A Football All-American Life Transformed

Several years ago, I received a phone call from a writer at Sports Illustrated, asking me if I could connect him with a man who was homeless on the streets of Pasadena, CA, Eugene Jones.  The writer said that he would love to connect with Eugene, who he described as possibly the best linebacker prospect the Nation had ever seen in the late 1970’s.  I told him that I would ask Eugene if he was interested the next time that I saw him. 

I saw Eugene a short time later and asked him about the interview.  “Yes, I played with James McAlister and Kermit Johnson for Blair High School.  We were undefeated, 13-0, and then I played at UCLA.  I am not ready to be interviewed at this time of my life and in the current shape I am in.” 

I Google-searched Eugene’s football background and this is what I found from the Sports Illustrated Vault and other news reports from that era:


“When McAlister graduated from high school, the recruiters lined up three deep. He had three close friends at Blair: Kermit Johnson, another running back; Eugene Jones, a 6’3″, 230-pound tight end; and Billy Williams, a 6’1″, 190-pound defensive back.

To the surprise of no one, James McAlister was a runaway pick as Player of the Year in “AAAA” division football for 1969 as Southern California sports journalists met at Helms Hall to make their annual all-star football team selections. Since 1937, members of the southland press have gathered to select the top high-school grid stars and in turn honor them for their collective gridiron exploits. The 1969 season was a banner year, as records were toppled right and left.

McAlister and running mate Kermit Johnson rolled up over 4,000 yards between them in rushing offense for the season… a remarkable and unmatched feat in the southland. McAlister’s total of 2,168 yards is third best in local history, with his career mark (4,367 yards) second only to Mickey Cureton’s 4,920 yards.

The 6-foot-one, 200-pound fullback scored 31 touchdowns over the season and a total of 228 points, third best 1n CIF history. Glenn Davis set the record of 236 in 1942 and then Centennial’s Mickey Cureton set the current mark of 240 in 1966.

The Foothill League champions charged through their divisional playoff chores, whipping Bishop Amat in the finale 28-27…and more impressively than the score indicated. In the three earlier playoff encounters the Vikings murdered Hueneme 62-0 …ran away from Santa Monica 44-19 and sneaked past Lakewood 24-19, before doing in the Angelus League co-champion Lancers. It is interesting to note that Coach Pete Yoder, who directed the title-winning Vikings, also quarterbacked Downey High to the CIF title back 1n 1957. Coach Pete was an All-ClF first-team pick that year.





End………..JOHN MoKAY



Taok1e……SAM THAD





Backer…….PAUL MORO






Gradually I got to know Eugene better, and I was always impressed with his strong handshake and gentle manners.  He is a big man, and I sensed in several challenging situations that he always had my back.  He was struggling with some kind of addition, probably crack cocaine, for decades, and didn’t talk much, but he was always polite and kind to me.  I tried to encourage him to enter into programs and get help.  He sometimes rode his bike by my house and we’d talk briefly.  The last time I saw him living on the streets, he came into a Von’s grocery store and with all the money that he had was trying to buy a little something at the counter.  “Are you hungry?” I asked.  Eugene said, “Yes!”  I told him to get what he needed and I would treat him.  He came back with a loaf of bread, stack of sandwich meat, jar of mayonnaise, and a gallon of lemonade.  I told him, “Eugene, I am now the head of Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles, and if you will come in and get clean, I will find a job for you.” 

I didn’t see Eugene for several months, possibly over a year.  Then he showed up looking clean, with some of his weight back on, and beaming with pride.  “Andy, I just completed a program, I am in a halfway house, and I am here to apply for a job!” There is no way I would not keep my word.  Our Human Resources director interviewed Eugene, twice, and hired him as an usher/attendant for our guests at Union Rescue Mission.  He is doing a spectacular job, and he is letting me tell his story, of a life transformed. 


9 thoughts on “A Football All-American Life Transformed

  1. Jerry Lang on

    I am an old friend of Eugene’s, dating back to 1966, when we attended McKinley Jr. High, then Blair together. Thanks so much for this post! While I see his brother Louis on occasion and always ask after him, there has been an understandable reticence to reveal too much other than that he was doing well. I work at a used book store here in Pasadena and had the good fortune to have him come into the store a couple of times to sell books, so I was aware of his situation vis a vis substance abuse. I’m an alcoholic, thankfully clean and sober for fifteen years, which I of course shared with him in the hope that he would see that there was a solution to his problem. He so obviously wanted to change the course of his life, it’s a blessing to see that he’s now on that path. We have a 40th High School Reunion coming up next September, I am on the committee headed by a wonderful woman by the name of Cloe Mays Yocum. We’ve been fretting about getting Eugene to attend because we have no contact information. I saw Louis a few days ago and gave him my phone number to pass on to Eugene, along with the assurance that we love him and want him to attend our reunion celebration. I believe we have confirmations from both James and Kermit that they will be attending, if that’s any incentive for him.
    Of course the most important thing in his life is continued sobriety, recovery and spiritual growth, so that if he feels that any of those things would be imperiled by his attendance, then he needs to act accordingly. If you could pass on my email to Eugene it would be much appreciated.
    Thanks again,
    Jerry Lang

