NFC West: Deacon Jones

Revisiting Rams' Mount Rushmore

February, 17, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In light of LeBron James' discussion of the NBA's version of Mount Rushmore last week, I took a shot at compiling a Rams version. I included players from all eras and found it a difficult exercise given the many great players and coaches through the franchise's history.

When all was said and done, I settled on a foursome of defensive end Deacon Jones, defensive tackle Merlin Olsen, running back Marshall Faulk and quarterback Kurt Warner. I gave a detailed explanation of each choice here but when boiling it down I looked at it from the perspective of telling the story of the franchise with four faces.

To me, that means having the defining eras of Rams football represented. The Fearsome Foursome and the Greatest Show on Turf are the most famous eras of the franchise. That isn't to take away from the guys who didn't play in those eras but I'm not sure the best story of the Rams can be told without those. Hence, both of those eras are equally represented on my Mount Rushmore.

But because this isn't something that comes with a definitive right answer, I wanted to open it up to my Twitter followers to see what they thought. In all, 38 people responded and the results were a little bit different than my quartet.

Here's the final tally from the kind respondents on Twitter:

Deacon Jones - 26
Isaac Bruce - 21
Jack Youngblood - 20
Marshall Faulk - 19
Kurt Warner - 17
Eric Dickerson - 16
Merlin Olsen - 12
Orlando Pace - 6
Elroy Hirsch - 4
Jackie Slater - 4
Norm Van Brocklin - 3
Dick Vermeil - 1
Torry Holt - 1
Henry Ellard - 1
Mike Jones - 1

Using those results of this relatively small sample size, the fans choice for a Mount Rushmore of Rams would be Jones, Bruce, Youngblood and Faulk.

I can't say I was surprised by the choice of Bruce and Youngblood, both of whom were right there with Dickerson as my toughest omissions. I was, however, a bit surprised to see Olsen trailing behind as much as he was. I suppose Jones gets the lion's share of the publicity for his work with the Fearsome Foursome but Olsen's accomplishments are matched by few players in the league, let alone in franchise history.

Really, you can't go wrong with any of the names above and all of those mentioned have rightfully earned a place in the memory of Rams and football fans everywhere.

How Rams plan to honor Deacon Jones

August, 23, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After losing one of their most treasured franchise players in June, the Rams plan to honor legendary defensive end Deacon Jones in a couple of ways this season.

The team announced Friday that it will honor Jones by wearing a round, black decal with Jones’ No. 75 and a Rams head logo on the back of each player’s helmet for the entire 2013 season. Further, the team has invited several members of Jones’ family to attend the regular-season opener Sept. 8, where they will be honored during the game.

“Deacon Jones was a legend who was cherished by generations of NFL fans and players,” Rams Executive Vice President of Football Operations/C.O.O. Kevin Demoff said in a statement. “Our team is proud to wear his number on our helmets throughout the season to honor his meaning to this organization.”

Jones died on June 3 at the age of 74 in his home in Anaheim Hills, Calif.

Soon after Jones’ passing, the NFL announced the creation of the Deacon Jones Award, which will go to the league’s leader in sacks every year.
Deacon JonesLong Photography/USA TODAY SportsDeacon Jones, a Hall of Fame defensive end, was the leader of the L.A. Rams' left side from 1961-71.
Quarterback Johnny Unitas and receiver Raymond Berry had been tormenting NFL Western Conference defenses with the deep ball when along came David "Deacon" Jones and a new wave of defensive linemen to spoil the fun.

"The main pattern we were using took three and a half seconds to throw it," Berry recalled during a 2008 interview. "I could run down 10 yards and break square in and three steps and I'd plant and take off back to the corner."

Unitas-to-Berry had set apart the Baltimore Colts for years. But life was changing for them in the early 1960s. Vince Lombardi began assembling the Green Bay Packers' championship defense. Jones, who died Monday at age 74, combined with Merlin Olsen to give the Los Angeles Rams arguably the most dominant left side in NFL history. In Detroit, meanwhile, the Lions had the great Alex Karras.

