Their friendship started because of their names.
Coby. Jacoby. It made too much sense.
But Baltimore native Coby R. and former Ravens wide receiver/returner Jacoby Jones have developed a friendship that is rooted in so much more these days.
Coby, 11, has an aggressive form of brain cancer that he’s been battling for more than two years. He was first diagnosed in December of 2014, and ever since, he’s endured treatment after treatment and multiple surgeries.
Even before he was diagnosed, Coby’s favorite player was Jones. That has only been entrenched over the past couple years.
Jones, if you remember, caught the “Mile High Miracle” in Denver during the Ravens’ championship playoff run. Jones was again a hero in the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII win, including a record-tying 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
“Because his cancer is so aggressive, he’s looking for miracle-type cures,” said Coby’s mom, Avigail. “Miracles really resonate with our family.”
The first time the pair spoke was when Jones called Coby on FaceTime just before his first surgery to tell him to be strong. When Coby lost all his hair in 2014, Jones came to play football with Coby and 10 kids from his class.
Now, Jones regularly FaceTime’s Coby to talk, trade prank ideas and share laughs. For example, Jones told Coby to put toothpaste between two Oreos and leave it for his older brothers. Sometimes they’ll talk four times in a week. Jones used to call Avigail first, but now that Coby has his own phone, the two probably talk more often than Avigail even knows.
When Coby accomplishes something in physical therapy, such as wiggling his toe or moving his foot, he’ll insist that his mom send the video to Jones.
“They are very, very close,” Avigail said. “They’re pretty much in constant contact.”
A year ago, Coby had a major relapse. The cancer had spread to his spine, which meant that he lost much of his mobility. Last season, after watching a player get injured during a game, Coby joked that riding in a cart was the only kind of football move he could do these days.
That’s when Avigail came up with the idea. Wouldn’t it be cool to give Coby a ride off M&T Bank Stadium’s field on a trainer’s cart?
Chai Lifeline Mid-Atlantic, an organization that brings fun to seriously ill children, stepped in to help. The organization, including Coby’s big brother and regional director, Tzvi Haber, worked with the Ravens to coordinate a visit to the stadium on Feb. 1.
What Coby didn’t realize is that his old buddy would show up too. Jones flew from his home in Texas just to spend some time with his friend at the stadium.
“The look on his face when Jacoby was coming in was unbelievable,” Avigail said. “His whole face lit up. I haven’t seen that amount of joy in a long time.”
As Coby went onto the field, Jones smiled and said, “You want to see what 108 yards feels like?” Jacoby pushed Coby the length of the field, just the two of them together. They lined up in formations and rode together on the trainer’s cart, driven by Poe.
Outside of the locker room, Coby took special notice of the team’s “W.I.N.” sign, standing for “What’s Important Now.” The family references that often these days as Coby continues to battle his cancer. Coby got a tour of the locker room, which was equipped with a locker with Coby’s name on it and autographed gear from quarterback
At the end of the day, the family and Jones got together for a huddle. That’s when Jones shared how Coby has given him strength the past couple of years.
After his storybook 2012 season, Jones’ tenure with the Ravens ended two years later. Jones played in San Diego and Pittsburgh in 2015, and no team signed him last season, meaning his playing days are likely over.
“Jacoby said he had a hard time,” Avigail said. “He loved the Ravens, and it was difficult. But he said Coby gave him a lot of strength through that. And now the fact that he isn’t playing football doesn’t matter. It’s eye opening to what’s important in life.”
Coby’s new experimental treatment plan is very encouraging, and he’s making definite progress. Still, it’s a lot of work. Coby’s monthly cycle is chemotherapy for one week, then experimental treatment all other weeks. He goes to physical therapy for three hours twice a week.
Coby continues to fight. And on Friday, he took his first couple of steps in months.
Even though Jones is no longer a Raven, he’s still a hero to some in Baltimore.
“It was incredible. It was exactly what Coby needed,” Avigail said of Jones’ visit. “You need a real-life superhero at a time like this. He needs days when something magical happens.”