When Jon Gruden introduced Deacon Jones to an assemblage of media at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday morning, he called him “the greatest pass-rusher of all time.”
A fitting tribute, that, but as it turns out, not the highest praise Gruden had on tap for the one-time sack-master of the famous Los Angeles Rams' Fearsome Foursome.
“He’s the King of the Juice,” said Gruden. “He’s the guy who invented the word. From all the places I’ve been, all the players I’ve met, this guy’s a cut above everybody in terms of energy and charisma and style.”
In the coach’s lexicon, juice represents the most important thing a player can have, an energy and desire that he brings to the field and passes on to his teammates. Jones was in town to give a pep talk to Gruden’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a job he would have been qualified for simply based on his unparalleled playing career. Gruden, however, wanted Jones for his attitude more than his career bio; he wanted someone who would stimulate his team.
Before he met with the media, Jones spent 30 minutes addressing the Buccaneer players in the team conference room, at the end of a regularly-scheduled morning meeting. Animated, cocky and wildly entertaining as a speaker, Jones was met with loud applause and immediately made it known that he was ‘the most feared son of a (gun) who ever played the game.’
Jones, who invented the term ‘sack’ and may have been the all-time NFL leader in that category had it been kept as an official statistic during his playing days, regaled the team with stories of his career interspersed with messages for the current Buccaneers. He welcomed the Buccaneers’ 2002 defense into the pantheon of the all-time greats and challenged the current defensive squad to regain that level in 2004.
“We talked about pain and suffering and we talked about how to apply it,” said Jones. “And all I did was remind them of the Super Bowl year…they don’t need me, they don’t need coach, they need to remember that year. Because you see that’s the kind off football they’ve got to play if they want to repeat. The commitment they made, I tried to remind them of that, that year. They know what they have to do, they just have to be reminded of it. And hopefully we did that this morning.”
Jones spoke repeatedly of commitment and hard work, and of forming bonds as a unit and as a team. Stalking the front of the room, gesturing excitedly and snatching the hat of his own head, he interspersed valuable lessons (e.g. bring the same passion to practice that you bring to a game) with hilarious stories (e.g. a formative training camp moment in his own career when he was sent on a curfew-breaking run by the veterans).
He also urged each player to make a commitment to the man playing by his side, much as he did with fellow Foursome Hall-of-Famer Merlin Olsen.
“These are the best relationships you’ll make,” said Jones during his meeting with the team. “The Fearsome Foursome, we get together three times a year, and we never miss it. And we talk about the same things every single time. The stories may change a little bit every year, but we still love to talk about them.
“When you’re done, you won’t remember the money you made. You’ll remember the things you did together as a unit.”
The Fearsome Foursome was, of course, one of the greatest defensive lines in NFL history: Lamar Lundy, Rosey Grier, Olsen and Jones. Individually, Jones was an eight-time Pro Bowler and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1967 and ’68. He was known for his outrageous speed (“I could outrun daylight”) and his intensely physical style of play.
Jones’ coach with the Rams was the legendary George Allen, and that explains his visit to Tampa. Jones, who saw the late Allen as a father figure and much more, remains extremely close to the Allen family. George’s son, Bruce, is now Tampa Bay’s general manager, and Jones was all too happy to answer the call when Bruce felt his team could benefit from a dose of attitude.
“George was the guy who taught me everything I knew about the game and he’s definitely responsible for my success,” said Jones. “I was obligated to him, committed to him; I went through the fire with George. So the Allens have been very important in my life and Bruce is just like a little brother to me. And anytime he needs Deacon, Deacon will be there.”
Jones was brash as a player and, at 65 but in great shape, especially for a long-time NFL lineman, he is just as outspoken. He claimed he could still outrun half of the current Bucs team and told them how much easier they have it than did the players of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Of course, it’s not really boasting when it’s all true, and a highlight film Gruden showed the players before introducing his guest opened some young eyes as to how marvelous Jones was as a player. Still, as assured as Jones is of his own talents, his message still focused heavily on team concepts and a love of the game.
“They can call it cockiness, but you back it up with hard work, execution and commitment,” said Jones to the players. “There are five things that define a champion: teamwork, hard work, pride, determination and competitive spirit.”
After his speech, Jones trotted out on the field with the Bucs’ defensive linemen for a series of photos. He also called the linemen into a huddle around him and shared a few nuggets of wisdom specific to his position. Jones urged the likes of Anthony McFarland, Simeon Rice and Greg Spires to get their teammates involved in the game and shoot for a balanced pass rush.
“You need four men thinking like a unit,” said Jones. “Think pressure; don’t think sacks. Make the quarterback think somebody is going to hit him on every play.”
The Buc pass-rushers, who eagerly lined up for one-on-one photos with the all-time great, took Jones’ lessons to heart.
“It’s a passage,” said Rice. “You get so much of the journey that he came from, the history of the game. It’s just an honor and a respect thing for the guys in the room to touch greatness like that. I’ve met so many great people. I’ve been able to sit with Jim Brown, be coached by Joe Greene and now a seminar by Deacon Jones. Nothing really can take the place of those things. You can be affected by the historians of the game and the people that came before you. It’s kind of a passing of the torch. This team will be affected by (Deacon’s speech) this season, especially the D-line.”
As for the ‘Juice’ that Gruden hoped Deacon would inject in his team, it comes from a surprising source…or perhaps not too surprising if one knows the passion with which Jones hunted passers during his day.
“Hate keeps me motivated,” said Jones with a laugh. “I hate the damn quarterback and that keeps me motivated.”
McFarland understands the feeling and shares it, at least when it counts.
“For 60 minutes on Sunday, that’s part of it,” said McFarland. “That’s part of the game. That’s how D-linemen think.”