"What happened in our division is those three-and-a-half-second routes became history," Berry said. "In order to get the ball off when we played those people, and it represented six games, we would throw the ball in 1.8, 1.9 or 2.1 seconds at the most. Get it out of there. Because you couldn't keep people out of there."

At the time, rules governing holding prevented offensive linemen from slowing the rush by grabbing onto opponents' jerseys. Defensive linemen could slap offensive linemen on the side of the helmet to facilitate their rushes.

Jones, at 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds, refined the head-slap to a martial art.

"The head-slap was not my invention, but Rembrandt, of course, did not invent painting," Jones once said.

The NFL would eventually legislate some of Jones' preferred tactics out of the game to promote passing and spare quarterbacks.

"Deacon Jones was a game changer."

-- Rams DE Chris Long
"The league has legalized what was considered holding when we played," Berry said. "I did a several-years study on how much time you had against a great pass-rush team. You had to get that ball out of there. Today, that has totally changed, giving quarterbacks one or two seconds of additional time."

Jack Patera played on the Baltimore Colts' defense with Hall of Fame defensive end Gino Marchetti before serving as a defensive line coach for the Rams beginning in 1963, Jones' second season. Patera coached the Rams' famed "Fearsome Foursome" line for five seasons. He later coached the "Purple People Eaters" line under Bud Grant in Minnesota.

Patera, now 79, knows defensive linemen, in other words. He's also honest and direct in his assessments. Carl Eller was as talented as they came, but didn't apply himself consistently. Jim Marshall was stronger, pound for pound, than just about anyone, and more consistent, too. Olsen was nearly perfect in everything he did -- an "A" student at his craft.

Then there was Deacon Jones.

"Gino Marchetti was the superb defensive end of my playing time and for David Jones, he was probably the best I had ever seen, consistently," Patera said Tuesday. "Jim Marshall was the most consistent player, but Deacon had him by a step or two in his overall performance."

Patera recalled Jones as a raw 14th-round draft choice and a player the Rams had initially considered at offensive tackle.

"He had all the speed and strength, but he had a stance like those 1920 pictures you see, guys squatting like a frog with their hand between their legs," Patera recalled with a laugh. "He didn't know anything about playing defense, but all he had to do was get his butt up in the air and let him take off. Once we got him in a stance where he could get off the ball, there wasn't a whole lot to teach him. Everything was very simple to him."

Jones played a great game and talked one, too. Former Dallas Cowboys tackle Rayfield Wright, a Hall of Famer, shared a classic story with Sports Illustrated about a 1969 matchup against Jones.

"As an offensive lineman, you're taught only to hear the quarterback's voice, nothing else," Wright told the magazine. "I'm listening in case there's an audible, and in the pause between 'Huts!' I hear a deep, heavy voice say, 'Does yo' mama know you're out here?' It was Deacon Jones."

Jones, an eight-time Pro Bowl choice, coined and popularized the term "sack" before the NFL tracked the stat officially. He laid the foundation for a rich tradition of Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams defensive ends and outside pass-rushers. Jack Youngblood, Kevin Greene, Kevin Carter, Leonard Little, Chris Long and all the others know the history and know Jones' founding role in it.

"Yes, there is a fairly strong brotherhood, especially Deacon and I and when Merlin was still with us -- a real strong bond," Youngblood said in an interview last year.

Youngblood and Jones were on the Rams together before the team traded Jones, clearing the way for Youngblood.

"Those were awfully big shoes to fill," Youngblood said. "Deacon had been All-Pro and the sack leader and the whole nine yards for so many years. I’m thinking, this is going to be a leap here."

Chuck Knox, the Rams' steely head coach, called Youngblood into his office.

"He looked me down and gave me that Chuck Knox look and said, 'All right, it's your job, don't let me down.' It's my second year in the business and he's going, 'Don't let me down.' That was significant for me. That said he thought enough of my ability that I was going to be able to do the job for him."

Jones went into the Hall of Fame with the 1980 class. Youngblood followed in 2001.

"All those guys are awesome," Long said last season. "I was lucky enough to play with Leonard Little, who was just a great player. And when I changed my number to 91, I told him I was just renting the number. Greene was a 100-plus sack guy, Kevin Carter a 100-plus sack guy. Jack Youngblood and his legacy is his toughness along with his skill. I mean, it’s just legendary. And Deacon Jones was a game changer.

