The surreal has lost its sur.
America continues to close its doors faster than downtown Mayberry at dinnertime. Old-school educators navigating online video classroom conferencing resemble cave men seeing fire for the first time. A public sneeze is punishable by firing squad.
Yet some things remain the same. Ohio days are mostly overcast. And Cardale Jones remains positive.
It is one of those March afternoons when blue skies exist only in theory. Jones is driving from Columbus to Cleveland to check on family. The world is whimpering from the coronavirus, and the former Ohio State quarterback acknowledges the oddity of the moment.
"It’s a weird time," he said. "There are no sports and 90% of the country is out of work right now."
Jones is among those unemployed. Sort of. He helped out a friend for a day at L.E.P.D. gun shop and range on Bethel Road, but 12-gauge is not hurting for money. The inaugural XFL season was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the league has pledged to pay its players their full season’s salary.
Jones, who was 3-2 as a starter for the DC Defenders, is among a handful of quarterbacks getting paid at least $495,000, according to Yahoo Sports. He’s not complaining, because a) that’s a lot of money; and b) at some point during the past five years, Jones made a conscious effort to work on being optimistic about everything.
"Somebody always has it worse," he said last week. "That’s why I approach each and every day as trying to stay positive."
The sky is silver, not leaden. COVID-19 creates fear, but in his public service online video for the Ohio Department of Health, Jones educates the public on washing hands with soap for 20 seconds and practicing social distancing so "we can get through this together."
You may recall that Jones once dismissed class; that finding the bright side of life was not always the case. Jones arrived at Ohio State in 2012 complaining about having to "play school." He quickly moved on from that display of teen immaturity, but still was muttering about lack of playing time right until the final few weeks of the 2014 regular season.
Things changed dramatically in the 2014 Michigan game at Ohio Stadium when Jones entered after J.T. Barrett suffered a broken right ankle in the fourth quarter and OSU leading 28-21. The Buckeyes won 42-28, then went 3-0 through the Big Ten championship game and first College Football Playoff to win the national championship. Jones’ legend was cemented into Buckeyes lore.
The following season saw a return to confusion for Jones, but this time he handled the setbacks like a leader. Despite going 7-0 as the starter in 2015, Jones lost his job to Barrett. Instead of pouting, he looked at the QB switch practically.
"I get it, because I look at both sides," he said recently. "From the coaching aspect, you have to put the team in the best situation to win. I am an extremely fair person when it comes to my career."
Also extremely confident, to the point of seeing only smooth sailing where others see shipwreck. Case in point: After beginning the XFL season 2-0 and gaining mention as a possible league MVP while leading the league in passer rating, Jones’ next three games went sideways. In DC’s last game before the season was canceled, he was benched early in the first quarter in favor of Tyree Jackson.
Jones’ viewpoint? Nothing to see here.
"Things were going good," he said.
Head in the sand or screwed on right? I go with the latter, because in topsy-turvy times like these, hope needs to win the day.
Jones is 27. Some will always see him as the fun-loving and feisty 19-year-old, but his current messaging is 100% adult: "We can get through this together."
The solo artist has become a team player. That is not to say Jones is shy with his opinions, but age and experience have taught him that sometimes it is best to think it without saying it.
But not always. Jones detested how Fox Sports mic’ed the sidelines during XFL games.
"They shove a camera in my face and ask, ‘What were you thinking after the interception?’ What do they want me to say, that I love throwing to a guy in the other color jersey?" he said.
Jones didn’t come here to play the fool. That is the positive truth.