Today is a sad day for the NFL as David D. “Deacon” Jones passed away Monday night of natural causes. He was 74.
Deacon Jones played most of his career with the then-L.A. Rams and was part of the infamous “Fearsome Foursome” along with DE Lamar Lundy and defensive tackles Rosie Grier and Merlin Olsen. Olsen passed away in 2010.
Deacon is credited with many things, not the least of which was actually coining the term “sack.” Sacks were not even kept as an official statistic until 1981; however, another thing he’s credited with is having had retired with a then-NFL record 174.5 sacks.
Today, the player nicknamed “The Secretary of Defense” ranks third in career sacks, behind only Bruce Smith and the late “Minister of Defense” – DE Reggie White.
Jones entered the NFL in 1961 and saw how many people in the L.A. phone book named “David Jones,” and began to call himself “Deacon” in order to stand out. It wasn’t long, despite any nickname, before everyone knew who he was.
He was drafted out of tiny Mississippi Vocational College in the 14th round…yes, they had a 14th round back then. He was 6’5″ 270 lbs., and could play in any era. He’d have been a standout in ANY era in his prime and his fellow players claim he ran about a 4.5 or 4.6 40-yard dash time.
He is one of few players who forced rule changes in the NFL. Mel Blount forced the “Blount Rule” – which states a defender can only hit an eligible receiver once, and then only within the first 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Similarly, Deacon Jones had a move called “the Head Slap” – where Deacon would explode out of his stance and slap the side of the defender’s helmet. The reason he did this, Deacon Jones himself said, was this:
“Whenever you go upside someone’s head, they have a tendency to blink or close their eyes, and that’s all I needed to get by you.”
He also changed run-blocking schemes with his speed. In his rookie days, the offensive line never blocked the back side of sweep plays, but Deacon repeatedly would run down running backs from behind on sweeps to the opposite side of the field.
Jones had great speed, explosiveness, and strength in quite a formidable frame and was as disruptive a force as there ever was in the NFL.
One thing I personally remember from some old NFL Films was the hilarious “counter-move” to “the Head Slap:”
As the story went – and I regret I cannot recall the names involved other than Deacon and Lyle Alzado – was that although neither man invented the move, they both had a “hand” so to speak in getting it outlawed in 1977 – well after Deacon’s retirement. Deacon popularized it and Alzado took it to a new level. Alzado decided to tape pennies to the inside of his fingers so when he slapped his opposing offensive tackle, well, the tackle got quite a slap on the helmet and a ringing in the ears.
So, one game, an offensive lineman whom I forget, decided to take a bunch of screws and threaded them through the inside of his helmet with the sharp edges sticking through – effectively “inventing” a Prussian-style NFL helmet.
The NFL was not amused, and finally outlawed the Head Slap.
These days, perhaps the most important and lasting aspect of Jones’ life is his charity, aptly named “The Deacon Jones Foundation” which helps inner city at-risk children. The foundation’s website can be found if you click HERE.
He was an 8-time Pro-Bowler and a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 1980.
David “Deacon” Jones was certainly a man whose larger-than-life image will live on well beyond his own too-short time with us and is one of perhaps a handful of NFL players who really left their mark on the game.
He will be sorely missed.