"All those guys, just to be playing left end for the St. Louis Rams is a pretty cool history, especially when you put all the names together. It’s impressive."

video
Good morning, NFC West.

We are going to remember and appreciate former Los Angeles Rams defensive end David "Deacon" Jones' career on this day following his passing at age 74.

The NFL calendar pauses long enough for reflection at this time of year, which is great because Jones' legend demands it.

"Secretary of Defense" was Jones' nickname even though the eight-time Pro Bowl choice had no use for diplomacy. He head-slapped opposing offensive linemen on his way to the quarterback and personally coined the term "sack" -- years before the NFL began tracking the stat in 1982. The way he explained the term in a 2009 Los Angeles Times piece was vintage Jones.

"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," Jones said. "You're sacking them, you're bagging them. And that's what you're doing with a quarterback."

Jones combined with fellow Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen on the left side of the Los Angeles Rams' Fearsome Foursome line also featuring Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier.

I would encourage you to check out his Hall of Fame induction speech, preserved on the Hall's website in an audio file. Jones spoke of his road to the NFL and his personal philosophy. His comments provide some framework for his career and approach.

"Violence in its many forms is an involuntary quest for identity," Jones said then. "When our identity is in danger, we feel certain that we have a mandate for war. In 1957, David Jones, a tough, unwavering, outspoken student from the predominantly black South Carolina State College, declared his own private war against the racial injustices that were prevalent at that time, the inadequacies facing him in education, in sports and in business and launched his own campaign of aggression against a group of society that would spark his persistence and determination to reinforce his identity for many years to come."

Jones' identity is secure.

"There has never been a better football player than Deacon Jones," Olsen said in that 2009 Los Angeles Times piece.

Deacon Jones, 1938-2013

June, 4, 2013
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Fearsome Foursome legend Deacon Jones' passing Monday at age 74 provides an opportunity to reflect upon one of the greatest defensive ends in NFL history.

We'll do that beginning Tuesday.

Jones, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980 after spending most of his 14-year career with the Los Angeles Rams, epitomized violent play in the NFL before the league made efforts to protect quarterbacks and everyone else. He remained unapologetic and defiant to the end, including during a 2011 interview with XTRA910 AM radio in Phoenix:

"If you ain't sent but one man, there's going to be a casualty that day. No, I'm not a guy you send one man against. I'm a hitman. I come to hurt people. I wouldn't advise that. I come to hurt you. Me and the commissioner would talk the same language, man. I come to take you out. OK, now, I don't know what the other guys tell you. I come to take you out. Hospital. And if you go the next step, it doesn’t' bother me -- not one bit. That was my approach to the game. I am not going to lie to you about it. I could not play now. Are you kidding me? I wouldn't be making no money. I would owe the league money.


Jones' passing leaves Rosey Grier as the last living member of the Rams' Fearsome Foursome line also featuring Lamar Lundy and Merlin Olsen.

Around the NFC West: Expert opinions

August, 17, 2012
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San Francisco 49ers coaches know they can trust Alex Smith to execute their game plan and lead the offense.

They appreciate the quarterback's temperament, too.

Greg Roman, the 49ers' offensive coordinator, explained the appeal during a conversation Wednesday.

"Extremely even-keeled," Roman said of Smith. "That was evidenced last year in a lot of the games when we needed to make some fourth-quarter comebacks to win. As a team and a coach, you can certainly draw on that because you know what you’re getting every day and you can plan accordingly."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Jim Harbaugh held up Smith as having become an "expert" in the 49ers' offense about a year ahead of schedule. Harbaugh: "He's very smart. He already has great ideas. He already is very creative. He already is knowledgeable in how to use everything in the system. ... He's way ahead of the curve. I think after a year, you really know it. It takes about two years in the system to be a real expert at it. He's cut that in half." Noted: It's pretty clear the 49ers are expecting good things from Smith this season. San Francisco faces most of the top quarterbacks in the NFL this season. How will Smith measure up?

