In a previous column, I mentioned my association and friendship with former L.A. Rams running back Dick Bass. Living in L.A. during the 60’s was a lot different from the America we know today. Segregation was supposedly just a memory, but the vibe was still in the air.
For those of you who remember the 60’s, you are familiar with names like Rap Brown, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X, to name a few. A block from my place was a Black Panther office, and from time to time I had helicopters buzzing near my apartment. This can come as quite a surprise when at some odd hour in the night your bedroom is lit up with a spotlight.
The Panthers were quite formidable, and for that reason even the run-of-the-mill brothers gave them a wide berth. And, this is where Dick entered my life. Most of us had our little groups, and depending on what you liked to do you chose your friends accordingly.
My wife was a teacher, and she befriended Fern Cunningham who, with her husband David, introduced us to Pervis Adkins and Norman Bass. Norm was the brother of L.A. Rams running back Dick Bass, and that as they say in the neighborhood that’s how I got the “hook up.” We would play parlor games at the Cunningham house on weekends, and sounds coming from some of the domino games would lead an outsider to think World War III was about to break out.
During daylight hours when free time allowed, the guys would play golf. Dick didn’t have much of a game, but he enjoyed coming along to talk smack. On one occasion he brought along a teammate, Rams defensive end Deacon Jones.
From then on, Deacon became a regular. Deacon could hit a golf ball a country mile, but he could turn a 10-foot putt into a 15-foot comeback putt. His driving was impressive, but his total game didn’t leave any PGA pros in danger.
Having the “hook up” had quite a few advantages. On weekends, getting a starting time was harder than getting a million- dollar loan. But, we would just show up at Forest Park and we were next on the tee. This was a good thing, but one Saturday in my haste to change my shoes and get on the tee, I left my watch and ring on the bench. I never found them, and since they were a gift from my wife, I’ve had to live with it for more than 40 years.
One of the best stories I was a party to with Deacon took place on that golf course.
We had teed off on a par 5-hole, and found ourselves waiting in a blind spot over a hill. The group behind us was probably still bristling over the fact that we jumped the line so they decided to hit their balls. One ball landed and rolled to the feet of Deacon. He turned around and hit the ball back in the direction from which it had come. A few seconds later, this red faced idiot came running over the hill yelling, “Who hit my ball?” and when this deep voice replied, “I did,” this guy spotted Deacon and said, “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t hurt anybody.”
This is one of the many stories I often share about Deacon. He was a terror on the gridiron, but a gentle man off the field. It saddens me to report that my friend has ridden off into the sunset. God bless you, Deke.