There aren’t many NFL players who influenced the game like David “Deacon” Jones.
Jones, 74, who died Monday of natural causes at his Southern California home, proved himself many times over as arguably the sport’s most fearsome defensive lineman.
He invented his own weapon on the field of battle: the head slap.
He created his own statistic on the NFL record books: the quarterback sack.
“I developed a term that is used in the game right now called sacking the quarterback,” Jones is quoted on NFL.com. “Sacking a quarterback is just like you devastate a city or you cream a multitude of people. I mean it’s just like you put all the offensive players in one bag, and I just take a baseball bat and beat on the bag.”
Clearly, Jones didn’t mince words.
Advertising execs on Madison Avenue played on Jones’ tough-guy persona with a series of memorable TV beer commercials for Miller Lite. Dressed in a black leather jacket, Jones marches into a bar and recites a poem about the virtues of the beer, and then warns, “and if you don’t believe me, I’m gonna break your nose.”
The numbers alone tell the tale: The 6-foot-5-inch tall Jones piled up 173 sacks during a 14-year career with the Los Angeles Rams, the San Diego Chargers and the Washington Redskins. That’s second only to Reggie White.
“Deacon Jones was one of the greatest players in NFL history,” said Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen, the son of Jones’ former head coach with the Rams, George Allen. “Off the field, he was a true giant. His passion and spirit will continue to inspire those who knew him.”
Sacks weren’t even an official NFL statistic until 1982, long after Jones’ retirement.
Then there was the head slap—the brain-jarring swipe of a defensive lineman’s hand or arm against the helmet of his opponent.
“Jones could split helmets with his head slap, and his outside speed rush was devastating,” wrote Paul Zimmerman, aka Dr. Z, in Sports Illustrated. “Plus, Jones was relentless; he never gave up. He collected sacks on his hands and knees.”
Jones started his NFL career in 1961 with the Rams and spent 11 seasons there. Along with fellow icons Rosey Grier, Lamar Lundy and Merlin Olsen, Jones formed one of the best defensive lines of all time: the Fearsome Four.
As a Ram, Jones perfected the head slap. Jones once said he wished that, after messing with him, opposing players would wake up “hopefully on Tuesday.”
You could say it was effective. So effective, the NFL banned it.
“His eyes were as red as fire, and after he took his stance, he was pawing his leg in the dirt like a bull,” remembered Rayfield Wright of his first NFL start. Wright, playing with the Dallas Cowboys, was facing Jones in that 1969 game.
“As an offensive lineman, you’re taught only to hear the quarterback’s voice. Nothing else,” Wright said in the Sports Illustrated interview. “I’m listening in case there’s an audible, and in the pause between ‘Huts!’ I hear a deep, heavy voice say, ‘Does yo’ mama know you’re out here?’ It was Deacon Jones.”
Rams fans nicknamed him “Secretary of Defense.” And in 1999, Sports Illustrated named him the “Defensive End of the Century.”
In 1972, he was traded to the Chargers, and he finished his career with the Redskins in 1974.
During his entire time with the NFL, Jones missed just six games.
In later years, Jones worked as a radio host, served as a spokesman for the blood-pressure drug Atacand and started the Deacon Jones Foundation to mentor inner-city high school students.
He also published an autobiography titled—what else?—“Head Slap.”
Jones is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; a stepson, Greg Pinto, and a grandson.