The Fearsome Foursome
In modern-day football parlance, the word sack has become almost as well known as the word touchdown. When you talk about defense, interceptions and fumbles are exciting, but fans seem to get more of a rise when a hulking defensive end or cat-quick linebacker bursts through the line of scrimmage and maims a helpless quarterback.
In the mid-1960s, a sack was something in which you bagged groceries. That is until Deacon Jones and the other three men of the Los Angeles Rams' front line - Rosey Grier, Lamar Lundy and Merlin Olsen - came along. Nicknamed The Fearsome Foursome, this unit - Grier was replaced by Roger Brown in 1967 - dominated opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks feared for their lives. "Every quarterback we met was so ready for the rush that he threw the ball quicker," said Olsen, who like Jones has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "We didn't always get him, but we put the thought in his mind."
That thought was, "Get rid of the ball or I might get killed."
It was Jones who coined the term "sack." He likened it to, "You know, you sack a city, you devastate it."
Jones was certainly devastating as the premier pass-rusher of his day. Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets is considered to be the single-season record-holder for sacks with 22 in 1984, but Jones owns the unofficial mark. In 1967, Jones recorded 26 sacks, although the feat is not a record because the sack did not become an official statistic until 1982.
Jones did his rushing from the left side of the defensive line, meaning he usually did not come from the quarterback's blind side. Jones was in full view of right-handed quarterbacks, yet they still could not get escape the man who made All-Pro five times and played in 11 Pro Bowls.
Of course it helped having Olsen line up next to him at left tackle, forming what is undoubtedly the best left side of a line in NFL history. Olsen was a powerful man who could occupy two blockers, and when he and Jones would run stunts, Jones' quickness enabled him to beat his man and get to the quarterback. What made the tandem so tremendous, however, was that Jones could reciprocate. He could play the role of decoy, take two blockers on and allow Olsen to get to the passer.
"Deac and I had a great unspoken rapport on the field," Olsen said. "After playing together for so long, we'd learn to anticipate each other's moves. I never had to worry about him." Said Jones: "We were lucky enough to blend so well. We put pressure on the quarterback on every play."
On the right side were the massive figures of Grier and Lundy. Grier had been a star with the New York Giants before being traded to the Rams in 1963. "A player of his caliber, together with the men we already have, will give us one of the best defensive lines in the league," Rams coach Harland Svare said at the time of the deal.
Grier weighed at least 300 pounds - the Giants scale only went that high and Grier maxed it out every time - and he could make tackles from sideline to sideline. But unlike someone like Big Daddy Lipscomb, who was trying to break ball carriers in two, Grier - who counted needlepoint as one of his hobbies - preferred to tackle in a way not to hurt.
"Whenever the Giants gang-tackled a ball carrier, Sam Huff would be trying to kill him, and Rosey Grier would be praying for him," Frank Gifford wrote in his book, The Whole Ten Yards.
"If Rosey Grier had ever managed to control his weight, and if he'd ever been able to get angry, he'd have easily made the Hall of Fame."
Lundy was the least-known of the Fearsome Foursome, but he was a pillar of strength for the Rams for 13 seasons. Lundy was famous for always honoring his assignment, and because he usually stayed at home, it allowed Jones and Olsen the freedom to do their thing.
The 6-foot-7 Lundy was a fourth-round draft choice out of Purdue in 1957 and began his career as a receiver, catching 35 passes for 584 yards and three touchdowns in his first 2 1/2 seasons. Midway through 1959 he was switched to defensive end, and when he began to bulk up - eventually playing at about 245 pounds - he became a top-notch player. Soon he was joined by Jones (14th-round draft choice in 1961), Olsen (first round in 1962) and then Grier, and one of the greatest defensive lines in football history evolved from their union.
When Grier retired after the 1966 season, Brown was acquired in a trade from Detroit where he had been a five-time Pro Bowl selection playing next to Alex Karras. In 1967, his first year with the Rams, Brown made another Pro Bowl as he helped Los Angeles to an 11-1-2 record.
Brown's first move, like Jones, was the headslap. Hall of Fame Rams guard Tom Mack remembered his first encounter with Brown when his new teammate played for the Lions. "I dove at him and hit him too high, and it was like hitting a solid wall," Mack said. "He slapped my helmet so hard it almost tore my head off."
Jack Pardee anchored the linebacking crew, which also included Maxie Baughan, and the secondary was led by Ed Meador (eight interceptions), Clancy Williams, Irv Cross and Willie Daniel.
Though the '67 season was spoiled by a 28-7 playoff loss to Green Bay, the Rams defense made its mark. It permitted a league-low 198 points, 3.1 yards per rushing play and intercepted a league-high 32 passes thanks mainly to the pressure being put on up front. Jones' 26 sacks helped boost the team total to 43.
In 1968 the Rams led the league in sacks with 51 and fewest first downs allowed (190), and in '69 they were second in sacks with 50 and permitted a NFL-low 47-percent completion percentage. From 1967-69, the Rams were 32-7-3 and won two division titles, and defense fueled that success.
"Quarterbacks try to get their teams into the end zone," Jones once said.
"But the defensive line is the No. 1 determining factor for who gets into the end zone. And the 1960s was the greatest period of defensive linemen ever."
The only definsive unit to ever be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.