Even among professional athletes, the elite of the elite among those to ever play a sport, there are levels of greatness that can elevate you to various levels of immortality. There is single-game (or even single-play) greatness, such as The Tackle that won Super Bowl XXXIV for the Rams and won Mike Jones a hero's welcome in any St Louis establishment. Another level above that is career-long, Hall Of Fame greatness, a ring just cracked by Marshall Faulk with Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt potentially waiting in the wings. You get your number retired and your name hung from the rafters for future generations to see.
There is yet another level of greatness, even among Hall of Famers. A special circle of honor is reserved for those who change the game itself. Deacon Jones was one of those.
As perhaps the most feared member of the Rams' legendary Fearsome Foursome, the Deacon's prolifics for dropping quarterbacks demanded that a new term enter the football lexicon. THE SACK. Though the sack was not an official stat in his time, researchers at the Pro Football Hall of Fame have accredited him with two seasons with 22 sacks, and a third with 21. No other defensive lineman in NFL history has more than one season with 20.
Moreover, his trademark helmet-splitting headslap was so lethal in its effectiveness that the league had to rewrite the rulebook to ban it.
Deacon Jones, also in '09 LA Times piece: "The headslap was not my invention, but Rembrandt, of course, did not invent painting."— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@espn_nfcwest) June 4, 2013
When you are so dominant that the league must re-level the playing field for everyone else, you can be recognized as the elite of the elite of the elite. As Bob Gibson's dominance led baseball to lower the pitching mound, as George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain changed the rules for big men in the NBA, so Deacon Jones changed the NFL.
We reflect on this on the day of his passing. It is a sad day for Rams nation, but we can be clear-eyed as we celebrate his life. He became a legend in his lifetime and got to enjoy it well into old age, which is as much as any of us can ask for.
When Jeff Fisher came to the Rams a little more than a year ago, he found the link between the team and its legends peculiarly severed. He immediately sought to change this. At his behest, these lions of the past were ushered into the present, spending time in practice and in the locker room with the Rams players.
The man who has inherited his mantle in St Louis is Chris Long, the unquestioned leader of a newly fearsome 4-man front. (We can't call them the new Fearsome Foursome yet... but we're getting close.) Long was surely aware of the legacies of men like Deacon Jones and Jack Youngblood, but now he has a connection on a personal level. Torches are meant to be passed hand to hand, man to man.
If what I'm hearing is true we lost an all time great. A life lived to the fullest though. RIP Deacon. It was an honor to briefly meet you.— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) June 4, 2013
When a man of this magnitude lives, there are countless recollections that ripple out upon his falling. The Rams are doing an excellent job of collecting as many as they can, in a Storify feature. I've included it below. To say that he will be remembered falls a little short. As long as they play tackle football, Deacon Jones will loom over the game.