|ESPN.com: NFL||[Print without images]|
The most amazing thing about David "Deacon" Jones wasn't all those sacks he compiled or the fact that he coined the term for tackling opposing quarterbacks.
It was his consistency. The man missed five games in 14 seasons. He played when he was hurt, sick and fully aware that opponents would do anything to exploit the fact that he might not be 100 percent.
That is why it's so hard to fathom a world without Deacon Jones, who died at age 74 in his suburban Los Angeles home on Monday night. He seemed to always be present, both during his playing days and in retirement.
The people who saw him compete in the 1960s and 1970s surely remember his dominance as a relentless defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins. Younger fans likely recall him doing cameos on sitcoms like "The Brady Bunch" or "Bewitched" after his career, or sneering into a television camera as he joyfully explained his ease at overwhelming the competition in his day.
Jones was more than just a player who some consider the best defensive end of all time. He was one of the NFL's first characters who appeared to be larger than life.
The only thing that overshadowed his impressive athleticism -- he was 6-foot-5, 272 pounds and blessed with the speed of a running back -- was his mouth. It's hard to remember an NFL player who talked trash so frequently and so brashly before Jones arrived in the league. Legend has it that he even changed his name to "Deacon" because his given name sounded too common.
Given that bombastic personality, it's hard to believe football fans couldn't see or hear Jones coming before he became the Rams' 14th-round selection in the 1961 draft. He had an obscure college career, one that included a single season at South Carolina State, a year of inactivity after Jones was booted out of that program (supposedly for participating in the civil rights movement) and a final year at Mississippi Vocational College (which later became known as Mississippi Valley State).
|The NFL's original sackmaster, Deacon Jones forced offenses to alter their schemes.|
The only reason Jones was discovered was because a Rams scout saw him playing against a player they were evaluating. That scout saw an agile, burly lineman running faster than the opposing ball carriers and figured Jones was worth a shot.
It didn't take long for Jones to find his niche. He joined a defensive line in Los Angeles that ultimately would be known as the best ever: the Fearsome Foursome. Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier handled the right side. Jones and sturdy defensive tackle Merlin Olsen held things down on the left.
But the star of the unit was unquestionably Jones. Nobody harassed quarterbacks like he did.
Even though sacks weren't officially monitored until the 1982 season, Pro Football Weekly reported that Jones had 194.5 during his career. The numbers also say he had nine straight seasons with at least 10 sacks and one season when he had 26 (1967).
If those numbers were accurate and accepted by the league's record keepers, Jones would still hold the NFL mark for most sacks in a season. (Michael Strahan holds the record with 22½.) Most people believe he had more sacks than anybody in history when he retired after the 1974 season.
The simple fact is that it's hard to remember what defensive ends were supposed to look like and do before Jones arrived on the scene. That's how much he revolutionized the position. He could make plays sideline to sideline, chase down opposing ball carriers before they ever left the backfield and even rack up 100 solo tackles (which he also did during that 1967 season).
Hall of Fame running back Paul Hornung once told an interviewer that Jones actually changed offensive schemes in his day. Teams never thought about blocking the backside defensive end on running plays until Jones ran down one ball carrier too many.
More than anything, Jones was a man far ahead of his time. Along with coining the term "sack" to explain what he did to opposing quarterbacks, he also gave defenders a lofty standard to measure themselves against in the future.
As a great artist inspires others to follow his lead, Jones gave many generations a template to study. The ends who dominated the position in the decades after his retirement -- a group that includes Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Michael Strahan -- all owe something to the example Jones set in his prime. The beautiful aspect of Jones' life is that few people ever forgot that.
Former Rams and Redskins head coach George Allen considered Jones, who twice won league Defensive Player of the Year honors, to be "the greatest defensive end of modern football." Jones was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980, was included on the NFL's 75th anniversary team in 1994, and was named "Defensive End of the Century" by Sports Illustrated in 1999.
The man was to defensive ends what Jim Brown was to running backs. No conversation about the best could be had if Jones wasn't the first name to start the discussion.
So here's hoping that trend continues with the news of Jones' death. He left a huge imprint on the NFL with his play and his post-career pursuits -- which included working with young people and visiting troops stationed abroad -- but he didn't get nearly the attention he deserved. But the one thing we always knew about Deacon Jones was that he made people feel his presence. That certainly should be how he's best-remembered now that he's no longer a part of our world.