If the Fearsome Foursome had lived in another time, they probably would have been part of a marauding army, sacking cities instead of quarterbacks. There was something majestic about those four distinct personalities who came together 22 years ago with the Los Angeles Rams to popularize and set the standard for defensive linemen.
They had size and range and were always on the attack. And they did it with flair and elan that were inimitable.
There have been other groups that have called themselves the Fearsome Foursome, such as the San Diego Chargers’ line in the early ‘60s, but to the average football fan there is only one Fearsome Foursome, reading from left to right: Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy.
They have secured their place in professional football history and, perhaps, are as well known today as they were in their heyday.
Three of the four, Jones, Olsen and Grier, have kept their names before the public as actors, entertainers, television personalities and spokesmen for commercial products. In addition, Grier is also an ordained minister.
The fourth, Lundy, quietly fought for his life in the early ‘70s while afflicted with myasthenia gravis, a serious muscle weakness for which there is apparently no cure.
In a recent Times poll selecting the all-time Rams’ team, Jones, Olsen and Grier were named to the defensive line. Lundy was overlooked.
As a group, though, they made a mighty impression. For starters, there was a Bunyanesque quality about these warriors. Lundy stood 6 feet 7 inches and the others topped out at 6-5. They were said to average 265 pounds, but Jones claims there wasn’t a day that Olsen weighed less than 290.
Arguably, this was the definitive front four, but did they really make up the best defensive line of all time?
“Name any other line that has two Hall of Famers on it.” Jones said.
Jones and Olsen are both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. No other defensive-line unit has more than a single inductee.
Curiously, the Fearsome Foursome played together for only four seasons, 1963-66, and were only on one winning team. Yet their identity remains strong.
Lundy began his career with the Rams as a tight end from Purdue in 1957. He was moved to defense in 1960.
Jones was an obscure 14th-round draft choice from South Carolina State. He played briefly as an offensive lineman in his rookie season of 1961 before finding his natural niche on defense.
Olsen, from Utah State, was a first-round NFL draft choice in 1962 and became a starter in his rookie season.
Grier had come from Penn State in 1955 to become a fixture on the talented New York Giants’ line with Andy Robustelli, Jim Katcavage and Dick Modzelewski before being traded to the Rams in 1963.
Lundy played for the Rams until 1969, then finished his career in 1970 with the Chargers. He suffered from a thyroid ailment in 1964 and had diabetes by 1967.
Grier suffered an Achilles tendon injury during the 1967 exhibition season, which ended his career.
Jones played alongside Olsen for 10 years, then finished his career with the Chargers and Washington Redskins in the early ‘70s.
Olsen played 15 seasons for the Rams, making the Pro Bowl each year. He was the last active member of the Fearsome Foursome to retire.
Deacon Jones was snapping pictures of Deacon Jones when interviewed recently at his Studio City apartment. His camera closed in on a replica of his bust that resides in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
That bust will also be prominent in the Single Wing Shoppes that Deacon and his partners will open in Florida this month. Single Wing will sell Buffalo-style chicken wings and other barbecue selections.
“When you walk in the front door, you’ll see a life-size manikin of me, same height and weight,” Jones said. “The only thing different is that a light is projected down and it puts my exact image on the manikin. Looks just like The Deacon.”
Jones said that once his Florida operation is smooth he plans to expand, selling franchises to other NFL players and former players.
“This could be Tony Dorsett’s Single Wing Shoppe, or Bob Lilly’s, with their manikins up front. But I’ll control the operation,” he said.
Jones, 46, has always been a promoter. Flamboyant, audacious, outspoken and shrewd, he promoted himself as a player, although his actions on the field spoke louder than any message he delivered at press conferences.
“I’ve always tried to tell Deacon--and he hasn’t listened yet--that it is better that other people tell him how great he is,” said Grier, who can chide Jones because they’re close friends.
Known as the Secretary of Defense in his All-Pro years, Jones brought fan recognition, once reserved for backs and ends, to linemen with his slashing, ferocious and often innovative assaults on quarterbacks.
Jones is credited with bringing the head slap to pro football. He would cuff and daze an offensive tackle, then streak by him to his quarry, the quarterback.
Grier, however, says that he taught Jones the head slap when he joined the Rams in 1963.
“He may have invented it but I popularized and perfected it,” said the Deacon.
In any event, the head slap has been legislated out of pro football. Jones was too good at it.
Every sportswriter of his era is indebted to him, though, because he embellished their stories with his colorful, postgame accounts of his exploits on the field.
He was calculating and knew what people wanted to read.
“If you came up to our group to do an interview, you’d stop here,” said Jones, pointing to himself. “I’d give you an article that had some juice in it. Now if you wanted a more conservative or intelligent article, you’d talk to Merlin or Lamar.
