He was a 14th-round afterthought who became one of the greatest defensive ends in NFL history. David "Deacon" Jones brought an entirely new level of fame to his position by authoring the "sack" term used by all who tackle quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage, and perfecting the head-slap technique that was so devastating, the NFL eventually outlawed it. Always outspoken, Jones lived a boisterous and happy life throughout his 74 years, but he has passed away of natural causes at his Southern California home. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth.
The news was announced via the Washington Redskins' Twitter account. Redskins general manager Bruce Allen's father George, one of the NFL's great defensive coordinators before he became a head coach, had Jones as part of the Los Angeles Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" defense from 1966 through 1970. That defensive line, which also included Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier, and Lamar Lundy, was one of the finest position groups the NFL has ever known.
“Deacon Jones was one of the greatest players in NFL history," Bruce Allen said in a statement on the Redskins' official site. "Off the field, he was a true giant. His passion and spirit will continue to inspire those who knew him. He was cherished member of the Allen family and I will always consider him my big brother.”
Jones was always a star, though it took some people a while to figure it out. Selected on a whim more than anything else in the 1961 NFL draft after a couple of Rams scouts saw Jones outrunning the backs he was chasing when he played for Mississippi Vocational (now known as Mississippi Valley State), Jones did his thing before tackle and sack totals were kept reliably and officially. But anyone who saw him would tell you that Jones was a true original, and the true spiritual father of all today's quarterback terrorizers.
Years ago, in an NFL Films segment, Jones explained the "sack" term he coined during his great career.
"Sacking the quarterback is like when you devastate a city, or you cream a multitude of people. 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."
Jones' playing style resonated with every generation after his.
"Deacon Jones, for me, is an absolute institution," Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp told the NFL Network on Monday evening. "Growing up in Orlando, I heard the stories about Deacon Jones, from Eatonville, Florida, running down wide receivers as a defensive lineman. Then, you heard the stories about the head slap -- helmets ringing inside stadiums, all the way to the top. Deacon Jones signified what it was to be a great warrior on the defensive line - up front, all day long. Pack a lunch, because Deacon was coming, and it was going to be an all-day affair, and he was going to tell you about it. I patterned my game after him, because if you can talk that talk and walk that walk, you could stand beside Deacon.
"He was the best."
Michael Strahan called Jones a mentor.
Deacon had such an impact,” Strahan told CBS Radio on Tuesday morning. “He was one of those guys who were feared. People know about LT [Lawrence Taylor]. Well, Deacon was that guy. There's a reason they outlawed the head-slap. He was not one to play around on that field. He wanted to leave you with fear in your heart. Just from the technique of doing the head-slap, he would hit a guy over the ear hole and try to bust that guy's eardrum. When you see him tell that type of story with a smile on his face, you realize he had a heart. But it was a heart that on that football field, it went cold for the opponent.”
The Rams' media guide credits Jones with 173.5 career sacks, and 159.5 with the Rams. Jones, who also played for the San Diego Chargers in 1972 and 1973, and the Redskins to finish his career in 1974, is credited as having recorded double-digit sacks in seven different seasons. In 1967, he became the first defensive end in NFL history to amass 100 solo tackles in a single season. He was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in both 1967 and 1968, was named to five straight first-team NFL All-Pro teams from 1965 through 1969, and is part of the NFL's 75th Anniversary team, established in 1994. In 1999, Sports Illustrated named him the "Defensive End of the Century."
He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980, his first year of eligibility.
Jones had his own charitable foundation, visited the troops in the Middle East several times, and once had his own band, performing at the Cocoanut Grove club and singing onstage with Ray Charles. He appeared in several TV shows, including "Bewitched," "The Odd Couple," "The Brady Bunch," and "The Fall Guy." He also appeared in the 1978 movie, "Heaven Can Wait."
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