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers' offense put together another strong day in camp.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers cornerback Perrish Cox will not face an NFL suspension this season after missing 2011 during legal proceedings associated with a sexual-assault case. Cox was acquitted.

Also from Barrows: Alex Boone has worked to overcome alcohol-related troubles.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says Randy Moss appears to be having fun and working hard, according to Smith.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle profiles 49ers receiver Brian Tyms, who has overcome much during his journey to the NFL. Branch: "He was physically abused by both biological parents, and each incident prompted the Department of Children and Families to intercede. At 7, his mother, Jada Tyms, who had split with his biological father, hit him in a store and the incident was reported. His half-sister, Alysha Bernett, went to live with a grandfather and Tyms began his odyssey in group homes and foster care. After three years in group homes, his biological dad, Kenneth Stephens, was granted custody, but the arrangement in Seattle lasted less than two years. Deep into alcoholism, Stephens and Brian, then about 11, got into a physical altercation and his dad began choking him."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' new leadership welcomes back former players, a change from recent seasons. Torry Holt and Aeneas Williams have been at camp this week, offering tips to players. Holt: "It's good for guys to see the history of our organization because we've got a lot of history in this organization. I've talked about it before. When I was a rookie and a couple years in the league, Deacon Jones and Jack Youngblood, they'd come back and talk to us and just talk about the pride and the tradition of Rams football. And I mentioned that to the receivers in the (meeting) room. I said, 'There's a standard here in regards to the receiving position, all the way back to Henry Ellard, Crazylegs (Hirsch), Flipper Anderson, myself, Isaac (Bruce), Ricky (Proehl) -- the list goes on and on of guys that played the position at a high level. So keeping that standard, keeping that tradition alive, I think it's huge."

Also from Thomas: Sam Bradford downplays concerns over his ankle.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com sees progress from rookie receiver Brian Quick: "Quick is getting reps with the first team this week and he’s now put together perhaps his two best practices of his young career. He skied for a ball from Kellen Clemens in 7 on 7s and brought it down in the end zone then proceeded to catch everything thrown his way during the workout. Jeff Fisher said Quick looked like he did at his now famous workout at Appalachian State and said maybe Quick just likes the indoors. That could bode well since the Rams play indoors."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Terrell Owens enjoyed another strong practice: "Owens caught a half dozen passes today, including one where he got behind Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Browner and another where he fought his way through being jammed by rookie cornerback Jeremy Lane. Owens is playing flanker, although Pete Carroll has said he’d also like to look at the 6-foot-3, 224-pound Owens as a possible replacement Mike Williams at split end."

Also from Farnsworth: camp awards featuring Marshawn Lynch (offense), Richard Sherman (defense) and Robert Turbin (rookie) as top players.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times sees good things from Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung. Line coach Tom Cable: "The thing that's changed for him is how detailed he has become. I thought before, he was a really talented guy who knew he was talented. In this league, there's so much more to it. And I think with great respect to him, he has really succumbed to that. That it's not about where they picked me. It's not about what my talent is. It's about what I put into it. He has done a marvelous job."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says coach Ken Whisenhunt put the Cardinals on alert this week. Also, receiver Larry Fitzgerald addressed the team about stepping up its game. Somers on the QB situation: "John Skelton has been adept at avoiding pressure and buying himself time. But he missed a lot of open receivers in practice this week. Improving accuracy remains his priority. Kevin Kolb, in contrast, looks uncomfortable in the pocket, as if he doesn't trust his protection, or that a receiver is going to come open."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com is watching to see which cornerbacks step up over the remaining exhibition games. Urban: "Interesting that DC Ray Horton mentioned to Kent Somers no cornerback has really challenged William Gay for the starting spot opposite Patrick Peterson. I didn’t get the impression that was because Gay has been flawless either. It’s one of the reasons this game means a lot to the defense too -- where is that unit with the 2011 closing kick?"

Josh Weinfuss of azcardinals.com passes along thoughts from center Lyle Sendlein on the Cardinals' preseason struggles. Sendlein: "For whatever reason we’re locking up mentally when we’re getting out there. It’s things our coaches go over with us the day before and that’s why they’re so disappointed in us because they know we can do it. There’s a fine line of being relaxed and being uptight and I don’t think we’re uptight. I think we’re just trying to do too much. I know we are good and we will be good but the problem is we’re just trying to do more than (our) job and when you do that, you make mistakes and things aren’t executed the way they should be."

