Photo: TGADeacon Jones passed away this week at the age of 74. Appropriately nicknamed the “Secretary of Defense,” the 1980 inductee into Canton is seen here photographed alongside O.J. Simpson.
The two represent this unique generational bridge in the game of football. Jones’ induction occurred six years before I was born and the O.J. I know played a hilarious supporting role on the Naked Gun movies and there’s also that small issue of “the trial of the century.” Jones’ career following football created its own legacy aside from the violent serial killer he gleefully accepted during his glory years. He spoke for equality in society and the change he hoped to one day see in America, even if he wouldn’t be around to reap its benefits. Jones was probably somewhere near the top of our grandfather’s favorite players. He played the game with a tenacity only few players in the history of the game matched and probably would’ve been – at the very least – a top five sack artist of all time had they began keeping tally during his playing days.
O.J., on the other hand, was everything. Seriously, everything. He had the talent, the looks, the charisma. Everything. He was a workhorse on the field and goldmine away from the gridiron. He was a crossover celebrity. He even had one of the coolest nicknames ever.
Yet, both Deacon and Juice embodied Black superheroes to generations before mine. Soaking up game from older heads has always been a personal favorite pastime. There have obviously been others, but the two men featured in the picture above brought pride. Sure, there were those who labelled OJ a “sellout” for whatever reasons. However, on the field, if I had a quarter forever time I heard “OJ was a bad somebody with that football in his hands” or “Juice was the perfect running back” I’d have enough money to sit court side at every Finals game…for the next 10 years.
Likewise for Deacon, I heard everything from “I remember when he ripped the guy’s finger straight off his hand” to “I remember that year Deacon averaged like seven sacks a game.”
That’s just it. The stories were fabricated to the Nth degree, but that’s normally the case when an indelible impact is left. The truth is stretched because the talent itself didn’t seem real in the first place. Juice and Deacon made people like my grandfather or my uncles or anyone around to appreciate football in the ’60s and ’70s. They were pillars of the game and not even death or a tarnished, incarcerated image can change the past.
Being two of the best ever at their respective positions didn’t hurt either.