The name was enough to scare the bejeezus out of you, Archie Manning says: Dave “Deacon” Jones. Then there was his size: 6 feet, 5 inches and 275 muscular pounds.
Then there was his speed. Says Manning, “In college I could get away from any defensive lineman. In the pros, I couldn’t run away from Deacon Jones.”
Then there was the fact that Jones was joined in his Los Angeles Rams defensive line — The Fearsome Foursome — by Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy, and Rosey Grier — all huge, fast men.
Here’s how good Hall of Famer Deacon Jones was as a defensive end. There was no such thing as a quarterback sack until he came along. He invented the term. He didn’t just tackle quarterbacks; he “sacked” them.
Says Manning, “I don’t know if Deacon invented the head slap, but he perfected it and then they outlawed it, I’m pretty sure, because of him. I’ll tell you this much, offensive tackles sweated all week before they went up against Deacon.”
Sports writers called Jones the “sackmaster.” Jones referred to himself as “The Secretary of Defense.”
Deacon Jones died Monday night in California at the age of 74. Tuesday morning, just-turned-64-year-old Archie Manning talked about him while driving his grandchildren to school in New Orleans.
“A lot of people call Deacon Jones the greatest defensive end to play the game,” Manning said. “I surely wouldn’t disagree. He was just so intimidating. And the other thing that made him so good was that the three guys up there on the line with him were really good, too, so you couldn’t necessarily double-team him. Man, that was a great defensive line.”
Many people mistakenly believe Deacon Jones was from Mississippi. No, he grew up in Florida, played three years of college football at South Carolina State and then followed a coach to play his senior year at then Mississippi Vocational (now Mississippi Valley State.) He was drafted in the 14th round, a steal that grew bigger and bigger as the years went on and the well-earned legend of Deacon Jones grew
In later years, Manning and Jones became friends, shared stories about the old days and played some golf together.
“Deacon played golf all the time, and he was good,” Manning said. “He was a 7- or 8-handicapper and he played all the good courses around L.A.”
Old-timers, such as the one typing, will remember that Archie Manning’s first game as a Saint was against those Rams at old Tulane Stadium.
“Hottest day I think I ever played football,” Manning said.”That’s why I think were able to stay with them, because they just kind of wilted in the heat and the humidity.”
Manning passed for over 200 yards and a touchdown. He also scored a touchdown, running, on the last play of the game to win 24-20.
Back in L.A., the next week, writers asked Deacon Jones about the Saints’ rookie quarterback. “Yeah,” he’s pretty good,” Deacon replied, “but next time we play them I’m going to break his neck.”
Today, he’d get fined big-time. Back then, Archie remembers, “Ole Miss fans got pretty riled up about it, but I knew what he was doing. At least I thought I did. I didn’t think he was going to try to break my neck.”
Back to the game, which I well remember all these years later: The Rams led 20-17 and there was time for one play after Manning had led the Saints down the field.
Manning called timeout and went over to the sidelines. “We’re going to go for it!” coach J.D. Roberts shouted over and over.
Manning kept waiting for the play call. He never got one. The ref came over and got him.
So Archie went back to the field and was welcomed to the huddle: “What’s the play?”
“They never said,” Manning replied, and so he called what he would have run at Ole Miss.
He took the snap, and then took off around the left end and barely crossed the goal line.
Around Deacon Jones?
“No,” Manning says all these years later. “Deacon was on the other side.”