RSP Writers Project: Deacon Jones Stalking Fran Tarkenton

Deacon Fran

George Kritikos picks a play featuring two all-time greats doing the two things that they forever became known for. 

By George Kritikos, Data analytics professional. Senior Writer for . Co-host &.

It’s funny. My background is one of numbers. I work in analytics, playing with spreadsheets and predictive software all day long. My first thought when Matt brought up this one player, one play idea was to find that play defying the numbers. The Saints’ River City Relay came to mind (although that extra point miss was heartbreaking). As did the original Hail Mary featuring Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson.

Sometimes though, players themselves defy the numbers and are capable of doing things that seem impossible. Whether that is a result of a singular play or their ability to transcend the position, I have always gravitated to those players. It’s also why we have such a fascination with the NFL combine; the idea that someone can be uniquely gifted within the 1%.

However, there was life in the NFL before the combine and we saw players capable of things that at the time were unimaginable. For me, it starts with Deacon Jones on the defensive side. He is known for the head slap, but the reasoning for it should speak to his elite athleticism:

“The head slap was to do two purposes. One was to give myself an initial head start on the pass rush. In other words, an extra step. Because anytime you go upside a man’s head, then they have a tendency to blink they eyes. Or close they eyes and that was all I needed. Gale Sayers had a statement out saying all he needed was sixteen inches. Well all I needed was a blink of the old eyes and I was by you.”

There are a slew of highlights focusing on his invention of the sack and the head slap that led to them. That blink of the eyes led to 173 unofficial sacks according to Pro Football Weekly.

When picking a singular play, I wanted to experience that athleticism but also those intangible qualities that the metrics community struggles to quantify. Jones had many plays where he simply blew by the opposition, completely overwhelming the offensive line. While a clean hit on the quarterback sounds like fun, there is something to be said for the range of emotions that a truly remarkable play can provide.

No, I did not choose a Super Bowl or even a play of important team significance. Instead, I chose a play that defines the battles Deacon Jones had with Fran Tarkenton, perhaps his athletic and determined equal.

The play showed two unsurprising things early: Deacon Jones blowing by an offensive lineman and Fran Tarkenton rolling out of the pocket, away from harm. Jones would have been graded negatively by the metrics community, charged with a missed tackle for that whiff while Tarkenton would be credited with an eluded sack. Both of those would be correct, but it is what happened next that is harder to quantify.

Deacon Fran II

Deacon, down on the ground, had to rise and leap over the falling offensive lineman to chase Tarkenton halfway across the field and eventually get the sack (I’m allowed to call them sacks for Deacon!). It’s that series of events that shows the heart and resolve that is not measureable in the traditional sense.

What range of emotions could Jones have experienced in those five seconds? The sense of joy when initially lining up the shot on Tarkenton. The disappointment and rage of missing. The frenzy and tenacity in pursuit of a second chance. The ultimate satisfaction of getting that hit after the chase.

The box score of today would show a sack and nothing more. In reality, all sacks are created differently. Deacon Jones challenged possibilities throughout his career so taking on one of his greatest plays, displaying his unique athletic gifts and unmatched passion to succeed, would be a special experience.

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