David "Deacon" Jones, a Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams who went on to appear as an actor and a TV pitchman for Miller Lite, has died. He was 74.
Jones’ death from natural causes at his home in Southern California was announced Monday night by Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen, whose father, the late George Allen, coached Jones for five seasons with the Rams and for a season with the Redskins.
Jones, a superbly quick 6-foot-4 and 272 pounds, played with the Rams from 1961-71 and teamed with Lamar Lundy, Rosey Grier and Merlin Olsen to form the imposing defensive line known as the Fearsome Foursome back when the team played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. His specialty was sacking the quarterback in an era when sacks were not an official statistic (he unofficially recorded 22 of them in a season twice with the Rams and would rank among the all-time leaders in the category). In fact, he reportedly coined the term “sack” to define tackling the quarterback for a loss.
Jones played himself in a memorable 1972 episode of The Odd Couple when Felix Unger (Tony Randall) tried to pair him and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) for a commercial. He also appeared in the TV series Bewitched, Banacek, The Fall Guy and Good vs. Evil and in the 1978 films Heaven Can Wait and The Norseman.
Jones also made his mark in Miller Lite TV spots. In one, he recites a poem about his love for the beer, sending patrons fleeing from a bar when he concludes with, “Blue is a violet, red is a rose, and if you don’t believe me, I’m going to break your nose.”
A native of Eatonville, Fla., Jones was drafted by the Rams in the 14th round of the 1961 NFL Draft after playing in college at South Carolina State and Mississippi Vocational College. He was traded to the San Diego Chargers in 1972 and finished up his pro career with Washington in 1974.
He was named to the Pro Bowl eight times and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980 during his first year of eligibility. He missed just five games as a pro due to injury.
“Deacon Jones was one of the greatest players in NFL history. Off the field, he was a true giant,” the Redskins’ Allen said in a statement. “[Jones’] passion and spirit will continue to inspire those who knew him. He was cherished member of the Allen family. … I will always consider him my big brother.”
Allen’s sister Jennifer named her second son Deacon and her first son after Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel. Her third son’s middle name is Lamar. She narrated the NFL Films’ documentary Fearsome Foursome: A Football Life that premiered on the NFL Network last year.
“Deacon once told me he overheard my dad berating my brothers about something,” she recalled in an interview. “My dad would always hold him up as a role model. He’d say, ‘You don’t see Deacon Jones shirking his responsibilities.’
“I think [Jones] overheard it at training camp, and he said he had never been held up by a white man as a role model and that my dad didn’t try to control him. He let him be himself and entrusted him with the team in that way. That bonded Deacon to my dad.”