The Best Pro Football Players in Mississippi History, Part Six: D-Line
In the first half of this series we looked at players from the offensive side of the ball. Just about every position we profiled had a Hall of Famer or a future Hall of Famer.
Mississippi has produced some of the best players to play their offensive positions. Now we will look at the defensive side of the ball.
From the defensive line to the secondary we will look at some of the best players in Mississippi history to play defense professionally.
We will start at the defensive line first and move on from there. So here is the list of the best defensive line men from Mississippi in no particular order.
Ray Poole: New York Giants via Ole Miss Rebels
Poole was a standout at Ole Miss along with his Brothers Jim and Barney after transferring from North Carolina. Not only was Poole a standout on the football field, he was a standout on the basketball court and the baseball field.
Poole started his college career in 1941-42, but put his career on hold for three years to fight in World War II. When Poole returned to Oxford in 1946 he was named as captain of the football team.
In 1944, the New York Giants drafted Poole in the 13th round with the 125th pick. Poole would play for the Giants for six seasons.
Poole played both offense and defense during his time in the NFL. On offense Poole played tight end and finished his career with 83 receptions for 1,164 yards and eight touchdowns.
Poole was also a kicker his last three seasons in the NFL. Poole's best season was in 1950 when he was selected to the Pro Bowl as a defensive end as well as his first season as a kicker.
Ben Williams: Buffalo Bills via Ole Miss Rebels
Williams was the first African-American to ever sign and play for the Rebels in 1972. In 1973, Williams saw action of the field for Ole Miss and set the sack record with 18 that season as well.
Williams played for the Rebels from 1972-75 and still ranks fourth all time in tackles for the school with 377. His senior year with Ole Miss saw Williams named first team All-American.
The Buffalo Bills drafted Williams in the third round with the 78th pick in the 1976 draft. Williams would go on to play 10 seasons with the Bills.
Williams played defensive end for the Bills and was honored in 1983 as a Pro Bowl Selection. After his playing career was over Williams was named to “Team of the Century” by Ole Miss and was named to the Mississippi and the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame.
Ben McGee: Pittsburgh Steelers via Jackson State Tigers
McGee played for the Tigers from 1960-63. After his career with Jackson State ended McGee was drafted in the fourth round with the 51st pick in the 1964 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
McGee would play for the Steelers for nine years from 1964-1972 and play 119 games as a defensive end and tackle. McGee would be named to two Pro Bowls (1966, 1968) and returned an interception for a touchdown in 1971.
McGee would not see much team success with the Steelers until his final season with the team in 1972. That season the Steelers would finish 11-3 and win the AFC Central for the first time in team history. The '72 Steelers would advance all the way to the AFC Championship Game before losing to the Miami Dolphins.
Tim Bowens: Miami Dolphins via Ole Miss Rebels
Lettering at Ole Miss in 1993 Tim Bowens left the Rebels for the NFL. He was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the 1994 draft in the first round with the 20th pick.
After a rookie season in which he recorded 44 solo tackles, eight assist, one fumble recovery, and three sacks, Bowens was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and was named to the NFL All Pro Team.
Even a freak accident with a lawnmower in school in which he lost three toes on his left foot did not stop Bowens from playing 11 seasons in the NFL. Bowens was also named to two (1998, 2002) Pro Bowls.
Back injuries forced Bowens to retire in 2004 with 267 tackles, 92 assists, 22 sacks, nine forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown), and one interception.
Derrick Burgess: Oakland Raiders via Ole Miss Rebels
Burgess played for the Rebels from 1997-2000 and helped lead Ole Miss to a bowl game in each of the four seasons he was there. His senior year he was named Co-Captain and was named first team All-SEC.
In the 2001 draft the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Burgess in the third round with the 63rd pick. Burgess had several injuries in his four years in Philadelphia.
In 2004 Burgess signed with the Oakland Raiders where he has gone on to be named to two (2005, 2007) Pro Bowls. In 2005
Burgess led the NFL in sacks with 16 and was a second team All Pro as well.
Burgess is continuing a solid career in Oakland going into the 2009-10 season.
Verlon Biggs: New York Jets via Jackson State Tigers
After a very good college career with Jackson State, Biggs left the Tigers to enter the NFL. The New York Jets drafted Biggs in the third round with the 20th pick of the 1965 draft.
Biggs would play six seasons for the Jets from 1965-70. During that time Biggs was named to three (1966-68) straight AFC All-Star Teams. In the 1966 AFC All-Star Game Biggs was named Defensive MVP in the 1966 AFC All-Star game.
Biggs helped the Jets have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and helped lead them to Super Bowl III. In one of the biggest games in pro football history, Biggs and the rest of the defense were instrumental in backing up Joe Namath’s now famous guarantee for a 16-7 win.
