Deacon Jones, the Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end, died Monday night. Jones was such an iconic pass rusher he is actually credited with coining the word "sack." But unfortunately for his career, the NFL didn't start keeping official tracks of sacks until 1982.
Jones haunted quarterbacks' nightmares throughout the 1960s and '70s, mostly as one of the headliners of the Los Angeles Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" (which also included Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy).
I met Jones only once, but it was a memorable conversation. This was in 2004, when the Charlotte Touchdown Club -- an organization that has done a ton in Charlotte to promote football and give out scholarships -- had Jones in as a lunch speaker as part of their annual speakers' series.
I talked to Jones before his speech. He was a legendarily tough player, and he told me flat-out that he had watched the 2004 Panthers (coming off a Super Bowl year, but in the middle of a disappointing 7-9 season) and that they weren't tough enough. In fact, Jones said, NFL players in general weren't tough enough anymore.
As he said when I interviewed him: "These girls who play the NFL game today ought to be ashamed of taking all that money!"
Jones said today's NFL players, although larger, are much softer.
"You see them taking oxygen all the time on the sideline, " Jones said. "They get tired after a series and have to come out. It makes me sick. "Football is a game of pain! Of suffering! What do these players know about that?"
A former 14th-round pick out of Mississippi Valley State, Jones also said he couldn't stand the NFL rules that protected offensive players and, in his view, made the game less violent and less entertaining.
"Fans today are getting less football, " Jones said, "and paying a lot more money for it."
In other words, along with being an incredible player, Jones was a heck of an interview. I remember him fondly, as does anyone who ever saw him play. He was 74.
3 days ago