Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor — they all followed the lead set by Jones, who died Monday at 74.
“Deacon Jones was one of the greatest players in NFL history. Off the field, he was a true giant,” said Redskins general manager Bruce Allen, whose father, George, coached Jones with the Los Angeles Rams. “His passion and spirit will continue to inspire those who knew him. He was a cherished member of the Allen family and I will always consider him my big brother.”
Not only was Jones the main practitioner of the sack in his 14 pro seasons, he coined the term. He once compared bringing down quarterbacks to hog-tying them in a sack. He was smiling when he said it.
Yet Jones never got the statistical credit for all those QB knockdowns; sacks didn’t become an official statistic in the NFL until 1982.
Jones retired after the 1974 season, having played 11 years with the Rams, two with the Chargers and one with the Redskins. Rams stats show Jones with 159½ sacks for them and 173½ for his career — all unofficial, of course. Jones also was one of the most durable players, missing just five games in his pro career.
He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
“He was an icon among the icons,” commissioner Roger Goodell said. “Even with his fellow Hall of Famers, Deacon Jones held a special status. He was a hard-charging football player and the original sack artist who coined the term. He is warmly regarded by his peers not only as one of the greatest players in NFL history, but also for his tremendous influence and sense of humor.”
Jones was held in such high esteem that when he made the league’s 75th anniversary all-time squad, it prompted former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood to say: “Deacon Jones has been the most inspirational person in my football career.”
That sort of praise was typical for Jones, the anchor of the Fearsome Foursome. Jones made the Pro Bowl every year from 1964-70 and played in eight overall. He combined with Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy on a defensive line that at times was unblockable.
Olsen died in 2010 at 69 and Lundy died in 2007 at 71. Grier, 80, is the only surviving member of the Fearsome Foursome.
“Deacon was an incredible team guy and he always wanted to win. He wanted all of us to run the race together,” Grier said Tuesday. “We didn’t play run, we played pass and we all came off the ball together. The whole point was to get in the backfield fast and mess everything up. They couldn’t stop the Fearsome Foursome — we made a great contribution to the game of football.”
George Allen, who coached the Fearsome Foursome, called Jones the “greatest defensive end of modern football.” The Allen family had Jones present George Allen for his Hall of Fame induction in 2002, yet another example of the regard in which Jones was held.
“Not only to coin the term sack, but just his personality of being a defensive lineman; his charisma and his presence,” Smith, the career sacks leader by official count with 200, told NFL Network. “When he walked into the room, he commanded respect, whether it was on the playing field or his choice of words. This is going to be a great loss for all of the football nation, the fans and particularly those who loved him dearly like myself.”
After he retired, Jones appeared in some TV commercials and later began an eponymous foundation in Anaheim Hills, Calif., that encourages youngsters from inner-city schools to become leaders in their community.
The Redskins said Jones died of natural causes. In 2009, he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he had undergone lung surgery and received a pacemaker. That year, the Rams retired his jersey number, 75.
As for that nickname, well, when Jones joined the Rams out of Mississippi Valley State as a 14th-round draft pick in 1961, he wanted to make himself memorable. Eventually, he’d do so every game on the field, terrorizing blockers, runners and passers.
At first, though, he believed he needed to stand out on the roster.
“No one would remember a player named David Jones — there are a thousand David Joneses in the phone book,” he said. “I picked out Deacon because it has a religious connotation and it would be remembered in the violent pro football world. When the Rams sent out my player questionnaire, I simply listed my name as Deacon Jones. From then on, that’s what I was.”