BRISTOL, Conn. — As Alton Jones was being driven to the ESPN headquarters at 6 a.m. Monday, he was still trying to grasp what had happened to him in the past 24 hours.
"(Sunday) morning when I took off to go fishing, I had no idea I'd be on a plane headed to Bristol, Conn., that night," Jones said. "I had no idea of the opportunities that I'd have."
First of all, the 44-year-old Waco, Texas, resident had an opportunity to accept a $500,000 check for winning the Bassmaster Classic. He humbly took possession of that in the "Champion's Toast" at 8 p.m. Sunday, when BASS president Tom Ricks presented it to him, along with the trophy and ring that goes with winning the 38th Classic.
It was 1 a.m. Monday when Jones' head hit the pillow in his Farmington, Conn., hotel room. By 6:45 a.m., he'd been through a quick TV make-up session and was being interviewed by Mike Golic and Erik Kuselias, who was sitting in for Mike Greenberg, on ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning Show."
Three more ESPN television interviews and an ESPN.com online chat followed intermittently until 3 p.m. when Jones was driven to the Hartford, Conn., airport for a commercial flight back to Greenville, S.C., where his wife and three children had remained.
Equally as impressive was the list of cell phone calls and telephone interviews Jones took Monday. Atop the list was a call from the White House. Interestingly, it was the President of the United States who was having a difficult time reaching Jones to congratulate him.
"That is so cool," said Jones, when first informed that the White House had called his wife, Jimmye Sue.
Then Ricks' office called to let him know that the White House was trying to reach Jones, who has a long relationship with President George Bush. They first fished together when Bush was owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, before he was governor of Texas. Over the years, they've had several occasions to visit, either by telephone or in person.
Without that personal relationship, the next Bassmaster Classic champion might not get a call from the next President, like the annual World Series and Super Bowl champions can expect. But Jones' other experiences Monday made it clear that the title of "Bassmaster Classic Champion" has risen to previously unreached heights.
In addition to the day at ESPN, Jones read a story about his victory in The New York Times and did a telephone interview with a Los Angeles Times sports columnist. He handled a dozen other media telephone interviews as well.
A Classic champion can now expect to double that $500,000 winner's check in the next year, through endorsements and other sponsorship deals, according to those in a position to know. And it's agreed that a good marketer could push those earnings considerably higher.
Jones appears to fit that profile. He's a few hours short of a computer science degree from Baylor University. "My professors used to schedule classes during the bass spawn," Jones said as his excuse for failing to finish that degree.
However, lack of a diploma from Baylor hasn't curbed his interest in high technology. Jones relied on one of the newest pieces of sonar equipment available to anglers, a Humminbird Side View, to help locate the bass in Lake Hartwell that led him to the championship. And as soon as Jones was crowned the Classic champion Sunday, a banner announcing the victory was splashed across the frontpage of his website, altonjones.com.
But no matter how much money Jones eventually earns from this Classic victory, it's doubtful it will change him any, if at all. He and Jimmy Sue have a son, Alton Jr., 15, and two daughters, Kristen, 12, and Jamie, 10.
Jimmy Sue has home-schooled the children. Most of the time, the entire family travels with Alton Sr. on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour. They are grounded by a strong Christian faith that is unlikely to be altered by money.
Jones noted that his son, who often accompanies his dad during practice days before tournaments, played a special role in his recent victory.
My son had a lot of ownership in that Classic win," Alton said. "He practiced with me all three days the week before. He was with me when I found all those spots where I caught the fish that won the tournament.
"He skipped lunch every day of the Classic, so he could be on-line, checking the blogs and getting any information he could on how I was doing."
Jimmy Sue and the kids shouldn't expect to see much of dad over the next week. The following is Jones schedule until he starts practice for the first Elite Series event of the year on Monday, March 3, at the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg, Fla.:
• Wed., Feb. 27: Bassmaster Classic followup television coverage filmed at JM Studios in Little Rock, Ark.;
• Thur., Feb. 28: Drive motor home and boat from Greenville, S.C., to Leesburg, Fla.;
• Fri., Sat., Sun., Feb. 29-March 2: Fly out of Orlando, Fla., for Bass Pro Shops appearances in Denver, Mesa, Ariz., Las Vegas, and Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Jones, already sleep deprived from competing in the Classic, then flying immediately to the ESPN studios, refused to give a thought to fatigue. He was still riding the adrenaline high of that Classic victory Monday afternoon when he said of his impending schedule: "It hurts so good."