Pick any Monday. A little after the time the Chiefs finish up at the facility for the day, you can expect Chris Jones to arrive at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, an iconic barbecue spot on 47th Avenue, quaintly boxed inside a facility that is also a gas station and a liquor store.
He orders the burnt ends along with a Z Man sandwich, which normally contains smoked beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese and a pair of onion rings on a toasted kaiser. Jones substitutes a chicken breast for the brisket.
By now, he has learned everyone’s name. He can wander back into the pit, and it wouldn’t be strange. He can hang out with Austin, the son of marketing director Eric Tadda, and talk football, or diet (cheat meal Monday notwithstanding and, yes, in Kansas City barbecue restaurants have marketing directors). He’s been spotted—and shared on social media—pulling up a chair and sitting with a family who has a vacant seat.
“It’s truly organic and real,” Tadda says. “People love to wait on him, and they expect him to come in.”
One could also make a hobby out of spotting where he lines up before laying waste to opponents’ offensive designs. For example: Against the Bengals in the conference championship game, he drew two offensive linemen on roughly two-thirds of his snaps. On a handful of snaps, three blockers were allocated to stop him. Yet, he finished the game with a pair of sacks, 10 quarterback pressures and five quarterback hits. Defensive end Frank Clark told reporters after that game that Jones was the “most unstoppable player in football.”
NFL analysts, when projecting how the Chiefs’ Super Bowl matchup against the Eagles might go, point to Jones like a plinth on which the rest of the game could turn. Should he find a weakness in Philadelphia’s offensive line that he’s able to puncture, he has the ability to both swallow up a quarterback, but also to bulldoze an entire scheme that predicates itself on being able to run the football.
His role as the most integral part of the Chiefs’ defense is a main reason why he is beloved wherever he goes in Kansas City, gas station barbecue or otherwise. But those who know Jones say that he has also achieved a lofty status within the community—and the locker room—for many other reasons. There are players who send a personal assistant to pick up their burnt ends and others who make a day out of it. Jones, who is from the small town of Houston, Miss., seems to have made himself whole in his adopted hometown.
Consider the following from a kind of mysterious, Bill Murray–esque tour de force of goodwill.
• Jones hosted Special Olympics athletes at a training camp practice in 2019. In ’20, while the pandemic sidelined the event, he donated nearly 30% of the fundraising goal set by Special Olympics Kansas City to send each athlete an encouraging message during a time when they couldn’t compete.
• Jones is a regular in the Mosaic Health network, popping in to visit with sick children.
• After hitting a 10-sack threshold in 2022, which triggered a bonus of $1.25 million, Jones purchased Rolex watches for each of his teammates on the defensive line, as well as his defensive line coach, Joe Cullen. When asked about the gesture a few days before the Super Bowl, Cullen smiled and raised the shirt sleeve on his left arm, revealing the silver timepiece. He was curious who squealed, insisting that Jones would have never admitted to it. The watch arrived at his house just before Christmas.
“No one knew he was going to do it,” Cullen says. “He’d do anything for anybody. Chris has a big heart.”
• On a whim, Jones flew himself and his agents on a tour of culinary bucket list items, starting in New York City at Katz’s Deli (pastrami sandwich), Wolfgang’s (porterhouse), 4 Charles (cheeseburger) and Lai Wah Heen (Peking duck and lobster dumplings).
• Reggie Buchanan, a coach at Jones’s alma mater, Houston High School, says Jones pops in to read to lower elementary school kids when he’s around. Just a few weeks ago, Jones donated $200,000 to the school, a sum significant enough that the school isn’t quite sure what they’ll do with it yet. “He brings everybody joy when he’s around,” Buchanan says. “Houston is a small town that’s mostly a baseball and basketball town—football players usually end up working at the furniture plant! But Chris has changed that.”
Adds Chiefs general manager Brett Veach: “He’s just a great personality,” before noting that he feels like he’s the only person in the building who has not been gifted a Rolex by Jones. “He’s one of those guys that, no matter what kind of day you’re having, you see him, you’re smiling. It’s no surprise that he’s infused himself in the community.”
Which brings us back to the barbecue place. Jones came in one day and asked about improving the community. With no Kansas City–based personal assistant or marketing manager, Jones asked Tadda if the barbecue joint could help him out. A few weeks later he was shoveling turkeys out of a loaded truck, handing off meals to more than 200 hungry families. Before Christmas, Jones collaborated on a venture for Safehome, a shelter in the area that houses survivors of domestic abuse. Over the course of a few fundraisers, Jones provided autographed helmets, jerseys and footballs to be auctioned. He also teamed with Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que for a promotion, asking customers to add 95 cents to their bill (Jones’s jersey number). Heidi Wooten, the president and CEO of Safehome, said that Jones’s contributions totaled more than $25,000.
For a small charity that operates at a roughly $8 million annual budget (those interested can find more information here), the injection of funding just before the holidays helped purchase extra bedding, food and car seats, and covered attorney fees, mental health services and other necessities for families fleeing a dangerous situation. Safehome helps get survivors and their children back to work or school amid their crises, including new clothes so that they don’t have to go back wearing the same thing they left in the day before.
Wooten says that Kansas City is currently in a postpandemic pandemic, meaning that they’re just now starting to come to grips with the realities of in-home violence that festered during a time of quarantine. Cases of nonfatal strangulation are up 110% percent alone, she said.
“Hospitals fielding calls this year were up 68%,” Wooten says. “Domestic violence was happening during COVID, but there was no place for anyone to go. Now, we’re just being flooded. The need has just grown so substantially, and our funding hasn’t grown to match that. We’re overloaded.”
Wooten echoes a common line from those in the social service and charitable giving business: Anything helps. Everything will be put to use. A $10 donation is great. So is $20. Crossing paths with Jones is just a different kind of help. The kind that still leaves her scanning through memories and photographs of their time together with a smile.
“Having him behind us makes us feel like we can do a lot of things,” she says.