Biggs, feeling like he did not get enough credit in some of the Jets wins, left to play for the Washington Redskins in 1971. Biggs would help shore up a Redskins defensive line and help them reach Super Bowl VII. The Redskins would fall to the only undefeated team in NFL history with a 14-7 loss in that Super Bowl.
After Bacon’s career at Jackson State he did not move to the NFL, first playing in the Continental Football League for three seasons. In 1966 Bacon was a ContFL All-Star defensive end.
In 1968, Bacon was picked up by the Los Angeles Rams and joined the Rams fearsome foursome on the defensive line. This consisted of: Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy, and Rodger Brown as one of the best defensive lines in NFL history.
Injuries in 1969 to Brown gave Bacon a chance at more playing time. Bacon made the most of the playing time earning a Pro Bowl bid with the Rams in 1972.
After the '72 season Bacon was traded to the San Diego Chargers but did not return to the Pro Bowl until the Chargers traded Bacon to the Cincinnati Bengals.
During his two years with the Bengals Bacon made the Pro Bowl (1976-77) both seasons. Bacon finished his career with the Washington Redskins.
For all of Bacon’s 14 year career the sack was not kept statistically it has been researched that Bacon recorded 130 career sacks.
Jim Dunaway: Buffalo Bills via Ole Miss Rebels
In three years at Ole Miss there was not much that Dunaway did not accomplish. He was named All-SEC and All-American in 1961-62. Dunaway was part of two SEC Title and two National Championship teams in 1960 and 1962.
Dunaway played in the Senior Bowl, the Chicago All-Star Game, and the Coaches All-American after his playing career for the Rebels was over.
In 1963, Dunaway was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round with the third overall pick. He was also chosen by the Buffalo Bills of the AFL in the same year in the second round with the ninth overall pick. Dunaway decided to play for the Bills instead of the Vikings.
Dunaway was part of two (1964-65) AFL Championship teams for the Buffalo Bills. Individually, Dunaway was named to four (1965-68) Pro Bowls and was named first team All-Pro once in 1966.
Dunaway’s final year in the NFL was spent playing for the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins.
After his playing career Dunaway started his retirement being named to the Ole Miss Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990. He was also named to Ole Miss All Century Team in 1992.
Dunaway’s retirement has closely resembled his former teammate O.J. Simpson. In 1995 Dunaway was divorced by his wife Nonniel Dunaway. Nonniel’s divorce judgment gave her more than 800 acres of land the couple owned, $1,800 a month in alimony, and half his NFL pension. Dunaway planned to appeal the decision.
In 1998 Dunaway’s ex-wife was found dead in a half-empty swimming pool. An autopsy revealed that she had a fractured skull and was unconscious when she was placed in the water by her assailant where she drowned.
Dunaway was charged with murder but the grand jury chose not to indict him even though his children were willing to testify against him. His children later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dunaway for the death of their mother. In 2002 they won their lawsuit and were awarded $579,000.
Deacon Jones: Los Angeles Rams via Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils
Jones did not start his college career at Mississippi Valley State (then know as Mississippi Vocational College) but instead at South Carolina State in 1958. The university revoked Jones scholarship when he participated in a Civil Rights Sit-In.
In 1959, Jones would sit out of football but a coach leaving South Carolina State for the Delta Devils convinced Jones to follow him to the school and play in 1960.
Rams scouts looking at film of a defensive back from MVS noticed Jones on film. They determined not to select the defensive back but instead take a chance on Jones in the 14th round with the 186th pick of the 1961 draft.
Jones, whose real first name is David, wanted to go by Deacon because he thought that people would remember a Deacon more than a David. Jones did not need to worry about anyone not remembering his name with his play on the football field.
Jones would be known as the “Secretary of Defense” and would coin the phrase “sack” when tackling a quarterback behind the offensive line. Jones thought sacking a quarterback devastated the offense much like a city being sacked.
During his career with the Rams, Jones would join Merlin Olsen, Rose Grier, and Lamar Lundy as one of the best defensive lines known as the “fearsome foursome”.
Jones impact would even be seen in rule changes by the NFL when it outlawed his patented “head slap”. Jones would use the move to keep offensive linemen form blocking him.
In 14 NFL seasons Jones would miss only six games. Jones would be named to eight (1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1972) Pro Bowls, five (1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969) first team All-Pro, and two (1967-68) NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
After his career Jones was named to the NFL 1960’s All Decade Team and to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. The sack was not an official stat when Jones played but researchers claim that Jones had 173.5 sacks in his career.
In 1980 Jones was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jones has been thought of as one of the best defensive linemen in NFL history and in the 2009 season the Rams will honor him by retiring his number 75.
Mississippi can lay claims to several great defensive linemen to ever play pro football. Next in this series we will look at some of the best linebackers and then some of the best cornerbacks from Mississippi.
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