“Imagine what quarterbacks must have thought.”
The first time I met Jones, I walked into the opportunity nothing short of intimidated. I’d heard the stories of how quick witted and sharp tongued he could be. That only added to the reality that to meet Jones was to meet a true legend, a living, breathing giant in his sport who had the outsized personality to match.
In order to relax, I just told myself “Imagine what quarterbacks must have thought.” It was 2009 and I was about to spend nearly an hour speaking to perhaps the greatest Ram of all time and one of the greatest football players of all time. I didn’t have to worry about being on the wrong end of a head slap or being chased down from the weak side and dropped like a sack of potatoes.
Make no mistake, Mr. Jones was a kind, gentle human being, the type of person who placed loyalty to his loved ones above all else. But there’s something inherently intimidating about a guy with his track record of accomplishment considering what he did for a living and how he did it.
David “Deacon” Jones passed away Monday night at the age of 74 in his home in Anaheim Hills, Calif. His loss leaves all Rams fans and any true football fan with a heavy heart this morning. For those that who watched him play, it was a privilege. For those that got to meet him, it was a blessing.
I wasn’t fortunate enough to fall into the former category but I’m especially thankful today that I am able to be a part of the latter. Jones returned to St. Louis in 2009 to have his No. 75 jersey retired for good at long last. It was an honor many years in the making and it was my job to somehow try to encapsulate a career and a life so far-reaching and vigorous that no amount of pages and words would seem to do him justice.
By the time I met Mr. Jones, I had already had the great pleasure of conducting phone interviews with two of his fellow Fearsome Foursome linemates – Merlin Olsen and Rosey Grier. That helped ease some of the nerves though they forewarned me that with Mr. Jones what you see and what you hear is what you get. He pulls no punches.
What I got was nearly an hour of his time, an hour I’ll never forget and an hour I’ll cherish long after my days of writing about football are through. He told stories, he told jokes and in a way that only he could, he told the truth. I watched him hold court with many of the Rams, only a few of whom are still around, guys like DE Chris Long, who takes the lineage of Rams defensive ends very serious and carries the torch down the path created by Jones to this very day.
In some ways, I felt cheated that I didn’t get to see Jones play in person, that my knowledge of his game is limited to grainy black and white footage and best guesses at statistics that weren’t kept during his time. But if you ever got the chance to meet and speak to Mr. Jones, I guarantee you never walked away feeling that you got short-changed.
I had the privilege of again crossing paths with Mr. Jones two years ago at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for Marshall Faulk. He was his usual outspoken, mischievous self and it was absolutely fascinating to see him in his element among other legends of the game. Many who watched Mr. Jones play football often described him as a “man among boys” but in that setting, he was THE man among men.
Even surrounded by others who could argue that they too were the best to ever do it, Jones held court; regaling his fellow Hall of Famers with stories as they hung on every word. Mr. Jones was scheduled to join his Rams brethren for the 75th Anniversary celebration last year but health issues prevented him from making the trip. Jones remained a Rams fan, though, even discussing the Rams recent draft class with his family as recently as a few weeks ago.
Having played in an era where regular statistics, let alone many of the advanced metrics that are used today, were hard to come by, Jones’ career transcends numbers. He often lamented the fact that sack numbers weren’t kept during his time playing – even though he coined the phrase – but in some ways, it’s fitting that we can’t pigeonhole his career into some sort of a box based on arbitrary statistics.
What Deacon Jones did for football goes beyond sacks or tackles or quarterback pressures. It was a career and a life of innovation that laid the groundwork for a whole new era of football. It was head slaps and nicknames and good-natured and not so good-natured trash talk. It was quotes that made television cameras light up and reporter’s notebooks full. It was a never ending bond and friendship with the other members of the Fearsome Foursome. It was a legacy that will live on forever in the game’s lore.
Combining unmatched physical gifts with a unique and impossible to mistake personality, Deacon Jones captured the imagination of all that saw him, all that met him and all that heard him. He was an innovator. He was an icon.
Do you have a favorite story or memory of Deacon Jones? Please share it with us via the chat module at http://chat.nfl.com/front/index/1735?a_id=2 We’ll collect them and post them later today on stlouisrams.com.
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