Deacon Jones Dies at 74; Made Quarterback Sack Brutal and Enthralling
Published: June 4, 2013
Deacon Jones, a prototype of the pass-rushing defensive end who became a master of the sack and one of the National Football League’s greatest defensive players with the Los Angeles Rams’ line known as the Fearsome Foursome, died on Monday in Anaheim Hills, Calif. He was 74.
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His death was announced by the Washington Redskins through their general manager, Bruce Allen, whose father, George Allen, coached Jones with the Rams and the Redskins.
Jones had been treated for lung cancer and heart problems, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in September 2009. Jones told the newspaper then that he had undergone lung surgery and had a pacemaker installed the previous May.
Jones was a 14th-round draft pick from a historically black college, and he arrived in the N.F.L. when offensive players garnered most of the headlines. But in his 14 seasons, he parlayed his strength, his agility and his size — 6 feet 5 inches and 270 pounds or so — to glamorize defensive play.
He pounded opposing quarterbacks, rolling up dozens of sacks, and he popularized the head slap to dominate offensive linemen. He was selected six times to the All-Pro team and played in eight Pro Bowls. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and was one of three defensive ends on the all-N.F.L. 75th anniversary team selected in 1994 by a vote by members of the news media and league personnel.
The Rams had only one winning season from 1963 to 1966, the span in which all the members of the Fearsome Foursome were teammates. But Jones became a marquee figure — sometimes called the Secretary of Defense — playing left end alongside tackle Merlin Olsen, who was also chosen for the 75th anniversary team, in a line that also included right tackle Roosevelt Grier, who was known as Rosey, and right end Lamar Lundy. Lundy died in 2007 and Olsen in 2010. Jones’s death leaves Grier, 80, as the last survivor of the group.
“He had that head slap move, the constant energy, the incredible speed and the nonstop will,” Sonny Jurgensen, a Hall of Fame quarterback, told The Post-Dispatch in September 2009 when the St. Louis Rams, the successor franchise to Jones’s team, retired Jones’s No. 75.
Jurgensen remembered an encounter with Jones late in a game when the Rams were leading his Redskins by 11 points. “He comes in on a pass rush and fell down. He starts crawling on all fours trying to get to me. He’s crawling in the dirt like it was the most important play in the world, and I look at him and said, ‘Jeez-us, Deacon, it ain’t the Super Bowl.’ But that’s how much he cared.”
David Jones was born on Dec. 9, 1938, in Eatonville, Fla., where an incident he witnessed as a youngster remained seared in his psyche and fueled his determination to escape from a dead-end life in the segregationist South.
After Sunday church services, members of an all-black congregation were mingling on a lawn when white teenagers in a passing car heaved a watermelon at the group. It hit an elderly woman in the head.
“I was maybe 14 years old, but I chased that car until my breath ran out,” Jones told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 1999. “I could hear them laughing.”
The woman died of her injuries a few days later, but there was no police investigation, as Jones remembered it.
“Unlike many black people then, I was determined not to be what society said I was,” he said. “Thank God I had the ability to play a violent game like football. It gave me an outlet for the anger in my heart.”
Jones played football at South Carolina State and Mississippi Vocational — now known as Mississippi Valley State, the alma mater of the Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice — before joining the Rams.
He was known as D. J. in college, but when he arrived in the N.F.L., he sought something more distinctive and called himself Deacon, having met Deacon Dan Towler, an outstanding Rams fullback of the 1950s and one of professional football’s early black stars, who became a minister.
Jones said he believed he would have been the career sacks leader in the N.F.L. — surpassing Bruce Smith’s 200 — if individual sack totals were tallied in his era. They did not become an official statistic until 1982.
John Turney, a member of the Pro Football Researchers Association who pored over play-by-play accounts of games played long ago and studied game tape at NFL Films, concluded that Jones had 173 1/2 sacks. But Jones said that his total was well above that.
Jones has been credited with coining the term “sack.” But the statistician Seymour Siwoff of the Elias Sports Bureau once told The Kansas City Star that in the early 1960s, when he began compiling team statistics on getting to the quarterback, the N.F.L. publicist Jim Kensil invented the term.
However murky the origin of the term, Jones clearly made the sack his trademark, playing for the Rams from 1961 to 1971, the San Diego Chargers (1972-73) and the Redskins (1974).
Jones’s survivors include his wife, Elizabeth, and a stepson, Greg Pinto, The Los Angeles Times reported.
After retiring from football, Jones broadcast for the Rams on radio, acted on television, did Miller Lite beer commercials and created the Deacon Jones Foundation, based in Anaheim Hills, which provides college expenses for poor students in return for their going back to their communities for volunteer work.
Jones took pride in that, but he did not want anyone to forget his more ferocious calling.
In an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1999, he provided his imagery of the sack: “You take all the offensive linemen and put them in a burlap bag, and then you take a baseball bat and beat on the bag. You’re sacking them, you’re bagging them. And that’s what you’re doing with a quarterback.”
As for his bullying of offensive linemen: “The head slap was not my invention, but Rembrandt, of course, did not invent painting. The quickness of my hands and the length of my arms, it was perfect for me. It was the greatest thing I ever did, and when I left the game, they outlawed it.”