  2. Jack nadelle on

    I’m a friend of Gene and see him on a regular basis-3 or 4 times a month. I told him I would go to the Blair reunion with him but kind of bugged out because I was afraid I would get stuck with the $75 entrance fee for both of us!
    Gene is a good guy- I was a member of the hippie faction at Blair and Gene, of course, a super star athlete-so we didn’t know each other “back then”. Now we are a couple of old dudes-forgetting more than we remember some one should do that interview soon before it all fades away!

  3. ed taylor on

    I just came across your web page. I read your bio of Blair’s amazing 1969 team. That team left a foot print on Blair HS that created a spirit of pride and self-esteem for more than the football team. The student body, the faculty and the city shared in that team’s phenomenal success. It is still a memorable accomplishment for Pasadena schools.

    I was a 2nd-year teacher at Blair at that time. I was lucky enough to coach and teach at the school for 5 more years. The final 13 seconds of the championship game against the Pat Haden-John MacKay-led team will always be a highlight of my experience at Blair.

    The game was the best high school game I have ever seen. The most amazing part of the championship game was that Blair trailed Amat with 13 seconds remaining. Blair had the ball on their own 13yard line. On what would be the final play of the game, Blair Quarterback, Kenny Lipkin floated a short pass to Blair tight end, Eugene Jones, who proceeded to run the 87 yard touchdown play to a CIF victory for Blair.

    That win energized Blair HS and brought a feeling of pride and self-esteem for everyone associated with the school. When I left in 1974, I felt proud to be there and to share some time with Eugene Jones, he brought a respect that helped shape Blair Pride.

    I lost touch with most of the players on the team but in the 39 years since leaving Blair I always asked how Eugene was doing. No one was ever sure. But the feeling was he was having some problems with drug addiction and homelessness. Your article has helped me find the answer to how Eugene is doing.

    Andy, thanks for everything you have done and continue to do .

  4. This story is truly a treasure. As a kid growing up in Pasadena, CA, I heard many a tales of Pasadena’s greatest football team ever – Blair High School’s 1969 Football Team. Johnson, Jones and McAlister are legends in the city of Pasadena.

    Laurence Todd

  5. Billy Adams on

    My name is Billy Adams and Eugene and I played varsity basketball together. I moved away from Pasadena in 1973 to San Francisco. When I would come back to visit my parents, I would hear disturbing stories about Eugene, the homelessness, drugs, etc. It was hard to believe until I saw Eugene one day. This is got to be one of most heartfelt and emotionally beautiful stories I have ever read about someone who turned their life around. I live back east now and my friend sent me this article and I am so grateful that he sent it to me. My prayers and blessings are with Eugene and his family. All I can say is I love you Eugene. Go to your reunion man.

  6. Gary Keough on

    I was a member of Blair’s 1969 CIF Championship football team and very proud to have Eugene Jones as my friend. Eugene played tight end on offense, and defensive end on defense. I was the other defensive end so opponents generally ran to my side to avoid him. Eugene was a gifted athlete and intense competitor… A better teammate you could not ask for. I last saw Eugene at Blair’s 30 year reunion at the Pasadena Hilton, and yes, very sad to see him homeless. When he was in high school he didn’t even drink or smoke pot. It’s very nice to see him being remembered so fondly. To keep the record straight for the previous writers, Blair”s last second win was against Lakewood HS in the Semi-finals, not Bishop Amat… And Billy Williams was a sure-handed wide receiver, not a defensive back. Hello to all you Vikings out there!

  7. Jim Geesman on

    I was on the sideline when Blair ran that down and out. Eugene Jones beat Gary Brewsaugh and easily slipped his tackle attempt. Kim Hannaford at safety was one of our fastest players, but couldn’t catch Eugene. We played against and lost to Haden and McKay’s Bishop Amat the next year. That 87 yard play by Eugene Jones was against Lakewood, and I will never forget it.

  8. Thanks for the correction Gary K. And hello to all of my fellow Vikings. Billy Williams

  9. Chris Erhard on

    How often I have wondered where Eugene was and how he was….Eugene was never just an ordinary friend, but always sincere and articulate, someone who really could have been anything he wanted to be, someone my mother loved. That things are going well for him now make me happy, but waiting so long to finally know has been hard, since every return trip to Pasadena over the years has had me thinking about him. My house burned to the ground some years ago so now all I have is my memories. It is more than good to know Eugene is staying connected to people who care about him…there are many of us. Thanks to Jerry and Gary, too…someone please tell Eugene if and when you see him I wouldn’t know any of this if I had not been searching for him on the internet.

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