David “Deacon” Jones, perhaps the greatest Ram of all time, passed away Monday night at his home in Anaheim Hill, Calif. He was 74.
Jones, who died of natural causes, was one of the NFL’s true icons, a player who helped advance the game to new levels not only with his play but also with his flair for coining new phrases and terms, including the term “sack,” which is now perhaps the stat used most to determine the success of players at his defensive end position.
In his illustrious 11 seasons with the Rams and 14 seasons in the NFL, Jones helped re-define what a defensive end or, really, a defensive player could be. His combination of size, strength and speed was unlike anything the league had seen.
“Deacon Jones was an all time great football player and he became the secretary of defense,” Rosey Grier, former teammate and fellow Fearsome Foursome member, said. “This man was an outstanding ball player. He had speed, had endurance, he was wild. He played angry. I think he was – not that I like people to play angry because I liked to laugh when I played but people have certain ways of going about the game so I think he was a fantastic ballplayer. There will never be another one of him.”
While Jones’ idea for the sack didn’t become an official statistic until 1982, many estimates put his career total at around 175 though Jones often disputed the total, believing that number to have shorted him by about a half-dozen.
In fact, Jones believes that had sacks been a statistic, his greatest season output would have come in 1967 when, by his count, he posted 26 sacks. He believes he had 24 the following season which would have given him an amazing 50 over the course of two seasons.
Despite all of those individual accomplishments, perhaps Jones’ favorite achievement was being part of one of the most feared and respected defensive lines in league history, the Fearsome Foursome.
Joined by Grier, defensive tackle Merlin Olsen and bookend Lamar Lundy, Jones and his linemates dominated opposing offenses from 1961-1971. Jones made eight Pro Bowls in his career, including a streak of seven stretching from 1964-1970. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
And for all of his production, perhaps no stat about Jones stands above the fact that he missed just five games in his 14-year career, a career that finished with two seasons in San Diego and one in Washington after his time with the Rams.
Jones was also one of the greatest steals in NFL Draft history, a 14th-round selection by the Rams in the 1961 NFL Draft out of Mississippi Valley State.
Of course, beyond his dominant performances on the field, Jones also had a reputation as one of the game’s greatest characters. He invented the head slap and made no bones about his general distaste for offensive linemen and, especially, quarterbacks.
By Olsen’s estimation, Jones was one of the originators of one of today’s most common sports practices.
“Deacon loved to talk,” Olsen said in 2009. “You never had to ask the question, ‘Where is Deacon?’ You just opened your ears. Deacon was one of the early trash talkers, I think. He was ahead of his time in many ways, without a doubt.”
Jones’ gregarious personality was infectious though and he was known by many teammates for his loyalty and friendship. Until Lundy passed away in 2007, Jones and the other members of the Fearsome Foursome would get together every year, tell stories and reminisce about old times.
That character also landed Jones the opportunity to explore a variety of opportunities off the field after his football career ended. He made appearances on popular television shows such as “The Brady Bunch” and “Bewitched” and also joined fellow former Ram Jack Snow with an appearance in the 1978 movie “Heaven Can Wait.”
In his later years, Jones worked as a pitchman for a variety of products and was active in the community. He made several trips to Iraq to meet with troops and established the Deacon Jones Foundation in 1997 to help young people in inner-city areas.
Jones is survived by wife Elizabeth, stepson Greg Pinto and a grandson.