The Jones brothers' big weekend
VideosUFC 152: Jon Jones
Arthur Jones III could easily have taken his answer in a somber direction.
The Ravens defensive end has just been asked to imagine how his mother, blind from diabetes the past three years, will experience Sunday night's game against the New England Patriots.
Instead of talking about what Camille Jones has lost, however, he describes how mightily she'll cheer as his fiancee narrates the plays for her.
"I swear I can hear her voice," he says. "She kind of has her own personal vision in her brain of how everything is going down."
What a vision she's about to take on.
It's not clear that any athletic family has experienced a weekend quite like the one awaiting the Joneses. On Saturday night in Toronto, middle brother Jon will attempt his fourth defense of the Ultimate Fighting Championship light-heavyweight title.
The next evening in Baltimore, eldest brother Arthur III will line up for the Ravens against little brother Chandler, a rookie defensive end for the Patriots.
Parents Arthur Jr. and Camille will attend both the fight and the game. On Thursday, they drove to Washington from their home near Binghamton, dropped their car at the airport and flew to Toronto. They'll fly back Sunday morning, along with Jon, in plenty of time to catch the Ravens and Patriots.
"It's a weekend to look forward to," Camille says. "Like Christmas."
Her lack of bitterness echoes her son's. She never got to see Jon win the light-heavyweight title or Chandler put on a Patriots jersey as the team's No. 1 pick (21st overall). But you won't hear her complain.
This is a family that has endured more than its share of hardship along with the remarkable blessings. When the boys were in grade school, they watched their older sister Carmen - a tough yet nurturing spirit who kept them in line - waste away from brain cancer. She died just before her 18th birthday.
Then their father needed open-heart surgery, and their mother lost her sight. An electrical fire in the laundry room killed the family dog, Bishop.
It would be entirely understandable if gloom pervaded the family narrative. But somehow, the Joneses sound like the most upbeat people in the world.
"People ask me, 'Do you get depressed?'" Arthur Jr. says. "And I say, 'No, we're coming along real good. We have three boys doing great things, a new house, a new dog.' I don't have time to be depressed."
Arthur III, 26, answers every question, even the ones about tough times, with a gentle smile.
"It's a blessing to have a mom and dad who love us so much and have an opportunity to watch us grow up as men," he says when asked to pinpoint the common denominator between him, Jon and Chandler. "I see myself as a reflection of my parents. One thing my brothers and I take pride in is making my parents' name great."
Jon, 25, responds similarly when asked about this weekend, saying, "It's just good for my parents to see their sons panning out this way."
The Jones brothers grew up sheltered in a house where the television was rarely on and Thursday nights were set aside for family card games. Arthur Jr. is a Pentecostal pastor at Mount Sinai Church of God in Christ, and Camille worked with developmentally disabled children until her blindness became debilitating.
Their boys toughened one another up, wrestling after school on the mats their father laid in the basement of the family's duplex. Arthur Jr. had been a wrestler himself, so he liked to tussle as well, telling the boys to fight back instead of crying.
But out of competition, they were expected to hold doors and say "yes sir" and "no sir" to their elders. To this day, none speaks with the bravado common to fighters and NFL defenders.
"They grew up in the church," Arthur Jr. says. "Their grandfather was a pastor, so they had to learn how to treat people."
Shane Hurd, who coached all three boys at Union-Endicott High School (also the alma mater of Orioles closer Jim Johnson), confirms their father's description.
"When you saw them in the hallway, they were always smiling," Hurd remembers. "They were almost champions of the little guy, not your stereotypical jocks who thought they were better than anyone. I think it had a lot to do with being around the church."
On Mother's Day two years ago, Hurd received a text from Chandler, then a star at Syracuse, wishing the high school coach's wife a happy day.
"That's the kind of kids they are," Hurd says. "They never change."
From talking to the brothers, their parents and Hurd, a consensus description emerges for each Jones.
