Although Deacon Jones thrived on bullying, he was an ethical NFL defensive end. Deacon sought to strike fear into the quarterback’s eyes, but he was ethical in his approach to doing this.
Deacon Jones coined the football word “sack,” which is tackling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. He played left end in an era when every quarterback in the NFL was right-handed. He didn’t sneak up behind the quarterbacks and surprise them, because that was below what his ethics would allow. Deacon wanted the quarterbacks to know he was coming, that the number 75 was coming and coming fast. He wanted to intimidate the other team and especially the quarterback, but he wasn’t the type to attack you from behind. Deacon wanted to be frank about it and look that quarterback in the eye.
Why was the correct offensive tackle position run by the best offensive linemen on each team during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s? The reason was because the best defensive ends of those days played on the left side of the defensive line. Why didn’t the teams of the ’50s,’ 60s, and ’70s play their best defensive end on the right side like they do today? Theories vary, but an interesting theory is that ethics were stronger during those times: He looked his sport’s opposition in the face and eyes, rather than sneaking up behind it.
In the 50s, 60s and 70s, great soccer players like Forest Gregg, Bob Brown, Ron Yary, Dan Dierdorf and Rayfield Wright played right tackle and had to block the best defensive ends from soccer balls in men like Deacon. Jones, Bubba Smith, Willie Davis, Gerry Philbin, Carl Eller, Jack Youngblood, and LC Greenwood.
Was the ethic stronger in society and football 30-50 years ago than now? Every current NFL team plays its best defensive end on the right side to attack the blind sides of right-handed quarterbacks. Today’s ethics state that making a blind is the right thing to do because winning is everything, even if it means jumping someone (the quarterback) from behind.
But there are exceptions to this theory. Reggie White is considered the greatest defensive end of all time and played on the left side during the 1980s and 1990s. White was a deeply religious man. Did his strong ethics only allow him to play where the majority of right-handed quarterbacks in the leagues could see him approach? From his wonderful interviews and the many good virtues that were said about Reggie White, it would appear that he did not want to surprise the quarterbacks. In polls of the best defensive ends in NFL history, Reggie White is number one with Deacon Jones in second place.
Shifting your strongest defensive linemen back and forth between the left and right sides of the defensive line is now a common strategy in soccer as coaches try to find pairings that give their defenses an advantage. But Deacon remained on the left side for his entire career.
A contradiction to the theory that Deacon was ethical is that his massive ego had to be fed upon seeing the fear in the quarterbacks’ eyes, something that would not have happened if he had played on the right side. Left-handed quarterbacks were rare in the NFL during Deacon’s career: Chicago Bears left-hander Bobby Douglas’s rookie year was 1969.
Deacon Jones died on June 3, 2013. The NFL honored his passing with the Deacon Jones Award for the NFL player with the most quarterback sacks each season. This award should have been named long ago by the man who coined the word “sack”, but it took Deacon’s death to finally release this dignity to his honor.
If the ethics of society and sport have suffered in the last 40 years since Deacon Jones played soccer, it would not have changed the way Deacon played. Because if he was playing today, he would still insist on playing left defensive end so he could continue to strike fear in the eyes of those quarterbacks.