Jack Youngblood's ticked? A few thoughts

October, 27, 2011
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Jack Youngblood's Pro Football Hall of Fame bio recalls a postseason performance featuring a sack, forced fumble, blocked extra-point attempt and 47-yard interception return for a touchdown.

That performance and others made Youngblood a favorite among Los Angeles Rams fans. As for the folks in St. Louis? Not so much. Their Cardinals were on the receiving end of that vintage 1975 postseason effort from the legendary defensive end.

[+] EnlargeJack Youngblood
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireFormer Los Angeles Rams star Jack Youngblood on the St. Louis Rams: "We are their legacy, but they forgot us."
The Rams would move to St. Louis two decades later, creating a gap between the organization and players from the Los Angeles era.

The team thinks it has done plenty to bridge that gap and said so emphatically on its website Thursday, but only after Youngblood's latest diatribe against the organization.

"We are their legacy, but they forgot us," Youngblood told ESPNLosAngeles.com this week. "They don't have anything to do with us, really."

That is not true, according to a 697-word accounting the team published Thursday. That accounting said the Rams' recent efforts to connect with their past included jersey-retirement ceremonies for Deacon Jones and Isaac Bruce; game-day appearances by 10 retired St. Louis-era players, including Grant Wistrom and Orlando Pace; and game-day ceremonies honoring Eric Dickerson, Tom Mack, Merlin Olsen (through Olsen's son) and Youngblood himself.

"In an effort to recognize the great players who wore horns before the team’s move to St. Louis, the club has also honored all living Rams’ Hall of Famers from the Club’s time in Los Angeles," the website piece reads. "The first player to be honored was Jack Youngblood, who was honored at the Edward Jones Dome in October of 2009."

It's pretty clear the Rams took offense to Youngblood's comments and wanted their side of the story told. I asked Rams fans for their feedback on the matter and will break out some of those thoughts below.

"As a Rams fan since 1970, I am appalled at the things that are going on/have been going on at Rams Park," bigdaddyc9 wrote. "To outright cast off those legacy players is wrong. Since 'Spags' has been there, some very odd decisions on his part have made relationships with former players even more strained."

Coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney have indeed replaced some of the longer-tenured employees with ties to the Los Angeles days. But one of the better safeties in Rams history, Nolan Cromwell, coaches receivers for the team.

"The Rams have bigger problems than Jack Youngblood feeling left out," QBSamTheRam wrote.

Spoken like a St. Louis-era Rams fan, most likely.

"I'm from Orange County and grew up an avid Rams fan," paulbro23 wrote. "I felt completely betrayed and abandoned when they left Anaheim and moved to St. Louis, and have despised the team and the franchise ever since -- so much so, that I eventually switched my allegiances to the 49ers. ... I recognize it's a business, but they had no problem turning their backs on their SoCal fans, so why not do the same to their entire history here. I hope they go winless this year and remain among the worst teams in the league."

Another former Los Angeles-era fan, Lammergeier99, said he was a Rams fan during the George Allen days, then became a fan of the football Cardinals in St. Louis and Arizona.

"It was very odd that the Rams moved to St. Louis and that the Cardinals moved to Phoenix," he wrote. "I only wish that the Cardinals could somehow get the Rams' 1960s Defense right now. Kevin Kolb could then concentrate on learning the offense. You don't need to score points in bunches when your 'D' is holding the opponent down."

