Though Deacon Jones thrived on intimidation, he was an ethical NFL defensive end. Deacon sought to strike fear in 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 defensive end in an era when every NFL quarterback was right-handed. He didn’t sneak up behind quarterbacks and blindside them, for that was below what his ethics would allow. Deacon wanted the quarterbacks to know he was coming, that number 75 was approaching, and approaching fast. He wanted to intimidate the other team and especially the quarterback, but he wasn’t the type of man to jump you from behind. Deacon wanted to be up-front about it and look that quarterback in the eyes.
Why was the right offensive tackle position manned by each teams’ best offensive linemen during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s? The reason was because the best defensive ends during those eras played left defensive end. Why didn’t teams in the 50s, 60s, and 70s play their best defensive end on the right side like they do nowadays? Theories vary, but an interesting theory is that ethics were stronger during those times – you looked your sport’s opposition in the face and eyes, instead of sneaking up behind him.
In the 50s, 60s and 70s, great football players like Forest Gregg, Bob Brown, Ron Yary, Dan Dierdorf and Rayfield Wright played right tackle and had to block footballs’ best defensive ends in men like Deacon Jones, Bubba Smith, Willie Davis, Gerry Philbin, Carl Eller, Jack Youngblood and L.C. Greenwood.
Were ethics stronger in society and football 30-50 years ago than they are now? Every current NFL team plays their best defensive end on the right side to attack right-handed quarterbacks’ blindsides. Today’s ethics state that blindsiding is the right thing to do because winning is everything, even if it means that you jump someone (the quarterback) from behind.
But there are exceptions to this theory. Reggie White is considered the greatest defensive end of all time and he played left defensive end during the 1980s and 1990s. White was a deeply religious man. Did his strong ethics only allow him to play left defensive end where the leagues’ majority of right-handed quarterbacks could see him approaching? From his wonderful interviews and the many good virtues said about Reggie White, it would seem that he didn’t want to blindside quarterbacks. In polls regarding the greatest defensive ends in NFL history, Reggie White is number one with Deacon Jones second.
Flip-flopping your stronger defensive linemen back and forth between the right and left sides of the defensive line is now a common strategy in football as coaches attempt to find match-ups that will give their defenses an advantage. But Deacon stayed at left defensive end his entire career.
A counter to the theory that Deacon was ethical is that his massive ego had to be fed by seeing the fear in quarterbacks’ eyes, something that wouldn’t have happened if he’d played at right defensive end. Lefthanded quarterbacks were rare in the NFL during Deacon’s career – Chicago Bears’ southpaw Bobby Douglas’ rookie year was 1969.
Deacon Jones died this past June 3rd. 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 long ago been named after the man who coined the word ‘sack’, but it took Deacon’s death to finally liberate this dignity to his honor.
If society’s and sports’ ethics have suffered in the last 40 years since Deacon Jones played football, it would not have changed how Deacon played. For if he was playing today he’d still insist on playing left defensive end so that he could continue to strike fear in those quarterbacks’ eyes.