David "Deacon" Jones, the Hall of Fame defensive end whom some consider the greatest defensive player in NFL history, died Monday at the age of 74.
He died of natural causes in his Anaheim Hills, Calif., home, the Los Angeles Times reported. The newspaper cited his stepson.
Jones' NFL career started in 1961, when he was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 14th round (186th overall) out of Mississippi Vocational (now known as Mississippi Valley State). Jones spent his first 11 seasons in Los Angeles, where he teamed with Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy to form "The Fearsome Foursome" -- one of the most famous defensive lines in NFL history. Jones was selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls with the Rams from 1964 to 1970 and made eight overall.
Olsen died in March 2010 at age 69 and Lundy died in February 2007 at 71. Grier, who is 80, is the only surviving member of the Fearsome Foursome.
"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."
Few would disagree with former Rams coach George Allen, who labeled Jones as the "greatest defensive end of modern football." Jones, also a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was nicknamed "Secretary of Defense" by Rams fans. Jones later was named "defensive end of the Century" by Sports Illustrated in 1999.
Jones was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
He was the first defensive lineman with 100 solo tackles, reaching that mark in 1967.
Jones -- who proved to be one of the more durable players in NFL history, missing just five games during his decorated 14-year career -- was traded to the San Diego Chargers in 1972 and had immediate success, receiving defensive captain honors and a Pro Bowl selection. Jones finished his career in 1974 with the Washington Redskins.
In addition to his accomplishments on the field, the outspoken Jones is credited with coining the phrase "sacking the quarterback."
Sacks weren't kept as an official NFL statistic until 1982. Had they been kept far earlier, few doubt Jones would have been among the NFL's all-time leaders. According to the Rams' media guide, Jones recorded a team-best 159.5 sacks with the franchise and 173.5 in his career. He recorded double-digit sacks seven times with the Rams and became the first defensive lineman to post 100 solo tackles in a season (1967).
"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," said Chris Long of the Rams, whose father, Howie, also is in the Hall of Fame. "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."