The game often doesn’t repay greatness at the right moment, which is evident now with the late David “Deacon” Jones.
Nice of the NFL, but it should have done this earlier, while Jones was around to bask in the recognition. The league should have done so while Jones was alive to stand in front of the first winner and pass him the sack award like a baton in a relay.
Reality didn’t play out that way. The inaugural winner will have to settle for someone else handing him the trophy.
No one else, however, deserves to do so.
For if any defensive player was more deserving of an honor like this, I don’t know who that person is. In a time when legends are often shunted aside, it is impossible to dismiss Jones and his Hall of Fame contributions to the game.
It was Jones, sports history notes, who coined the term “sack”; it was Jones who turned the sack into an art form; it was Jones who created havoc for NFL quarterbacks with an explosive, brutal rush that remains integral to the game.
I wish NFL fans today knew Jones better. To most of them, he’s a watercolor memory from their grandfather’s era. They hardly remember Reggie White or Lawrence Taylor, sack masters who each, some people might argue, deserved to have his name on the sack award.
Had the NFL picked one of them, the league would have delivered as vicious a slap at its past as Jones’ signature move: a head-slap with the force of a karate chop. So the league did right in recognizing Jones, not only for what he did in his career but in the years after his last sack.
In the twilight of his life, he had become the spokesman for NFL players whose careers ended in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s, a time before money spawned a generation of million-dollar babies.
At the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies each summer, Jones played a prominent role. He was gracious in supporting present players. He was also mindful to salute players from the past, trying hard to keep his contemporaries and their careers from fading from people’s thoughts.
As much as Jones’ speeches meant to pro football, they never did serve to enlighten those who heard them on his contributions. Without question, he was the greatest defensive lineman of his generation, and had sacks been an official statistic in his day, he might easily sit atop the all-time list.
No single defensive end — no single defensive player, actually — altered games the way he did.
Maybe having an award named for him will force people to think about who Jones was at least once a season — the day the winner is announced. The occasion might send sports fans to newspaper archives and Internet sites to figure out just who he was.
For those die-hard NFL fans that don’t know him, shame on you; shame on the NFL, too, for waiting until his death to give the man his due. To know anything at all about NFL history is to know that no player personified “sack” better than Deacon Jones did.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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