The Sack Master; Coy Bacon one of best pass rushers in NFL history

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 28, 2002

For Coy Bacon, the learning never stops.

From his birth in the tiny town of Corbin, Ky., to growing up in Ironton and playing for nearly two decades in the National Football League, Bacon has spent his life learning new lessons every day.

And that learning process continues to this day, which causes the former NFL All-Pro defensive lineman to smile no matter how good or bad of

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a hand he is dealt. Football was not only fun for Bacon, it was the catalyst to his life.

"It was fun. It wasn't like today. There wasn't any Tiger Alley (in high school)," said Bacon. "When I started playing I didn't know much about playing football. I came from the cornfields of Kentucky. I learned the game on the playgrounds."

Oh, how well he did learn the game.

Bacon had a 16-year NFL career that was filled with plenty of ups and downs. He now tends to recall the highlights of his experiences, even his rookie season.

"I was a rookie and (the veteran players) wore me out. They had me running to get hamburgers and all kinds of things. I did the same thing. I made rookies sing and get food. This is what rookies go through," Bacon said with a laugh.

"I couldn't imagine playing ball today. There are more advantages and more chances to learn the game. When I started playing, I didn't know about down and distance. I knew you had to stop them three downs. But I have no regrets. I never got any serious injuries. It brought excitement to my life and taught me responsibility and to be a strong person. There are rules and regulations you have to go through. You have to be strong to withstand the pressure. If you can't handle it, you'll be gone."

The lessons football taught Bacon began early when he played for Ironton High School from 1960-62. Bacon then spent one season at Jackson State before landing a spot with the Charleston Rockets semi-pro team.

It was with the Rockets that a Dallas Cowboys scout spotted him and eventually signed him. After two years on the "Taxi Squad" or practice team, Bacon made the team roster in 1967. He was dealt to the Los Angeles Rams after the season.

Bacon was a member of the Rams "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line from 1968-72. The front four included David "Deacon" Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Lamar Lundy. Bacon played across from such great players as Art Shell and "Mean" Joe Greene, a couple of Hall of Famers. Jones and Olsen are also in the Hall of Fame.

In desperate need of a pass rusher, San Diego made a deal for Bacon who spent the 1973-75 seasons with the Chargers.

It was in 1974 that Bacon scored his only NFL touchdown with an 80-yard fumble return.

Next, it was the Cincinnati Bengals who needed a pass rusher and they sent Charlie Joiner to the Charger.

Bacon led the Bengals and league with an unofficial record 25 sacks. The league -- which later reduced his number to 22 -- did not recognize sacks until the 1982 season. He had four sacks of New York quarterback Joe Namath in a 42-3 win at Shea Stadium, Namath's last game as a Jet.

Bacon had 15 sacks the following season.

"As a pass rusher, Coy had tremendous ability," said former Bengals coach Bill "Tiger" Johnson who spent 43 years in the profession. "Coy had excellent quickness. As a pass rusher, Gino Marchetti of the Colts and Deacon Jones were two of the best. Marchetti was really something. But Coy was equal in that phase. He was a great pass rusher."

Record sacks or not, Bacon was still a first team All-Pro and voted the Bengals Most Valuable Player.

Thinking Bacon was getting old, the Bengals drafted Ross Browner in 1978 and Bacon was on the trading block. Washington Redskins coach George Allen took the opportunity to acquire Bacon's services.

Allen had a "win now" philosophy and Bacon gave the Redskins a

veteran pass rusher. He had 15 sacks in 1979, setting a team record that was later broken by Dexter Manley. He played with Washington until his release following the 1981 season. He then played one year with the USFL's Washington Federals before calling it quits.

Johnson, who served as the Bengals head coach during Bacon's tenure with the team, remembers Allen's inquiries concerning the 6-foot-4, 280-pound lineman.

"I got a call from George Allen and he asked me about Coy. (Bacon) was right up there on George Allen's list. He liked the older players," recalled Johnson.

Because teams needed a pass rusher and Bacon was usually the bait, he earned reputation as a one-dimensional player. Bacon, who was listed by Sports Illustrated as the 10th best pass rusher of all-time, takes exception to being labeled.

"You don't play 16 years in the NFL and not be able to play the run. You can't just be a good pass rusher or just a good run defender," Bacon said. "I played every down. A pass rusher plays only in pass-rushing situations."

Johnson agreed with Bacon.

"He was at the top of the list as far as pass rushers were concerned. As a run defender, he wasn't as good, but that doesn't mean he had a deficiency. He was just a better pass rusher. He helped us tremendously," said Johnson.

After retiring, Bacon elected to live in Washington, D.C. It was during this time period that Bacon began to learn about life after football. And the lessons he learned came with a near-fatal experience that caused a drastic change in his life.

Falling in with the wrong crowd, Bacon began using cocaine. He was arrested in July of 1986 on charges of cocaine possession. Two weeks later around midnight, he heard a knock at the door of his apartment. When he answered, he was greeted with a gunshot near his stomach that sent a bullet through his body. He spent two weeks in the hospital after nearly losing his life.

It was also at this time when God returned to the front in his life and he became a born-again Christian. He remains clean and sober to this day.

"If I'd continued doing drugs, I was going to die," said Bacon. "I lost over half my blood. It's a blessing I'm here."

Bacon currently works as a corrections officer at the Ohio River Valley Youth Center which has approximately 40 youths. Bacon said "They are troubled kids, and we try to steer them in the right direction."

Outside the work place, Bacon is the Associated President with the Youth for Christ of the Tri-State Baptist Church. He is a committee member of MENTOR, an Ohio University Southern program that helps prepare young people for successful university experiences.

Bacon spends a lot of time speaking and counseling youths about evaluating one's values, aspirations, and goals in life. He sometimes calls on former NFL friends such as Archie Griffin to speak with youths.

"I was taught values and I want to teach kids that. Don't forget where you come from. Ironton is a great place. It's easy to get involved (in drugs) in a big city. You can get involved and you don't even realize it. It's got you and it controls you," said Bacon.

"This is a small area and you don't have to do them. In the big city there is a big volume and people are brave with it. They walk right down the street with it. You've got to be careful who you choose to hang out with. It's a fast life and it gets faster. They come out with a new drug every five years. Kids loose their minds. It's their lifestyle and if you get hung up on it you're going to jail or you're going to die.

The volume isn't as big in Ironton and you can get away from it."

Coy Bacon attacks life's problems much like the way he attacked NFL quarterbacks. It's wonder he's winning the battle in record fashion. Jim Walker/The Ironton Tribune