Deacon Jones loves football. As a player, he loved the hitting and the sweat, the feeling of his helmet settling hard into the stomach of some poor quarterback.
Deacon Jones loves having been part of the Fearsome Foursome and the Los Angeles Rams.
For it was football that got Jones out of the sweaty fields of central Florida, away from the dead-end, segregated town of his childhood, away from poverty and hopelessness, away from despair and uselessness. Football is why Jones lives with Elizabeth, his wife, on top of a hill overlooking Anaheim, where he can look down on birds drifting lazily in the sky.
And it is football, and the money it paid Deacon Jones and the fame it gave Deacon Jones, that has allowed him to start the Deacon Jones Foundation.
And it is because of the Deacon Jones Foundation that a couple of 10th graders from Inglewood go to school every day, study hard every afternoon and sleep well every night knowing there will be a college scholarship for them and that there is nothing, absolutely nothing they can't do or be.
The idea to help young men and women built momentum in Jones' head, relentlessly, powerfully, until it exploded into this work Jones says he wants to do for the rest of his life. Kind of the way it was when Jones aimed his body at a quarterback.
Jones knew what it was like to grow up poor and without goals. "If it wasn't for football, I had no way out," Jones says. He is sitting on the deck of his home, shoes off, eyes scanning the surrounding hills. "I know what it's like to be a kid and to have no dreams. I didn't know anything but football because that's all there was for me to know."
So Jones wants it to be different for kids now. "I want to do more than throw money at a problem," he says. "I want to give more. My idea is to take kids and introduce them to the world of dreams. I want to take these 10th graders and in seven years show them what they can be in the world."
Nancy Sanchez, shy and smart, the oldest of six children whose family shares an old three-bedroom, one-bathroom house with another family of four children, and Gregg Taylor, engaging and smart, the oldest son of a single mother, are the foundation's first scholarship recipients.
The foundation works like this: It finds companies willing to "adopt" a particular geographic region and fund two $100,000 scholarships. The scholarship winners get a computer, a $2,500 stake in the stock market and a trip to a Morgan Stanley Dean Witter office in Beverly Hills, where volunteer investment counselors teach them how to invest their money. They also will get job training and introductions to CEOs through internships.
And then, as they graduate from high school, assuming that they have stayed out of trouble, assuming they have kept up their grades and their commitment to doing volunteer work in their community, Sanchez and Taylor will be given scholarships to the colleges of their choice.
Ultimately, Jones, who says he doesn't receive a penny of foundation money, hopes Sanchez and Taylor will have dreams--big dreams.
"The only way out for me," Jones says, "was football. That's because I didn't know anything else. I want these kids to know about something else. I want them to be able to walk into the white-collar world and be able to get any job they want."
Avid Technology, a Los Angeles company that provides audio and video tools for entertainment applications, sponsored Sanchez and Taylor.
Next spring, Gateway Inc., a computer manufacturer that has a sales outlet in Irvine, will "adopt" two Orange County students.
"I've know Deacon for a long time, since the 1980s," says Van Andrews, senior vice president at Gateway. "I know what a good man he is. When Deacon walked into my office with this proposal, he told me, 'I don't want only your money. I want your young employees to mentor these kids.' He expects us to use these kids as interns, to teach them about Gateway. That's what makes this a special project. This gives kids a foundation for the future."
Jones, who will be 61 in December, was known as the "Secretary of Defense" when he played defensive end for the Rams.
He was the prototype of a modern defensive lineman, a frightening package of size, speed and strength. His biography is entitled "Headslap, The Life and Times of Deacon Jones." Headslap? "I perfected the headslap," Jones says. "And life gave me a few too."
In his book, Jones speaks about growing up in Eatonville, Fla., a small town near Orlando comprised mostly of poor, black farm workers. Jones tells a story of the day he was standing outside church when a group of teenagers drove through town, laughing and shouting, carrying on in a big convertible. The boys, who were white, threw a watermelon out of the car and hit an elderly black lady, a sweet woman dressed in her Sunday clothes, in the head. The woman died of her injuries several days later, but no one in Eatonville made much of an attempt to find the perpetrators.