Hall of Fame football player Deacon Jones, one of the Los Angeles Rams’ heralded Fearsome Foursome, whose outspoken persona and relentless pursuit of quarterbacks helped turn defensive linemen into stars, died June 3 at his home in Anaheim Hills, Calif. He was 74.
His death was confirmed by his stepson Greg Pinto. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Mr. Jones, who played for the Rams from 1961 to 1971 and later for the San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins, was the league’s top defensive player in 1967 and 1968, and was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
He was “without doubt the greatest defensive end to play in modern day football,” George Allen, his coach during many of his best seasons with the Rams and later with the Redskins, said when Mr. Jones retired after the 1974 season.
At 6-feet-5 and 272 pounds, Mr. Jones was quick and quotable. He was an obscure 14th-round draft choice from Mississippi Vocational College who did not stay obscure for long.
“When I first came up, defensive linemen were dull as hell,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1980. “Some were great performers, but nobody knew who they were. I set out to change that.”
He not only took great pleasure in tackling quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage, he came up with the name “sack” to describe it. Times columnist Jim Murray once said Jones “eats quarterbacks for a living.”
His signature move, a head slap that pulverized offensive linemen who tried to keep him from the quarterback, was so dangerous that it was later banned by the NFL.
“It was the greatest thing I ever did and when I left the game they outlawed it,” he told the Times in 2009. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
His formal name was David, but he said he gave himself the nickname Deacon after joining the Rams because there were too many David Joneses in the local phone book.
“Football is a violent world and Deacon has a religious connotation,” he told the Times in 1980. “I thought a name like that would be remembered.”
Merlin Olsen, another member of the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome who died in 2010, once said of his longtime teammate: “There has never been a better football player than Deacon Jones.”
David Jones was born Dec. 9, 1938, in Eatonville, Fla., where his parents ran a barbecue stand.
He played only one season at South Carolina State, sat out a year and then transferred to Mississippi Vocational College.
“I left some problems in South Carolina,” he told the Times in 1985. “I was mixed up in lunch-counter demonstrations then. ... I had the water treatment and the dogs and all that stuff and even spent some time in jail.”
A scout for the Rams spotted Mr. Jones, and he became the 186th player taken in the 1961 draft.
The Rams won only five of 28 games in his first two years, but their defense was starting to take shape. Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy joined Mr. Jones on the defensive line that became known as the Fearsome Foursome.
The Rams didn’t start to win consistently until 1966, when the defensive-minded Allen became coach. By 1967, they were 11-1-2 and began qualifying regularly for the playoffs.
Their success was built on a ferocious defense led by Mr. Jones, who was famous enough to be known as the “Secretary of Defense.”
Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman said Mr. Jones — whose 1996 biography was called “Headslap” — could split an opponent’s helmet with his hands.
Mr. Jones told the Associated Press in 2002 that he had more than 20 sacks in more than one season, but the NFL didn’t chart them as an official statistic during his career.
The Rams traded him to San Diego in 1972. He played two seasons there before finishing his career with Allen, his old Rams coach, in Washington in 1974.
His first marriage ended in divorce.
Survivors include his second wife, Elizabeth Jones; a stepson; and a grandson.
Beyond the football field, he was a singer and acted in movies and television, and he was one of several former athletes featured in a series of light-hearted commercials for Miller Lite beer.
He also led a foundation that helped inner-city youths.
“Some people see players as heroes, and that’s ridiculous,” he told the Lincoln, Neb., Journal Star in 2007. “I played in a brutal game, but it was a business.”
— Los Angeles Times