There's one thing even Jack Youngblood and the Rams could agree upon. I think.
Four quick thoughts on the NFL's latest rules changes addressing player safety:
  • The changes attack the culture. Previous changes have emphasized specific rules. These changes seek to address the broader culture that encourages such hits even when in violation of the rules. I'm not sure whether fining teams will make a huge difference, but if the commissioner is serious about going so far as to strip teams of draft choices, you can bet coaches will focus on playing within the rules. The old-school attitude will resist these changes, but if the greater emphasis leads to improved tackling at the expense of reckless hitting, everyone wins. I just have a hard time believing the league would actually take away draft choices.
  • The rules themselves make sense. Reasonable protections for defenseless players are good for all. These latest changes sound reasonable. Players should not be able to launch themselves forward and upward to use their helmets as weapons against other players' helmets. Receivers who have not had time to protect themselves after making receptions should not have to worry about defenders hitting them in the head or neck area with helmets, facemasks, forearms or shoulders. Football will remain a collision sport. These rules will not make it otherwise.
  • Motives are secondary. The labor situation invites skepticism as to the NFL's intentions. The league stands to gain politically by pushing for measures to protect players. These changes cost the league nothing while allowing owners to claim they're looking out for players, even as they lock them out. These changes also put owners in better position to say they've been proactive should a player die from injuries suffered on the field. Players' skepticism is justified, but if the changes make sense, motives matter less.
  • Huge hits are fun to watch. I'll admit to enjoying those old clips showing Dick "Night Train" Lane nearly decapitating opponents with tactics that would draw suspensions in the current game (go to the 2:40 mark of this video for evidence, and watch the clip at 4:50 in particular). I'll agree with Deacon Jones when he says he could not be himself under the current rules. Hard-nosed defensive players would not be hard-nosed defensive players if they didn't grumble every time the league tried to legislate violence from the game. Defensive players should be frustrated every time the NFL makes changes benefiting their offensive counterparts. The issue, however, is to what degree the NFL should allow unnecessary, violent hits to the head and neck amid mounting evidence of the long-term consequences.

Your thoughts?
DALLAS -- Hall of Famers Mike Haynes and Deacon Jones offered some intriguing ideas and insights about the modern NFL game and ways to improve it.

Forget about that.

Jones, who played tough during his career with the Los Angeles Rams, still talks an entertaining game. XTRA910 radio in Phoenix has the audio. I'll pass along a few highlights from his exchange with co-host Mike Jurecki. Buckle your chinstraps.

Jurecki: Who was the toughest guy you ever played against?

Jones: My ex-wife. Look, I didn't get a scratch in the game. I got my original knees, back, neck. I ain't run into no tough guy.

Jurecki: No one?

Jones: Well, look at my body. You don't see no scars on me. What do you call tough?

Jurecki: Someone you knew going into that game, 'I had my work cut out for the next three hours?'

Jones: If you ain't sent but one man, there's going to be a casualty that day. No, I'm not a guy you send one man against. I'm a hitman. I come to hurt people. I wouldn't advise that. I come to hurt you. Me and the commissioner would talk the same language, man. I come to take you out. OK, now, I don't know what the other guys tell you. I come to take you out. Hospital. And if you go the next step, it doesn’t' bother me -- not one bit. That was my approach to the game. I am not going to lie to you about it. I could not play now. Are you kidding me? I wouldn't be making no money. I would owe the league money.

Jurecki: So, you can feel James Harrison's frustration?

Jones: Sure, I do. And I don't think he is guilty of all that.

Even opponents liked Merlin Olsen

March, 11, 2010
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The Rams and 49ers were playing an exhibition game at the L.A. Coliseum one year when a fight broke out near the 49ers' bench.

[+] EnlargeMerlin Olsen
Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesMerlin Olsen was a Hall of Fame defensive lineman and member of the Los Angeles Rams' "Fearsome Foursome".
"I turn around and I start forward," former 49ers guard Howard Mudd said Thursday, "and there is 'Oly' standing there."

"Oly" was Merlin Olsen, the Rams' huge defensive tackle, one of the first truly athletic big men in the NFL. Olsen stood 6-foot-5 and weighed 270 pounds in an era before players loaded up on dietary supplements or lifted weights as seriously.

"I looked at him and he looked at me," Mudd recalled, "and he said, 'You want to just stand here and watch it?' "

Olsen, who died from cancer Wednesday at age 69, proved great players could be nice guys, too. He was a 14-time Pro Bowl choice and member of the Fearsome Foursome line featuring Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier.

