Deacon Jones, R.I.P.: Remembering Football Great's Best-Loved TV Performance on 'The Brady Bunch'
Deacon Jones, the Hall of Fame defensive lineman who died Monday at the age of 74, was from the era of Jim Brown, Dick Butkus, and Alex Karras: The big men's years in the NFL overlapped, as did their stints in Hollywood.
Though he wasn't a major screen star like Brown, nor was he a prolific performer like Butkus and Karras, Jones had his share of hits. He most often played himself or a version of his gridiron self, and appeared in "Bewitched," TV's "The Odd Couple," "Black Gunn" (starring Brown), and the Warren Beatty romantic comedy "Heaven Can Wait."
Of all his credits, the one that arguably left the biggest impression lasted all of about three minutes. But those three minutes have endured for 42 years.
"The Drummer Boy" is a second-season episode of "The Brady Bunch." It's remembered less for the concerns of the youngest Brady son, Bobby (Mike Lookinland), who turns to the drums after being spurned by the glee club, than for the personal concerns of the middle son, Peter (Christopher Knight). In the episode, Peter considers spurning the glee club on his own when his football teammates use his choir credentials to indict him as a "canary," a "songbird," and, worst of all, a "sissy."
Enter Jones, who was an active player for the Bradys' hometown Los Angeles Rams at the time.
As usual, Jones plays Jones. He stops by a couple of Peter's practices. The second time, he hears the glee-club trash talk. Jones proceeds to inform the kids that tough guys, including Jones himself, sing. Peter is much obliged to Jones and momentarily filled with enough confidence to win his scrimmage.
It's all very pat in the way that family sitcoms, with the notable exception of "All in the Family," were pat in the early 1970s.
And yet the scene has held up (and been played and replayed) because it's also timeless.
Boys who participate in activities that aren't thought of as masculine are often accused of being feminine. And, of course, in that particular gender worldview, girls and boys are not equal.
When Jones's "Brady Bunch" episode first aired, however, feminism was already redefining femininity. By 1972, Title IX was the law of the land, and job and opportunity discrimination on the basis of gender was prohibited.
While women's participation in nearly every aspect of public life has expanded, men's roles haven't grown that much more flexible. Boys are still expected to do traditionally boyish things; those who don't run the risk of being teased. And taunted. And called the 21st-century equivalent of a canary.
Good thing Jones will always be around.
Swap out some dialogue, and trade in his slick, printed bell-bottom pants (then again, maybe not) for a pair of khakis, and 1971 Jones could be 2013 Will Schuester trying to counsel a bully or console a victim.
"If singing was sissy stuff," Jones said, "we'd be missing a lot of good men in sports."
It's all very pat. And still true.