Football 101: No. 15, Deacon Jones
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You know the cry “Dee-fense! Dee-fense!” that you hear at football games these days? Well, before David “Deacon” Jones, there was no such yell. The Deacon put the “D” in football. He was the first defensive player in the game to become a star. Before the Deacon, defensive players were as anonymous as spies. They were the unknown soldiers of football, known but to God — and the line coach.
Deacon Jones changed all that.
—Jim Murray, in his foreword to Headslap: The Life and Times of Deacon Jones
You sometimes hear claims like the one Jim Murray was making here — so and so was the FIRST person to do something or the FIRST person to be acclaimed for something — and then you go back and look and find that, no, there were others.
But with Deacon Jones … no, Murray got it exactly right. There were other great defensive football players before the Deacon, sure, guys like Emlen Tunnell and Night Train Lane and Bill George and Sam Huff and the man Jones modeled himself after, Gino Marchetti.
But defensive stars?
No. Deacon was the first one of those.
And there’s a reason for this: The Deacon invented the whole concept. He named the sack. He named his Rams defensive line “The Fearsome Foursome.” Heck, he named himself. He knew that “David Jones” wasn’t the name of a superstar. “There are a thousand David Joneses in the phonebook,” he said.
So he called himself Deacon. The legend is that the name came from the passionate way he would lead his South Carolina State football team in prayer before every game.
“What’s he praying about, anyway?” one teammate supposedly asked another.
“That he won’t kill anybody today,” the player replied.
By the way, “Deacon” was not what his close friends called him. No, some of them called him “Nasty.” And NASTY was the vanity license plate on his Lincoln Continental.
David Jones was an angry young man. He readily admitted that. He grew up in a segregated little Florida town called Eatonville, and he always said there were two defining moments of his childhood.
The first came when he