Through four seasons in the early 1990s, former NFL great Deacon Jones was part of the Calgary Stampeders' ownership/management team. He was a large figure and a proud man who spoke his mind. On several occasions, he talked with Globe and Mail sports writer Allan Maki, who used those conversations when putting together Football's Greatest Stars for Firefly Books. The book's second edition will be available later this year. Here is the article on Jones:
According to the NFL, David (Deacon) Jones spent 14 years in the trenches, appeared in eight Pro Bowls, was named to the league’s 75th anniversary team and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and not once did he sack a quarterback.
Oh, he did a few things - score two safeties, make two interceptions, recover 15 fumbles, run back two kickoffs and kick an extra point. But tackle a quarterback?
Nope. Never happened. Not even for the man who invented the term sack and a nasty helmet-rattling technique known as the head slap, which begs the question: if Deacon Jones is considered one of the most dangerous pass rushers the NFL has ever seen, just how revered would he have been had the league recorded quarterback sacks as an official statistic back when he played, in the 1960s and 1970s?
It wasn’t until 1982 that the NFL began keeping tabs on sacks. Anyone who played prior to that time was left with a collective zero next to their name even if their name was synonymous with terrorizing offensive lines from New York to Los Angeles.
“Since when does 'all-time' begin in 1982?” Jones asked repeatedly, claiming his sack count was over 200, the all-time career count set by Bruce Smith.
Unofficially, NFL fans and researchers have pegged Jones’ total at 173.5. The Rams’ organization is believed to have kept at least a partial log stating that in 1964 Jones broke the 20-sack barrier (with 22 in 14 games) then upped the count to 26 sacks, along with 100 tackles, in 1967.
“Deacon Jones is one of my really good friends, and like my mentor,” said New York Giants’ defensive end Michael Strahan, who holds the acknowledged record of 22.5 sacks in a 16-game season. “According to Deacon, he has, like, 3,000 sacks. And it grows each year. Those guys who played before they had all the stats, they do have some kind of legitimate gripe.”
Anyone who played against Jones would agree he was man ahead of his time. He stood 6-foot-5, weighed 272 pounds and had the quickness of a leopard. He could make tackles from sideline to sideline, all over the field. On top of that, he was part of what was the first dominant defensive line in NFL history, the Fearsome Foursome, which included Lamar Lundy, Rosey Grier and Merlin Olsen in its heyday.
“We started the trend. We proved that defensive lines can control the game,” Jones said in an interview with ESPN.com. “I don't think you'll find, even now, four men who had as much talent and doled out as much damage and devastation as our group. After our group came The Purple People-Eaters, The Steel Curtain, Dallas' Doomsday team and that Baltimore (Ravens) team. The dominant teams all had great defensive lines, and we had something to do with that trend. That's why they've changed so many rules. They don't want games controlled by defensive lines.”
Jones, who was hailed as the 'Secretary of Defence,' was never shy about expressing his abilities and letting people know just how amazingly good he was. What was far more remarkable was everything he endured to make it as a pro football player.
Growing up in Florida in a family of 10, Jones picked watermelons and pitched them into trucks to make money. In town, he couldn’t drink from the same water fountains as whites; couldn’t use the same restrooms as whites; had to sit in a blacks-only section in restaurants; had to stay in the black wing of the local hospital when he needed an operation.
When Jones enrolled at South Carolina State, he took part in a march protesting the treatment of black youths who had been arrested for eating at a lunch counter. Jones said the police and fire department dispersed the marchers with hoses and dogs and that he was pinned against a wall by a blast of water. For taking part in the march, Jones lost his football scholarship and enrolled at Mississippi Vocational, where he and others were later rounded up by the police and told to leave the state and never come back. The players’ participation in the protest march at South Carolina State was the reason for their expulsion.
The Rams were only so-so on Jones and drafted him in the 14th round. When he got to training camp, he knew he had to make an impression and he did. Fueled by an overwhelming desire to prove himself in the mostly white world of professional football, Jones pillaged blockers and plundered quarterbacks and became a Pro Bowl regular for seven consecutive seasons, from 1964 to 1970. (He earned an eighth Pro Bowl invitation in 1972 as a member of the San Diego Chargers.)
He finished his career with the 1974 Washington Redskins, where he partook in two indulgences: before every game he played at RFK Stadium, Jones would spit on the statue of George Preston Marshall, the former team owner who refused to sign black players for as long as he could; and, he got to kick an extra point.
It was the Redskins’ George Allen, who had coached Jones with the Rams, who let his veteran defensive end attempt a convert, and it was good.
In his later years, Jones used his life experiences to help those who need it most – young students from inner-city neighbourhoods. The Deacon Jones Foundation offers a seven-year program for teenagers to help them get to university and become leaders and volunteers in their community. Jones has opened his foundation to all under-privileged youths, no matter the colour of their skin.
It’s a project he tackled as hard as any quarterback.
“I'm probably the toughest (expletive) here,” he said. “Ain't no question about that with me. I'm the toughest guy here... I'm clean. I mean, I ain't got no marks on me. I don't know nobody else who can say that who came out of any sport. I ain't got no marks on me, so I've got to be the baddest dude I know of.”
Officially or unofficially.