Arthur III was the mellow, serious older brother - gentlest guy in the world with his tight circle of friends but able to flip a switch and become a grizzly bear when he took the football field or wrestling mat.
Jon was the life of the party, the one who sneaked out of his bedroom window at night and attempted crazy stunts like cliff diving. Camille worried about him more than the others.
Chandler, 22, was a mix, quieter and more purposeful than Jon but a clown and a dancer in the right setting. He never lacked independence, once marching across the road to try to join his brothers in school, even though he was still in diapers.
Arthur III and Chandler were both serious about football careers from early in high school. "They were blessed with some things, physically, that most kids don't have," Hurd says. "But they also had the drive, the wanting to be great, that came from mom and dad."
Jon had it, too, but took longer to grow into his gangly body. He got his nickname, "Bones," not from breaking limbs but from looking like a bag of them. His particular physical genius emerged on the wrestling mat.
When Jon was in high school, there was no obvious path to professional glory for a wrestler. He figured he'd grapple in college - he won a national junior college championship - and then become a cop. But his girlfriend (now fiancee), Jessie Moses, became pregnant with the couple's first child, and Jon needed to make money. So he left school behind and walked into Bomb Squad, a martial arts gym in Cortland.
He quickly emerged as a sort of evolutionary leap in the growing sport - a fighter with the wrestling background common to many UFC stars but with a freakish 84 1 / 2-inch reach and uncommon creativity. Within three years of his debut, he won the world title.
Jon says he likes the fact that, unlike Arthur or Chandler in the NFL, he's the singular man in the spotlight when he fights.
"There's no one to blame," he says. "I love that."
Establishing a career
The parents are split on which sport they prefer watching. Arthur Jr. finds the UFC crowds harsh and prefers football.
Camille worries about the dangers of the NFL; Jon has been so dominant in the UFC that she feels minimal anxiety when he fights.
For now, Jon is the biggest star of the three, a leading figure in his sport with a Nike endorsement deal. But in recent months, he has also lived the downside of fame. In May, he made headlines when he crashed his Bentley into a telephone pole in Binghamton, earning a DWI charge. Then last month, he enraged UFC promoter Dana White by refusing to face challenger Chael Sonnen on short notice, leading to the humiliating and costly cancellation of a pay-per-view event.
Though Jon will headline Saturday's pay-per-view against Brazilian Vitor Belfort, the tension with White still simmers.
The family backs him completely. "I just love the way he stands on what he stands on," Camille says. "It's really the way all three of them handle themselves. If they believe in something, they will speak up loud and clear and not let anything waver them."
The football-playing brothers haven't faced nearly so much scrutiny. Arthur III is off to a mildly disappointing start with the Ravens, trying to work through a hip injury that slowed him after an excellent training camp.
Chandler, meanwhile, has sustained the momentum that saw him rocket up draft boards after his junior season at Syracuse.
In his debut, the 21st overall pick stripped Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker on a sack, setting up a fumble-return touchdown. Coach Bill Belichick downplayed the performance of his rookies, telling the Boston media, "These guys, are you kidding me? They played one game."
But it's safe to say the Patriots, who did not make Chandler available for an interview this week, are happy with their choice.
"I knew whoever was going to get him was going to get a steal," Arthur III says.
He and Chandler have talked and texted through the early part of the season, though not much about football or their impending showdown. On Tuesday night, they played a game of Madden NFL 13 via remote link-up.
"Nothing too serious," Arthur III says. "It'll be funny to see him out there in warm-up."
On the few occasions every year when the brothers get together, the years and the responsibilities of adulthood melt away.
They're "goofballs," in Jon's words, speaking their secret shorthand, ready to wrestle over anything from a cookie to a video-game controller. "They're cubs in a litter," Arthur Jr. says. "Hugging, rubbing on each other's heads."
They never expect to be closer to anyone than they are to one another.
"It's just a lot of things that people can't understand that have brought us tighter together," Arthur III says. "We have a bond that can't be broken."