another obit coinage claim

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Jun 5 06:10:45 UTC 2013

On Wed, Jun 5, 2013 at 1:12 AM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
> On Tue, Jun 4, 2013 at 10:51 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> Can anyone confirm or disconfirm whether David "Deacon" Jones (December 9,
>> 1938 - yesterday), the great Hall of Fame defensive end of the former Los
>> Angeles Rams and other teams back in the 70s (who along with RFK's friend
>> Rosey Grier and the TV-actor-to-be Merlin Olsen was part of the Fearsome
>> Foursome of the Rams, is in fact the originator of "sack" in the sense of
>> tackling a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage (either as noun or
>> verb)?  The OED doesn't help here; the closest relevant sense of "sack" I
>> can find is 'plunder, despoil', which is on the right track but not quite
>> sufficiently specific.
> Here is some preliminary evidence relevant to the question of coinage.
> During an interview published in the Los Angeles Times in January 1980
> Deacon Jones claimed that he coined the term "sack" with the modern
> football sense.
> The term "sacks" was used with the modern football sense by September
> 29, 1970. I will skip the details for this cite because I am sure it
> can be antedated.

OED2 dates the relevant verb sense of "sack" to 1969 and the noun sense to 1972.
(Larry must have missed these.) Though "sack" has yet to be revised for OED3,
"quarterback" has a revised entry, and it includes a 1968 cite for "quarterback
sack" that I submitted several years ago:

1968 Los Angeles Times 9 Oct. iii. 8/7   The Rams still pace the NFL in total
yardage allowed, 221.8 yards per game, and quarterback ‘sacks’, 46.

>From that same month, here's a cite quoting Deacon Jones using the noun "sack"
(comparing himself to Colts defensive end Bubba Smith):

1968 Los Angeles Times 24 Oct. iii. 1/5 "I've been in the league eight years;
he's been in it only six weeks (Bubba was switched from tackle to end at the
start of the season). I believe I have more sacks (tackling the quarterback)
and more unassisted tackles than he does.

And just a bit earlier for the verb, without reference to Jones or the Rams:

1968 Chicago Defender 22 June 16/6 Five times, he [Bears defensive back Bennie
McRae] "sacked" the enemy quarterback, when he moved into the linebacker spot
on the Dooley shift, and he also had 43 tackles and ten assists.
1968 Chicago Defender 19 Aug. 25/5 He [Bears defensive tackle Frank Cornish] was
credited with 52 tackles, 42 assists, sacked the quarterback 20 times and
intercepted two passes.


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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