Saturday, July 17, 2021

Coy Bacon—An Original Blindside Pass Rusher

 By John Turney 
Coy Bacon made his way around the NFL, playing for five teams and also one in the USFL and at each stop (save the Cowboys for whom he didn't actually suit up for) he did his job which was to get after the quarterback.

Bacon played two seasons at Jackson State College (now University) as a second- and third-string defensive tackle after and for some reason in 1964 tied out for the Houston Oilers but they wouldn't sign him because they found out he had not graduated from school (signing players whose graduating class had not graduated was against both AFL and NFL rules).

This also ended his collegiate career due to the rules violation. 
So, Bacon played minor league ball for a few years for the Charleston Rockets, starting in August of 1964 where he began as a linebacker then at mid-season he was moved to defensive end (making $42.50 a week and working construction during the days). 

In August of 1965 Bacon (not making $100 a week) got suspended by the Rockets for disappearing for a few days with his coach, Perry Moss, stating that "even if he returns today he has to sit out against Norfolk game and agree to abide by our rules before being allowed to rejoin our team". 

Moss added, "Bacon has a tremendous future in professional football but once word gets around that he is a troublemaker no general manager or coach will want anything to do with him. This isn't the first time we've had trouble with him but he's always played hard on the field".  

But Bacon's disappearing act didn't seem to hurt the team too much with the Rockets Bacon going 14-and winning the first Continental Football League championship game.

In 1966 Bacon became the first Rockest to score two touchdowns on interception returns in one season according to the club and made the Continental Football League's All-Star Team as well. 

In 1967 he was purchased from the Rockets (for $1,000 and Coy getting half of that) and signed by the Dallas Cowboys (two-year contract for $16,000). In his first workout with the Cowboys, Bacon made a big "noise" by blocking a punt and a kick in special teams drills. One Dallas paper said, early on in camp, that bacon had been "impressive" but by September Ron East had won the backup defensive tackle ob behind Jethro Pugh and Bacon was sent to the taxi squad. 

In November Bacon was loaned to Orlando of the Continental League to gain experience, this year playing defensive tackle for the most part. Back then an NFL team could allow a player on their payroll to perform for semi-pro teams.

The Los Angeles Rams were familiar with Bacon because they often scrimmaged with the Cowboys because both trained in Southern California at the time (the Cowboys at Thousand Oaks). 

Bacon's skill set was an up-the-field type defensive lineman and as such was not a fit for the Dallas disciplined flex defense which on likely running downs was a read and react defense. Dallas saw that pretty quickly so in August of 1968 the Rams sent a 1969 fifth-round pick to the Cowboys for Bacon. 

Bacon was a backup in 1968 not playing much but filled in at defensive tackle for an injured Roger Brown in the early part of the 1969 season even playing a little in passing situations after Brown returned from a knee injury late in the season. Brown himself taught Bacon some of the nuances of the pro game i.e. "NFL things" and said, "He’s going to be one of the best in the league. He’s quick— what you might call like greased lightning".

The following season the '69 starting right defensive end, Diron Talbert, moved inside to tackle and Bacon took over at right defensive end and held that spot through 1972, though there was some drama in 1972 which we will cover later in this post. 
Bacon played excellent football in 1970 and 1971 averaging 57 tackles and 11 sacks. In 1971 he also had 13.5 run stuffs, a terrific number and was a Second-team All-Pro and clearly was the Rams best defensive line (Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen both had nagging injuries).

Still despite that success, Bacon was often confused by fans with Jones and he would often sign Jones' name to autograph seekers when they'd say, "Deacon, can we have your autograph".

The 1972 drama began when the Rams traded Deacon Jones to San Diego and acquired Fred Dryer from New England (where the Giants traded him and Dryer refused to play). 

The thinking by the Rams coaching staff was that Bacon's size (6'4, 270-pounds) would make him a fit for the left defensive end, and Dryer would play the right, his natural position, and 1971 rookie Jack Youngblood would compete with Dryer on the right side.

Youngblood started a few games at left end for Jones in 1971 but also played the right end in the '57 defense' which was the Rams nickel defensive line when Phil Olsen came out of the game, Bacon played right tackle and Youngblood played right end, and Merlin Olsen and Jones (when healthy) played his usual left end. Thus, the Rams coaches thought that Youngblood could play the right side because he had good quickness and some experience there.
Preseason 1972 with Bacon (#79) at left end
So, the Rams go through the '72 training camp and part of the preseason that way but as time went on Bacon became more and more disgruntled with his position change. He didn't like doing things in reverse and was becoming more and more vocal about it.

Finally, very late in the preseason, Bacon was moved back to his right end spot and Dryer and Youngblood moved to the left, which incensed Dryer who told the Rams coaches he wasn't prepared for the season because he got no reps at left end. So, Youngblood ended up getting most of the snaps at left end, and Dryer was the right end in the '57' with Bacon playing right tackle.

