great to deal with. He's a focused guy right now."
Tish knows. She buys Jones pens and pencils because he likes to draw and he's always making pictures for Triniti. He just drew a picture of their dog "Macho," and he's been known to recreate a Disney princess or two for his five-year-old daughter.
"The thing I love about him is that he's not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve," Tish said. "And he's got a big heart when it comes to everything."
On Monday night, Tish watched from a nearby table at the downtown restaurant Holy Grail as Jones bared his soul to the world on the Bengals radio network. She heard the fans' applause, and was even asked to pose for a few pictures with him. They feel so comfortable in Cincinnati that they've recently moved into the suburbs from downtown.
"It's great to see the fans' response and how they feel about him. I know that means a lot to him. The fans are what any sport is about," she said. "I think he feels comfortable here because the team, the organization has treated him like a man and he'll tell you that he's grown up."
Triniti is now a strapping 18 pounds. Jones now knows good things take time. Like a healed hammy.
"It's kind of frustrating. I've worked my tail off; I'm in great shape," he said. "Sometimes you have a little hiccup. I'm staying positive, man. Everything is still the same, so we'll see how it goes."
But Tish knows everything is not the same.
"He's our Superman," she said.
PUNT RETURNS FOR TDs SINCE 2006
» 11 - Hester, Devin; Active
» 4 - Bush, Reggie; Active
» 4 - Jackson, DeSean; Active
» 3 - Blackmon, Will; Retired
» 3 - Ginn, Ted; Active
» 3 - Higgins, Johnnie Lee; Not with a team
» 3 - Jones, Adam; Active
» 3 - Jones, Jacoby; Active
» 3 - Parrish, Roscoe; Reserve
» 3 - Sproles, Darren; Active