NEW YORK — Deacon Jones, a prototype of the pass-rushing defensive end who became a master of the sack and one of the NFL’s greatest players with the Los Angeles Rams’ line known as the Fearsome Foursome, died Monday in Anaheim Hills, Calif. He was 74.
Mr. Jones had been treated for lung cancer and heart problems, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2009.
Mr. Jones was a 14th-round draft pick from a historically black college, and he arrived in the NFL when offensive players garnered most of the headlines. But in his 14 pro seasons he parlayed his size — 6 feet 5 inches and 270 pounds or so — his strength and his agility to glamorize defensive play.
Mr. Jones pounded opposing quarterbacks, rolling up dozens of sacks, and he popularized the head slap to dominate offensive linemen. He was selected six times to the All-Pro team and played in eight Pro Bowls. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and was one of three defensive ends on the all-NFL 75th anniversary team selected in 1994 by a vote of the news media and league personnel.
The Rams had only one winning season from 1963 to 1966, the span in which all four “Fearsome” players were teammates. But Mr. Jones became a marquee figure — sometimes called the Secretary of Defense — playing left end alongside tackle Merlin Olsen, who was also chosen for the 75th anniversary team, in a line including right tackle Roosevelt Grier, who was known as Rosey, and right end Lamar Lundy. Lundy died in 2007 and Olsen in 2010. Mr. Jones’s death leaves Grier, age 80, as the last survivor of the Fearsome Foursome.
“He had that head slap move, the constant energy, the incredible speed, and the nonstop will,” Sonny Jurgensen, the Hall of Fame quarterback, told the Post-Dispatch in September 2009 when the St. Louis Rams, the successor franchise to Mr. Jones’s team, retired his No. 75.
Jurgensen remembered an encounter with Mr. Jones late in a game when the Rams were leading his Washington Redskins by 11 points. “He comes in on a pass rush and fell down. He starts crawling on all fours trying to get to me. He’s crawling in the dirt like it was the most important play in the world, and I look at him and said, ‘Jeezz-us, Deacon, it ain’t the Super Bowl.’ But that’s how much he cared.”
David Jones was born in Eatonville, Fla., where an incident he witnessed as a youngster remained seared in his psyche and fueled his determination to escape the segregationist Dixie.
Following Sunday church services, members of an all-black congregation were mingling on a lawn when white teenagers in a passing car heaved a watermelon at the group. It hit an elderly woman in the head.
“I was maybe 14 years old but I chased that car until my breath ran out,” Mr. Jones said in 1999. “I could hear them laughing.”
The woman died of her injuries a few days later, but there was no police investigation, as Mr. Jones remembered it.
“Unlike many black people then, I was determined not to be what society said I was,” he recalled. “Thank God I had the ability to play a violent game like football. It gave me an outlet for the anger in my heart.”
He played at South Carolina State and Mississippi Vocational — now Mississippi Valley State. He was known as D.J. in college, but when he arrived in the NFL he sought something more distinctive and called himself Deacon, having met Deacon Dan Towler, an outstanding fullback of the 1950s and one of football’s early black stars, who became a minister.
Mr. Jones believed he would have been the career sacks leader in the NFL — surpassing Bruce Smith’s 200 — if individual sack totals were tallied in his era. They did not become an official statistic until 1982.
John Turney, a member of the Pro Football Researchers Association who pored over play-by-play accounts of games played long ago. concluded that Mr. Jones had 173½ sacks.
However murky the origin of the sack, Mr. Jones clearly made it his trademark, playing for the Rams (1961-71), the San Diego Chargers (1972-73), and the Redskins (1974).
Mr. Jones’s survivors include his wife, Elizabeth, and a stepson, Greg Pinto, the Los Angeles Times reported.
After retiring from football, Mr. Jones broadcast for the Rams on radio, acted on television programs, did Miller Lite beer commercials, and created the Deacon Jones Foundation in Anaheim Hills, which provides college expenses for students from the inner cities in return for their volunteer work in their communities.
He took pride in that, but he did not want anyone to forget his more ferocious calling.
In an interview with the Times, he provided his imagery of the sack: “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.”