“Going in, going into The Pit, I like to slap the guys’ helmets. It shakes them up. When I get to the man with the ball, I hit him as hard as I can. If I can hit a man hard enough so he has to be carried off the field, I’ll be glad to help him off.” –David D. “Deacon” Jones
Deacon Jones might’ve been the greatest defensive end to ever play the game. During ten years with the Rams he earned the nickname “The Secretary of Defense” by terrorizing quarterbacks. Even though he may have invented the term “sacks,” they weren’t individually counted until 1982, so gauging his stats is a bit of educated guesswork. Jones may have had nearly 200 during his 14-year career, most of them during his tenure with the Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” line, and good for third-all time.
He used speed, guile, and power to rip and dart past opponents, bull rush through timid blockers, and employed a head slap so effective that linemen would come of their stance with their arms up like a rolling boxer’s. Quarterbacks and runners weren’t safe from his hands, either, since one of his favorite tackling styles involved clubbing the ball carrier across the head and/or face. He was one of the main reasons head slaps and clubs were banned.
Just as impressive was his drive. Players around the league were amazed by his dogged, sideline-to-sideline pursuits. “The main thing is to keep going,” Jones said once. “If I get blocked, I claw my way in, even if I have to crawl.”
Despite all this he was only a 14th round pick coming out of college, though this was due more to enrolling at small, historically black schools, and even being kicked off his first squad for participating in the Civil Rights Movement. Deacon grew up in violently segregated Florida, and personally witnessed heinous racial acts, one of which ultimately ended in death. He came into the NFL determined to shed aside the docility demanded by the South and make a name for himself, which led to him developing a persona to match his on-field prowess. He was wild on the field—not so much coached as unleashed—and brash during interviews. He gave himself the nickname “Deacon” to help in this effort.
Jones was so dominant that family movie night at George Allen’s house (then head coach of the Rams) would turn into a film session extoling the defensive end’s virtues. He also became a fixture in the Allen family, and many years later Allen’s daughter Jennifer named one of her sons ‘Deacon.’
Like many ex-NFLers (including fellow Foursome members Rosey Grier and Merlin Olsen), Jones dabbled in acting and broadcasting after his playing days ended. He had numerous cameos in number of shows and films, one of which was alongside Jim Brown. I remember recognizing Jones on G vs E, a short-lived series that tried to ride the combined coattails of The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. No surprise he was the best part of the show (and he played a character named ‘Deacon,’ no less.) He was even a talented singer. The last decades of his life were spent fighting poverty in the Anaheim/LA area, mainly through his eponymous foundation.
A quick glance at the number of headlines and recollections on Jones is sign enough of his impact. Twice named Defensive Player of the Year, a five-time All Pro, and a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Deacon Jones left an indelible mark on the game.