"He belonged in the Hall of Fame not because he went to 14 Pro Bowls, but because he was a great player and could affect a game that he played in," Mudd said. "If you didn't take care of him, he was going to make big plays on you and change your offense. That is what a Hall of Famer should be."

While some players cast football as warfare for the sake of gaining a psychological edge, Olsen could disarm an opponent with his politeness. Mudd recalled knocking down Olsen once with a peel-back block, then bracing for trouble when Olsen ran toward him after the play.

"I'm laying on the ground and this big guy runs right at me, puts his hand on my head and says, 'Nice block,' " Mudd said. "I thought he was going to kick my ass or something."

Olsen played from 1962 to 1976 and earned 14 consecutive Pro Bowl berths. He reached another generation of football fans through his work as Dick Enberg's broadcast partner during NBC's coverage of the AFC during the 1980s. Olsen also played Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie, which ran opposite "Monday Night Football" during the late 1970s. He also starred in "Father Murphy" from 1981 to '83.

News of Olsen's passing was only beginning to spread Thursday. I reached out to Mudd, who said he had been thinking of Olsen lately and had wondered what had become of him.

"I pictured him as this devout Mormon guy who had ridden off into the sunset and found a nice place and a great life," Mudd said.video

Rice, Jones take place among legends

February, 19, 2010
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Former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson stopped to shake hands with reporters during a visit to a Seahawks practice years ago.

The feeling on this end was surreal, like shaking hands with someone out of a history book.

Robinson's first year at Grambling was 1941 and his impact was profound.

A couple of all-time football greats from NFC West teams, Deacon Jones and Jerry Rice, can feel privileged in joining Robinson as part of the inaugural class at the Black College Football Hall of Fame.

Buck Buchanan, Willie Galimore, Willie Lanier, Walter Payton, Ben Stevenson, Tank Younger, Eddie Robinson, Jake Gaither and Bill Nunn are also part of the group.

Official Jones bio: David "Deacon" Jones played defensive end for South Carolina State University and Mississippi Valley State University from 1958 to 1960. Blessed with speed, agility, and quickness, the “Deacon” became one of the finest pass rushers in the business. Yet had it not been for the chance observation of two Rams scouts viewing films of an opponent, he might never have had a chance to play pro football. When the scouts noted that the 6-4, 272-pound tackle was outrunning the backs they were scouting, they recommended Jones as a sleeper pick. He went on to unanimous all-league honors six straight years from 1965 through 1970 and was selected to eight Pro Bowls. Jones was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.

Official Rice bio: Jerry Rice, a wide receiver for Mississippi Valley State University from 1981 to 1984, is widely regarded as one of the greatest receivers in history on any level. He was named first-team Division I-AA All-America and finished ninth in the 1984 Heisman Trophy voting. His 27 touchdown receptions that season set the NCAA mark for all divisions. Rice was named the 1984 SWAC Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year for the State of Mississippi. In addition to being named first-team Division I-AA All-American, the NEA and Football Writers’ Association of America both named Rice to their first-team Division I-A All-America squads. He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers with the 16th overall selection in the 1985 NFL Draft and became arguably the greatest player in NFL history. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and is a 2010 Nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hall of Famer Youngblood sacks Rams

February, 3, 2010
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Rams Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood's displeasure with the organization goes beyond the team's 1-15 record last season.

Youngblood, speaking with Bernie Miklasz of 101ESPN St. Louis, took issue with the Rams' recent decision to fire longtime trainer Jim Anderson. He also said the team should tap into its alumni -- Deacon Jones, Larry Brooks and presumably Youngblood himself -- to help tutor young defensive linemen such as Chris Long.

Youngblood might be right, but if anything, his comments suggest the Rams could stand to improve their relationships with Youngblood and some other former players. Teams replace longtime employees sometimes, particularly when a new head coach establishes a program. And it's unrealistic to think Steve Spagnuolo or any other head coach should feel obligated to stock their staffs with players from yesteryear.

I plan to speak with Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney this week. It'll be important to hear from them on these issues.

The case for Rice as the greatest ever

February, 3, 2010
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RiceGeorge Rose/Getty ImagesWide receiver Jerry Rice retired with his name all over the National Football League record book.
MIAMI -- Anyone advocating Jerry Rice as the greatest player in NFL history can bury the opposition in statistics.

