Accolades and sympathies poured in from the football world Monday and Tuesday, as contemporaries of Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones reacted to the NFL legend's death at 74.
"He was an icon among the icons," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in statement. "Even with his fellow Hall of Famers, Deacon Jones held a special status. He was a hard-charging football player and the original sack artist who coined the term. He is warmly regarded by his peers not only as one of the greatest players in NFL history but also for his tremendous influence and sense of humor. Deacon Jones will be missed but always remembered. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Elizabeth and the entire Jones family."
Considered by many to be the greatest defensive player in league history, Jones combined with Merlin Olsen, Rosy Grier and Lamar Lundy to form "The Fearsome Foursome" with the Los Angeles Rams. Jones was selected to seven straight Pro Bowls with the Rams from 1964-70 and made eight overall.
Olsen died in March 2010 and Lundy died in February 2007. Grier, 80, is the only surviving member.
"Farewell, DEACON JONES, author of the 'QB sack,' tweeted Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay." An all-time superstar and a big help in making this sport as popular as it is."
"#Rip Deacon Jones you paved the way for guys like myself, played the game like it should have been played and told it like it was," added linebacker Shawne Merriman, who announced his retirement in March.
Jones' career began in 1961 as a 14th-round pick out of Mississippi Vocational, now known as Mississippi Valley State. He spent his first 11 seasons with the Rams.
"A tremendously sad day for our Rams family with the passing of Deacon Jones," tweeted Kevin Demoff, executive vice president of football operations and COO for the now-St. Louis Rams. "Revered on & off the field, a legend who redefined the game."
Former Rams coach George Allen described Jones the "greatest defensive end of modern football" and received the nickname "Secretary of Defense" from Rams fans. In 1999, he was named "defensive end of the Century" by Sports Illustrated.
The Rams traded Jones to the San Diego after the 1971 season, and he spent two years with the Chargers. He finished his career in 1974 with the Washington Redskins in 1974, and was enshrined into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
"Deacon Jones signified what it was to be a great warrior, on the defensive line, up front, all day long," former defensive tackle Warren Sapp told NFL.com. "Pack a lunch if Deacon was coming, because it was going to be an all-day affair. He was going to tell you about it too. (I) kinda patterned my game after him, because if you can talk that talk and walk that walk, then you can stand beside Deacon. He was the best."
Jones was the first defensive lineman with 100 solo tackles. In an era of injuries, Jones missed just five games during a 14-year career. He is also credited with coining the phrase "sacking the quarterback." While sacks weren't an official statistic until 1982, the Rams' media guide tabulates his unofficial career sack total at 173.5
"The thing we've got to remember being players in this era is to really respect the game 'back when,' because those guys could really play," Rams defensive end Chris Long told NFL.com. "Deacon Jones is a perfect example. This whole league and everybody in this game should honor the past and the players who played in that era. Those guys paved the way for us."
"RIP to my friend, mentor and idol Mr. Deacon Jones," tweeted former defensive end Michael Strahan. "Was always there for me from the beginning and led the way for all if us DE's! #headslap."