“But if you came up to me and asked what I was thinking about when I hit so and so, I’d say ‘I was trying to tear his head off.’ People are going to buy that paper rather than someone saying, ‘I tried not to hit him.’ ”
Jones savored his many sacks, and he hit Atlanta’s Bob Berry so hard in one game that the quarterback’s helmet was jarred loose and rolled aimlessly down field.
The Deacon said at the time: “If his helmet doesn’t go, his head does.”
He got some angry letters from Atlanta fans with that quote.
Jones played as fiercely as one could while abiding by the rules.
“Vince Lombardi said it: ‘You’ve got to hate in this game, but it has to be a controlled hate,’ ” Jones said. “You have to hate for 3 1/2 hours on Sunday, drop that hate and pick up some more hate for another team the next week. It’s a hell of a mind trip that you go through.”
It wasn’t unusual for Jones to run down backs who had broken the line of scrimmage. He had great speed. George Menefee, a long-time Rams’ trainer, would make money every training camp betting on Jones in sprints against the backs and ends.
But as spectacular as Jones was, he had to integrate his game with his talented teammates on the line. His analysis of the other three:
“Lundy would grade out better than anyone across the line. The gamblers, like myself, don’t grade out that high.
“I was quick off the ball, but I wasn’t as quick as Rosey. In 10 yards, he could run with anyone and that’s all a lineman needs. I did copy his ability to slap. But I did it to keep the tackle’s eyes closed.
“Merlin had superhuman strength. If I was beating my man inside, he’d hold him up and free me to make the tackle. If he had to make an adjustment to sacrifice his life and limb, he would make it. A lot of the plays I made were because he or the others would make the sacrifice.”
It’s a familiar story that Jones was discovered by chance. Scouts were interested in some running backs but when they noticed that Jones was outrunning them, he was drafted instead.
What isn’t commonly known, though, is that Jones played under an assumed name, John Collier, at Mississippi Vocational in 1960, his senior season, after transferring from South Carolina State.
“I would have had to redshirt a year if I hadn’t changed my name,” he said. “Nobody in the NFL knew about me but the Rams. I left some problems in South Carolina. I was mixed up in lunch-counter demonstrations then. I was a maverick. I had the water treatment and the dogs and all that stuff and even spent some time in jail.
“I came into the NFL with hostility in my mind. I went from the depths of despair to the top. That’s why I’m so proud of that thing,” Jones said pointing to the replica of his bust that is secure in the Hall of Fame.
MERLIN OLSEN It doesn’t seem possible that Merlin Olsen will ever slip into anonymity. His face, his voice, his presence have been before the public since his rookie season with the Rams in 1962.
Look up quickly while driving and there is Olsen adorning a billboard as the national spokesman for FTD flowers.
Drive a little farther and there’s another Olsen on a billboard as he represents his Porsche-Audi agency in Encino.
Turn on the television on Sunday afternoons and you’ll hear his analysis of NFL games on NBC with his long-time partner, Dick Enberg. They’re beginning their eighth season together.
He had the lead role in the “Father Murphy” television series after portraying Jonathan Garvey on “Little House on the Prairie.”
Look for the 43-year-old Olsen to be in another TV series, a half-hour comedy called “Fathers and Sons.”
Seldom has any athlete made such a smooth transition from the playing field to so many visible and rewarding careers as Olsen has.
Ole, as he is known, was the rock of the Fearsome Foursome. Analytical and intelligent, he always managed to put things in perspective.
He was never really a rookie in one sense of the word. He lined up one day between some pylons in what was called a freeway drill and just destroyed the veterans who opposed him. At 6-5 and 275, he was strong.
In fact, a frustrated veteran lineman, Urban Henry, said that Olsen was nothing more than a flop-eared mule after the giant rookie had beaten him up in the pit. So Olsen was called Muley for a while.
He still maintains contact with Jones, his long-time partner on the left side of the line, and Grier.
Jones couldn’t resist needling Olsen in his role as a radio spokesman for FTD.
“The sweetheart is selling flowers,” said Jones, altering his deep voice to an effeminate pitch. “Tell the baby to send the Foursome some flowers.”
Olsen only laughed when told of Jones’ needle.
“I think we did some real pioneering in essence on the defensive side of football,” Olsen said. “We helped people appreciate for the first time some of the team effort that a defensive line initiates, or a group of linebackers and secondary. A lot of those groups have come forward since that time.”
“We were pioneers in another way. I think we were one of the first teams, if not the first, to incorporate stunts into blitzes and (red)dogs as a regular part of defensive patterns.”
