LOS ANGELES -- Deacon Jones doesn't so much talk as he preaches. As he sits in the back room of a downtown steakhouse, his rib eye and fries are getting cold while he holds court on subjects ranging from the salary cap to civil rights.
Jones became known as the "Secretary of Defense" during a 14-year career with the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins, in which he amassed a staggering 194.5 sacks. It's an unofficial figure he suspects is actually higher since sacks weren't recorded during Jones' career. In fact, Jones was credited with coining the term "sack" since he felt a sack devastated the offense in the same way a city was devastated when it was sacked.
It's been nearly 17 years since Los Angeles was sacked after both the Raiders and Rams left town, leaving the city without an NFL team. Jones is now pushing for the league to return a team to the city where he became a Hall of Famer and hopes that team will be the Rams, who have called St. Louis home since 1995.
I caught up with Jones on Wednesday to discuss his thoughts on the NFL lockout, his current relationship with the St. Louis Rams and what it would mean to have the NFL return to Los Angeles.
Arash Markazi: What were your feelings about the whole lockout now that it looks like it's finally coming to an end?
Deacon Jones: We have to change the direction of where we're going. Guys in my era didn't make what we were worth but that doesn't mean we have to play now for that. I was impressed with the lockout in several areas. One being that the quarterbacks got off their butts and got involved in making this shorter. I think there is always going to be positive that comes out of something like this. No one wants to see work stoppages. We're the last people that want to see work stoppages, but if you knew the background of the league and where we came from, you can understand why we've had work stoppages. It's been ugly.
Guys didn't make any money [when I played]. They lied to us beautifully. So I wanted to see a lockout until this thing gets even. Until the players get a rightful share of the action. Until that happens, they should have a lockout.
Markazi: What's your communication like with current NFL players? Do any of them reach out to you for advice?
Jones: I don't communicate with these guys. These guys are out of my league. You got to understand one thing. We don't talk the same language. What we're looking for is the right things to do. There's going to be a distance between me and the guys who are playing now. We have nothing in common. All we want is for the league to keep advancing. Better the pension fund, better things that we started years ago. Make it better. Make everyone get a piece of the rock. We know we'll never get what we deserve. They forget about you the minute you stop putting butts in the seats. I just expect to be treated with dignity and for these suckas to pay for what has happened to some of these guys.
Some of these guys have had major injuries, and still they won't tell the truth about certain things that we know cause long-term problems. That hurts because they keep lying to us about that. We got guys dying all around us every day. We don't know if Alzheimer's or dementia comes from blows to the head. If anyone has information on that, they're probably withholding it because it might cause someone to file a lawsuit against them. [Editor's note: 75 former players and spouses filed a lawsuit this week claiming the NFL withheld information on concussions.] They got lawyers on payroll that make more than 20 of us made. They'd rather give that money to the lawyers and young players than the guys who rightfully deserve it, the people who gave up their butt to the game. That ain't changed. Until they change that and change the thinking, we'll be in the same spot we've always been and we'll have more labor strife. We're going to have them until we get what we need.
Markazi: Whenever the subject of the NFL returning to Los Angeles comes up, two of your former teams, the Rams and the Chargers, are always mentioned. The Rams played in Los Angeles for close to 50 years, and the Chargers began in Los Angeles. Do you think it's important that whatever team comes here has ties to Los Angeles?
Jones: Both teams have a connection to Los Angeles, but I would like to see the Rams come back. We're at the point where we'll take any team. It don't matter. Just get a team. You can build on tradition and you can build on all these other things, but when you have no team, you can't build on nothing. I just want to see some football played here again.
Markazi: When the Rams left Los Angeles for St. Louis after the 1994 season, what were your thoughts at the time, and are you surprised that 17 years later Los Angeles is still without an NFL team?
Jones: I was a radio broadcaster in 1994 and I remember the last game we played was against the Washington Redskins. At that time, we were told the team wasn't going to move. We were really told that. And the next day, we found out that wasn't the case. I wasn't about to go to St. Louis for nothing. I'm not going to move to St. Louis. I'm not going to give up L.A. for St. Louis. Nothing against St. Louis, but Hollywood against St. Louis? What do you think I'm going to do? Go for the Budwesier? No. So that left me out in the cold. I hated to see it happen. I would love to see them come back to L.A.
Markazi: What's your connection like with the St. Louis Rams now?
Jones: Oh, they've treated me great. For what I did to [former St. Louis Cardinals quarterback] Jim Hart, I was surprised. For what I did back there, I wouldn't have accepted me if I was them. Get the hell out of my city. That's the way they should have felt about me. But my jersey was retired [in St. Louis], and I was shocked. I'm still shocked. There's still a distance between any player that played here in Los Angeles and gets kudos from St. Louis. It makes it hard. They aren't comfortable with it. I played against [former St. Louis Cardinals offensive tackle] Dan Dierdorf and other guys, and here we are sitting together like we were teammates, and that's not the way it was. I hate to see anybody screwing around with history because you have to play history the way it falls. You can't change it, and that to me is a change. I can't get along with Dierdorf and Conrad Dobler being in the same damn room. Are you crazy? It don't make no sense. There's bound to be a fight. You know there's bound to be a fight with Dobler in there.
Markazi: When the St. Louis Rams won the franchise's first Super Bowl in 1999, did you feel a part of it?
Jones: Absolutely. You're right. I'm a Ram. One of us had to win the Super Bowl. It was tough. You need certain things to happen to win the Super Bowl. It ain't all about this or all about that. It's all about a number things. During the whole time I was with the Rams, we had some great teams. One year we lost only one game and still had to go on the road to play our first playoff game. You don't like to bring those things up but that will keep you from winning the big one. We'd always leave 80-degree weather out here and go to Green Bay or Minnesota where it was 15 or 20 degrees below zero. Don't tell me that doesn't bother you because that's a lie if anybody tells you that.
Markazi: You were at the press conference for Farmers Field along with several other former NFL players. There are two proposals for an NFL stadium in Los Angeles, one in downtown and one in the City of Industry. Only one will be built; do you care which one wins?
Jones: Do you really want the truth? I don't [care] where it is. I just want an NFL team here and for it to be recognized as a L.A. team. That's first and foremost. I'll take the team anywhere. As long as we got a team and we're competing.
Markazi: What was it like to be an NFL football player in Los Angeles when you were with the Rams?
Jones: When we won one game, we had more parties that the whole league. Hollywood treated us beautifully. In my first two years, we won four games and we had parties up the yin-yang with all the biggest stars in the world. Bob Hope was one of our owners then. We had Hollywood stars coming to our game. That was a part of the whole L.A. mystique. No matter what sport it is, it's all about Hollywood. Guys would sell their mothers to get to L.A. just to be a part of Hollywood. They all think they can be great actors but they don't know they're not going to get enough time to do that.
Markazi: What will it mean to you to be at the first game when the NFL finally returns to Los Angeles?
Jones: I just hope I'm alive. I just hope I'm alive to see it. That's what I'm hoping for. I don't got time for all that other garbage. I'm trying to hold on. The way they're going, everybody could be dead by the time they come back. I'm just trying to hold on. I ain't got no other aspirations. I just want L.A. to have pro football again. I hope I can live long enough to see it but they're taking a lot of time.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.