Don't take my word for it… but only Reggie White was a bigger force at defensive end than the late Deacon Jones.
The Hall of Fame defensive end, credited with terming the word "sack" for how he knocked down quarterbacks, was 74. The Washington Redskins said that Jones died of natural causes at his home in Southern California on Monday night.
''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.''
Because sacks didn't become an official statistic until 1982, Jones' total is uncertain. His impact as a premier pass rusher and team leader is not.
Jones was the leader of the Rams' Fearsome Foursome unit from 1961-71 and then played for San Diego for two seasons before finishing his career with the Redskins in 1974. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and made the league's 75th anniversary all-time squad.
''Deacon Jones has been the most inspirational person in my football career,'' said former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood.
Jones made the Pro Bowl every year from 1964-70 and played in eight overall. He combined with fellow Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy on a defensive line that at times was unblockable.
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.
The Rams' stats show Jones with 159 1/2 sacks for them and 173 1/2 for his career – all unofficial, of course. Jones also was one of the most durable players, missing just five games in his 14 pro seasons.
A 14th-round draft pick in 1961 out of Mississippi Valley State, which later produced Jerry Rice, Jones was the first defensive lineman with 100 solo tackles, reaching that mark in 1967.
''The thing we've got to remember being players in this era is to really respect the game `back when,' because those guys could really play,'' said Chris Long of the Rams, whose father, Howie, also is in the Hall of Fame. ''Deacon Jones is a perfect example. This whole league and everybody in this game should honor the past and the players who played in that era. Those guys paved the way for us.''
Most recently, Jones was the CEO of his own foundation, which he began in 1997. He also made several trips to visit troops on active duty in the Middle East.
There's an old archive artcle from Sports Illustrated in 2001 by a writer named "Doctor Z' which rates only Reggie White ahead of Deacon Jones on the all-time DE list.
After painstakingly checking and rechecking his data, he has come up with sack numbers for pass rushers in the '60s and '70s. The totals are relative because teams play more games now than they did years ago, and many more passes are thrown per game. But the old-time pass rushers were allowed to use techniques like the head slap, which was banned in 1977, and offensive linemen couldn't hold the way they can now.
That said, here's how Doctor Z ranked Reggie White and Deacon Jones:
EAGLES, PACKERS, PANTHERS
A tough choice over Deacon Jones, but if White could have used the head slap, as Jones did, his numbers would be out of sight. He played the run, he rushed the passer, and in his early days with the Eagles, he occasionally lined up over the ball. His game was complete. He was the heaviest man on the list, topping out at 305 pounds, and his moves were built on power. He was amazingly strong.
In his early years White would use an outside speed rush, but as he got older and bigger, he relied more on his "hump" technique, which is basically a clubbing, inside power move. His repertoire didn't contain a lot of moves—the arm over, swim and spinner—but with the strength he possessed he didn't need many. When he was in his prime, he could split a double team with sheer explosion, and he would take delight in carrying his man into the backfield and dumping him into the passer.
RAMS, CHARGERS, REDSKINS
For a while he was the single-season-record holder, with 26 sacks in 1967 and another 24 in '68. Further scrutiny of play-by-play sheets and films, though, showed that Rams coach George Allen credited a shared sack as a solo for each sacker, so Jones's totals in those years dropped to 21 and 22, respectively. The latter would have tied Mark Gastineau's official record for the most sacks in a season. "Deacon was furious," Turney says of the sacks that were taken from him. "He still doesn't believe it."
Jones could split helmets with his head slap, and his outside speed rush was devastating. He probably ranks with former Charger and 49er Fred Dean and Jevon Kearse as the fastest defensive ends of all time. Plus, Jones was relentless; he never gave up. He collected sacks on his hands and knees. One Jones quote sticks with everyone: "We're like a bunch of animals, kicking and clawing and scratching at each other."
What a competitor. As a kid I was in awe of him, as later I would be of Reggie. Now I know why. They were cut from the same cloth. And not coincidentally, both were humanitarians who gave back to their communities as much as they were given. Both were blessed with great physical ability but also with great souls.