The Fearsome Foursome stopped the run on the move. They defied teams to try to run on them and had the statistics to back them up. Their main objective, though, was to sack the quarterback.
“Our philosophy was that they can’t double team all four of us,” Olsen said. “Somebody will be one on one and he’ll get the quarterback. There were times, though, when teams would double team all four of us, or change their blocking patterns just to hold us down--which was a nice compliment.
“It got so bad in Detroit one year that they ran one-man patterns against us, using all the other people to keep out the defensive line. So it was everyone they had except the quarterback and one receiver to keep the four of us off the quarterback.”
The Rams either led the league in rushing defense and sacks, or were among the leaders, during the Fearsome Foursome years--yet the team, overall, floundered. The record was 5-9 in 1963, 5-7-2 in 1964, 4-10 in 1965. It wasn’t until George Allen became coach in 1966 that the Rams began winning.
Reflecting on those losing years, Olsen said: “I wouldn’t put the knock on anyone in particular but if you analyzed our defensive stats you don’t see how it happened. We had so many rookies behind the line who just weren’t good football players. If we were blessed with a complete defensive team, as we were later on, we could have dominated people unmercifully. The number of sacks we got came despite the fact that there were always receivers open.”
So the Fearsome Foursome was virtually alone in the trench during some losing seasons. There was a bond among them that exists to this day.
The Fearsome Foursome will be together again today in Washington, D.C., where Olsen will be the master of ceremonies for a fund raising function for Grier’s nonprofit “Are You Committed?” organization, which is dedicated to the spiritual and educational needs of young people in the inner city of Los Angeles.
ROSEY GRIER The term gentle giant is a cliche, but there is seemingly no other way to describe Roosevelt Grier, a man who had been searching for something and apparently has found it.
There is Grier, the entertainer, both singer and actor, who had his own television show and had many guest spots on others.
There is Grier the author of “Needlepoint for Men,” if you can believe that.
There is Grier, the public servant who has worked for the city of Los Angeles as a consultant in youth and senior citizens’ programs.
Then, there is Grier, who wrapped his massive arms around Sirhan Sirhan after he had assassinated Robert Kennedy in the narrow kitchen corridor of the Ambassador Hotel on the night of June 5, 1968.
Now there is Grier, 53, the minister, who sits in his “Are You Committed?” office at 30th and Grand Streets and talks about his previous frustrations while working with ghetto kids.
“I had another organization called ‘Giant Step,’ working with gang kids in the inner city,” Grier said. “I got so depressed working with those kids for so long I just knew why people killed themselves.
“So I saw the futility of all my efforts working with these kids and one day I just collapsed, not physically but mentally--like a soldier who has been on the battlefield too long.
“There were just too many shocks and I couldn’t take it. Every time my phone rang I jumped because kids called me to bail them out of jail, or said they were going to kill someone.”
That was seven or eight years ago by Grier’s recollection. He just turned off. He moved into a swinging singles complex and divorced his wife.
Then, Grier began to read the Bible and took his 4-year-old son, Rosey Jr., to church for the first time. Later, he got together with his estranged wife, Margie, and the family came together again.
Grier didn’t make the Hall of Fame in football, but he says he’s going to make the Hall of Fame in serving mankind.
“I’m going to do something here. . . . My life is committed to the inner city to work with the young people to help make their lives change. I see young people with great potential whose lives are snuffed out by booze, or drugs, or getting into trouble.
“My commitment is to see people reach their potential and it’s not an ego thing with me. . . . My objective is to make sure that every individual who has an opportunity to influence life will do it.”
Grier is a leader. He became one when he was traded to the Rams in 1963, a trade that hurt him because he had thought he was a fixture with the Giants.
“I saw a whole different group of guys who were self-centered and who wanted to do only what would put their own name up there. It didn’t set with me,” he recalled. “I wasn’t going to join any black or white group and my attitude changed.
“When I was with the Giants, I could be a clown. They had a lot of leaders. We didn’t have that many leaders in L.A. I decided that’s what they needed. So I took a stand and the Fearsome Foursome came together.”
Grier said he began to talk to his teammates, and when they asked him why New York was a winning team, he said it was because “we loved each other.”
That concept seemed to make the Rams uncomfortable, but they eventually understood it, Grier said.
As a member of winning teams in New York, Grier’s credentials were already established. The other members of the foursome had not attained that celebrity.
It may be difficult to perceive, considering the violent nature of the game he played, but Grier abhorred unnecessary violence.
“It was just a game to me,” he said. “You didn’t go out to hurt someone. I had a big fight with my guys in New York because some of them deliberately tried to hurt someone. I said, ‘We don’t win that way. We win by playing by the rules.’