Rice averaged 1,145 yards receiving and more than 10 total touchdowns per season -- for 20 NFL seasons.

Rice caught 69 touchdown passes -- more than the career totals for Art Monk, Michael Irvin, Charlie Joiner, John Stallworth and numerous other Hall of Fame receivers -- during a five-season span ending in 1993. Rice then caught 28 touchdown passes over the next two seasons, more than half the career total for Hall of Famer Lynn Swann.

He retired holding NFL records for:
  • Touchdowns (208), receiving TDs (197), receiving TDs in a season (22), consecutive games with a TD reception (13), TDs in Super Bowls (8), receiving TDs in a single Super Bowl (3) and postseason TDs (22).
  • Receptions (1,549), consecutive games with a reception (274), receptions in Super Bowls (33) and postseason receptions (151).
  • Receiving yards (22,895), receiving yards in a season (1,848), receiving yards in Super Bowls (589), receiving yards in a Super Bowl (215), postseason receiving yards (2,245) and seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving (14).

Rice, whose selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a formality Saturday, probably enjoyed the greatest NFL career. He was probably the greatest wide receiver despite some arguments for Don Hutson. But was he the greatest player, period?

"Oh, yeah," Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson said almost reflexively during Super Bowl media day.

Woodson, perhaps mindful of history as a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary team, then showed he could still backpedal a bit.

Brown
Getty ImagesWhen talking about the greatest players ever, Jim Brown needs to be in the conversation.
"I mean, he is definitely up there," he said. "I don't think one player is the greatest player ever, but he is in that water-cooler conversation. Now, if you say greatest receiver, absolutely. But the greatest player, to make him the most dominant player ever in NFL history or just say pro football history, that is a profound statement. But I can say that he will be in that argument time in and time out."

The conversation might include Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Sammy Baugh, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Hutson, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders among players no longer active. And that list is probably shortchanging defensive greats such as Deacon Jones and Dick Butkus.

But Ray Lewis, arguably the greatest defensive player of the current era, didn't hesitate in singling out Rice.

"I don't know what argument you are going to make why he is not," Lewis said.

And that might be what separates Rice from the rest. There really isn't a great case against him. No one played at such a high level for as long with such grace.

"Jerry Rice doesn't rank in the all-time greats," said Saints safety Darren Sharper, a five-time Pro Bowl choice and member of the 2000s All-Decade team. "He is the greatest receiver and maybe the greatest football player of all time."

Maybe?

"I can't comment on eras that I didn't perform in," retired cornerback Deion Sanders said, "but the era I performed in, Jerry Rice is the best football player to play in that era."

On what grounds beyond the numbers?

"Work ethic, precision, routes, physical toughness, awareness, that hunger," Sanders said. "Jerry stayed hungry until the day he retired."

(Read full post)

Sounding off: NFC West on the airwaves

September, 22, 2009
9/22/09
4:20
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


The latest in our periodic spin around the NFC West radio dials:
Rams

101ESPN St. Louis: Steven Jackson via sportsradiointerviews.com

101ESPN St. Louis: La'Roi Glover

101ESPN St. Louis: reporter Jim Thomas

101ESPN St. Louis: Deacon Jones, part one

101ESPN St. Louis: Jones, part two

49ers

KNBR680: Mike Singletary

KNBR680: Steve Young

Cardinals

KTAR620: safety Antrel Rolle via sportsradiointerviews.com

XTRA910: safety Adrian Wilson

azcardinals.com: Ken Whisenhunt

Seahawks
710ESPN Seattle: John Clayton

710ESPN Seattle: Seneca Wallace, Jim Mora

As always, please leave links to additional audio in the comments section. I'll add items as needed.

Posted by ESPN.com staff

Arizona Cardinals

  • Darren Urban of azcardinals.com projects what Arizona's starting offense will look like on opening day.

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis Rams

  • After 13 seasons in the NFL, La'Roi Glover has decided to call it quits.
  • The Rams have announced their plans to retire the No. 75 worn by Hall of Famer Deacon Jones.

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