Jones was born in Eatonville, Florida, and lived in a four-bedroom house with his family of ten. Jones attended Hungerford High School, where he played football, baseball, and basketball. During high school, Jones developed a lump in his thigh and learned that it was a tumor; he had surgery to remove it. When he was 14 years old, he witnessed a carload of white teenagers laughingly hit an elderly black church woman with a watermelon. The woman died days later from the injury, and there was never a police investigation. “Unlike many black people then, I was determined not to be what society said I was,” Jones later recounted. “Thank God I had the ability to play a violent game like football. It gave me an outlet for the anger in my heart.”
Jones’ college football career consisted of a year at South Carolina State University in 1958, followed by a year of inactivity in 1959 and a final season at Mississippi Vocational College in 1960. South Carolina State revoked Jones’ scholarship after they learned that he was a part of a civil rights protest. However, one of the assistant football coaches at South Carolina State was leaving to coach at Mississippi Vocational, and told Jones and some of the other African American players that he could get them scholarships at the new school. While he was playing at Mississippi Vocational, he and his African American teammates had to sleep in cots in the opposing team’s gym because motels would not take them on numerous occasions.
Jones was drafted in the 14th round of the 1961 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He then earned a starting role as a defensive end and teamed with tackle Merlin Olsen to give Los Angeles a perennial All-Pro left side of the defensive line. He became a part of the Fearsome Foursome defensive line of the Rams (along with Lamar Lundy, Rosey Grier, and Olsen), which is now considered to have been one of the best defensive lines of all time. Jones won consensus All-Pro honors five straight years from 1965 through 1969 and was second-team All-Pro in 1964, 1970, and 1972. He was also in seven straight Pro Bowls, from 1964 to 1970, and was selected to an eighth after the 1972 season with the San Diego Chargers. He was voted the team’s Outstanding Defensive Lineman by the Los Angeles Rams Alumni in 1962, ’64, ’65, and ’66. In 1971, Jones suffered a severely sprained arch, which caused him to miss four starts, and he ended the season with 4½ sacks, his career-low to that point.
In 1972, Jones was included in a multiplayer trade with the San Diego Chargers, where he was an instant success. He was named San Diego’s defensive captain and led all Chargers’ defensive linemen in tackles and won a berth on the AFC Pro Bowl squad. He concluded his career with the Washington Redskins in 1974. In the final game of his NFL career, the Redskins allowed him to kick the point-after-touchdown for the game’s last score. Along the way, Jones was named the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Week four times: week 14, 1967; week 12, 1968; week 11, 1969; and week 10, 1970. An extremely durable player, Jones missed only six games of a possible 196 regular-season encounters in his 14 National Football League seasons.
Jones was considered by many to revolutionize the position of defensive end. He was credited with coining the phrase “sacking the quarterback”. In 1999, Jones provided an L.A. Times reporter with some detailed imagery about his forte: “You take all the offensive linemen and put them in a burlap bag, and then you take a baseball bat and beat on the bag. You’re sacking them, you’re bagging them. And that’s what you’re doing with a quarterback.”
What separated Jones from every other defensive end was his speed and his ability to make tackles from sideline to sideline, which was unheard of in his time. He also was the first pass rusher to use the head slap, a move that he said was, “…to give myself an initial head start on the pass rush, in other words an extra step. Because anytime you go upside a man’s head … or a woman; they may have a tendency to blink they [sic] eyes or close they eyes. And that’s all I needed. ” “The head slap was not my invention, but Rembrandt, of course, did not invent painting. The quickness of my hands and the length of my arms, it was perfect for me. It was the greatest thing I ever did, and when I left the game, they outlawed it.”
Pro Football Weekly reported he accumulated 173½ sacks over his career, which would be third on the all-time sack list. (Jones would have ranked first all-time at the time of his retirement, and since has been surpassed by two fellow Hall of Famers Bruce Smith and Reggie White.) In 1967, Jones had 26 sacks in only 14 games, which (if official) would stand as the single-season record. (The term “sack” had not yet been coined at the time, and official sack statistics were not recorded by the NFL until 1982.) Then in 1968, Jones tallied 24 sacks in 14 games, also more than the current NFL record. The sum total of these two seasons would account for 50 sacks in two seasons by Jones, far more than anyone else has ever achieved.
Jones has stated that he gave himself the nickname Deacon after joining the Rams because too many David Joneses were in the local phone book. “Football is a violent world and Deacon has a religious connotation,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1980. “I thought a name like that would be remembered.” Deacon Jones’s wife Elizabeth is the chief operating and financial officer of the Deacon Jones Foundation, based in Anaheim Hills, California., the community in which the couple lived. Jones was a rhythm and blues singer during his football days, and was backed by the band Nightshift, which later became the group War. Jones was featured in “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”, which he recorded with War. Jones sang onstage with Ray Charles, performed on The Hollywood Palace in 1967 and 1968, and on The Merv Griffin Show in 1970.
On June 3, 2013, Jones died at 74 of natural causes at his home in Anaheim Hills, California. Jones’s death left Rosey Grier as the last surviving member of the Fearsome Foursome, the L.A. Rams defensive line, which is widely considered the best such unit in the history of the NFL. Of the former defensive standout, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, “Even with his fellow Hall of Famers, Deacon Jones held a special status. He was an icon among the icons.”, while Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen, son of Jones’s longtime coach George Allen, called him, “one of the greatest players in NFL history. Off the field … a true giant.” Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King noted at his death that Jones had a profound effect on the way defense was played in the NFL and cited the influence on such later NFL stars as Lawrence Taylor, Deion Sanders, and Michael Strahan. As a tribute to Jones, the NFL created the Deacon Jones Award, which will be given to the annual league leader in sacks.
- December, 09, 1939
- Eatonville, Florida
- June, 03, 2013
- Anaheim, California
Cause of Death
- natural causes