“They didn’t understand why I wouldn’t deliberately hurt someone. They always thought you had to play angry. I always wanted to have fun. When I played over a guy that wasn’t as good as I was, I wouldn’t kill him, or mouth off about how terrible he was. I always respected every guy who was on the field.
“It was very hard for me to realize that guys didn’t understand that this man is trying to earn a living for himself and his family. You play the game hard and you play it fair, but when the play is over, you don’t try to catch a guy when he’s down and try to hurt him. That was very disgusting to me when guys would deliberately do that and I spoke up.”
Grier still is speaking up. Only this time his message is directed at society.
LAMAR LUNDY There was a time when Lamar Lundy was so weak that he could barely walk. He couldn’t hold a toothbrush, put on his socks, comb his hair, close his eyes or scratch his nose.
His former wife, Lilli, now a secretary with “Are You Committed?,” once saved his life with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after he had stopped breathing.
Lundy, a giant of a man, was withering away. He was already suffering from a thyroid ailment and diabetes, and now another disease had invaded his body.
Myasthenia gravis, from the Greek and Latin, means serious muscle weakness. It is a rare ailment that is characterized by varying weakness of voluntary muscles, which is partially relieved by rest.
Symptoms include blurred or double vision, drooping of the eyelids, loss of facial expression, difficulty in breathing, in moving arms, hands and fingers, in flexing lower limbs, emotional upsets, loss of sleep and susceptibility to respiratory infections.
“Ever since 1970, it seems the devil has been after me--the disease, ups and downs and all that,” Lundy said recently by phone from Chicago.
The fact that Lundy is still alive is rather remarkable. But there is even better news.
“I feel better now than I have since I came out of college,” he said. “There are so many new medicines, and doctors have more knowledge of the problems I have. I had a negative reaction from a lot of the medicines I was on. But I’m at the point now that the doctors pretty well know what I need from my past record.
“The biggest problem for me was coming from the West Coast, where I had the finest doctors at UCLA, to the Midwest. But now I’m involved with the University of Chicago and they have a very fine system.”
Lundy said he has learned a lot more about myasthenia gravis and is living with it.
“I’ve been told that myasthenia gravis will make you feel bad and you’ll go up and down but, unless things get really bad, it won’t kill you,” he said. “The thyroid problem goes up and down. But diabetes can cause you a lot of problems from strokes and heart attacks. It can kill you.
“I first had my thyroid problem in 1964. It got so bad that my eyes were kind of bulging out and I had a lot of nerve problems, shaking and quivering and it wouldn’t take much for me to perspire. My metabolism was stepped up.
“That brought on the diabetes in 1967, and some doctors think the thyroid problem might have had something to do with myasthenia gravis, which came on in 1970.
“So it was just a downward depression. I was being triple-teamed and I had to fight it all by myself. When I was triple-teamed before, I had Merlin, Deacon and Rosey there to pick up the slack. But, when you’re out on that field all by yourself, it’s a different thing.”
It was when Lundy was at his lowest ebb in a hospital bed in Los Angeles that he rearranged his priorities.
“One time I heard a doctor say, ‘Leave him alone,’ as if nothing could be done for me,” he said. “At that point I was going the other way. I was hooked up to a lot of pumps and being fed through the nose. And they had to put ice on me to keep me from burning up.
“I felt I was down in this hole and everything was dark and I dug out of it and came out to the light. When you go through that, you go through something in your mind and certain things become important to you.
“At one time I wanted to become a coach. But that wasn’t important to me. I just wanted to be with my family. I feel very good now because I’m here with my sons and my grandchildren. At this point in my life I’m as happy as someone who owned 20 stores.”
Lundy, 50, lives in a Chicago apartment complex with his sons Lamar III, 29, and Ronald, 26, and their families. This is the life he envisioned when he was in that dark pit.
He credits Grier with what he says is a new outlook on life.
“Rosey is very involved in religion, and a year ago he came to see me and started talking,” Lundy said. “I was on the other side of the spectrum as far as religion was concerned. But now that I have accepted Jesus Christ it seems like my world has turned around, the mountains have been moved. I feel good inside.”
Lundy played for the Rams for 13 years, longer than any player at that time. He also held an obscure NFL record--most interception touchdowns by a defensive lineman.
Although Lundy was a valued member of the Fearsome Foursome, he never received the acclaim during his playing career that was accorded his more publicized teammates.
“That wasn’t a problem with me and it doesn’t affect me now,” Lundy said. “I was very satisfied with the way things were. It really didn’t seem important. Whoever got the most publicity of the group, Merlin, Rosey or Deacon, we were still looked at as a group. The reason we are remembered is that we were successful as a group.”