Still, Bacon had a fine season, making the Pro Bowl and making the player's All-Pro team and recoding 10½ sacks making his 1970-72 total 32½, an average of just under 11 per season.
Change came in 1973 when the Rams hired Chuck Knox as the head coach and there would be a change in the defense to more of an AFL odd-man scheme, though it was still a 4-3. While the Rams would still get after the passer, if run showed, the Rams would play a 'butt technique' to control the run. And this was some that that would be taught by Ray Malavasi who the Rams were planning to sign as their defensive coordinator.

In the Spring Bacon was part of the package that sent John Hadl to the Rams and Bacon was reunited with Deacon Jones in San Diego (along with Bob Thomas). His Rams days were over. A few years later Bacon told a Cincinnati paper that he looked back fondly on his time with the Rams and that he may have played his best in those years. "I wish I had stayed there", He said, "I'm sure they'd have won a Super Bowl by now. I am not knocking Fred Dryer but Youngblood and I had our thing going".

Jones even said that throughout camp that Bacon was moving with "that All-Pro vitality" and that the Chargers had the making of a "super front four" including himself and Bacon, former Packer Lionel Aldrige, and steady Ron East (the same guy who beat him out for the backup job in Dallas in 1967).

At first, Bacon had to play left defensive tackle (after refusing to play left defensive end the year before) because Aldridge was the right end and he had played pretty well in 1972. But in 1973 his play suffered and an injury sidelined him and by midseason, Bacon was playing the right end and Ron East took over as the left tackle. 

However, the "super front four" never came to pass and the unit only totaled 26 sacks and the run defense was gashed often, giving up 42 yards a game more than in 1972. The next season only Bacon remained as a starter on the defensive line and Jones, Aldridge, Costa, and East were all jettisoned.

Before the '74 season, Bacon was fined $2,000 and placed on probation by the NFL by Pete Rozelle along with seven other Chargers (including Deacon Jones) for his part in the violations of the league drug policies that revolved around the widespread use of marijuana and "pep" pills.

In 1974 Bacon was player reasonably well but became disgruntled along with several other players with Monday workouts that the Chargers were having on Mondays.  "An hour and a half on Mondays after a game", Bacon recalled, "Full pads!". He felt that his three years in San Diego amount to being "treated like a dog".

Usually, Mondays were for treatment and reviewing game films but the Chargers were getting people out on the field. This led to an argument on a flight in November and led to a fine and suspension to Bacon and a couple of other players. In the off-season, the Chargers tried to move Bacon but nothing came of it. 

The next year he led the team with 10 sacks but the team was awful at 2-12 but Bacon became expendable after the season because they landed several good young linemen in the 1975 draft—Fred Dean, Gary Johnson, and Louis Kelcher and they played very well. So, in April 1976, they sent him to the Bengals for offensive help, Charlie Joiner.

It was a relief for Bacon who said that playing in San Deigo turned him off and that, "no matter how hard you played you knew you were going to lose".
Bacon responded with his career year, recording 21½ sacks and making Second-team All-Pro for the third time in his career. He really was unblockable. He was showing up regularly on Monday Night Football's Halftime Highlights, rare for a defensive player because he made so many big plays. 

About 1976 Bacon told ESPN, ""Couldn't anybody stop me," he said recently. "They just double-teamed me, because I had confidence one man couldn't stop me on a pass rush. That was a good year."

However, at the time, when the Bengals lost a late-season game to knock them out of the playoffs Bacon felt down, telling the media, " . . . the Bengals “blew it”. I can’t go through this no more, it's really disheartening. I’m 33 years old. I don’t know if I’m going to play anymore. I don’t know if I am coming back next year or not".

But within a few days the emotion wore off and logic set in, "“I talked to my accountant. I’ve got mouths to feed".

So, he did come back and followed up his 1976 career-year with another Pro Bowl  after the '77 season but it was kind of dubious, recording just 37 tackles and 5½ sacks and putting far less pressure on the quarterback than he had in '76. 

Once again Bacon became disgruntled, demanding a trade in the 1978 offseason. Part of it may have been the Bengals promising to move to a 3-4 front, as many teams were doing in the late 1970s. Bacon told the media, "I want it to be known that (Coach Chuck) Studley and I don't get along because of a conflict of defensive philosophy with the coaching staff".

Bacon went on to say he didn't think the Bengals scheme couldn't Beat teams and that he and Studley argued all the time and that it was "best that I leave". 

The Bengals agreed. 

Bill Johnson, the Bengals head coach said Bacon was "a very disruptive force" and insinuated he was a factor in the Bengals losing a playoff slot in the season finale defeat to the Oilers. Johnson was referring to Bacon's bulletin board comment that the "Oilers might play ball for a couple of quarters but give up".

The Bengals, like the Chargers, had used a lot of recent high choices on defensive linemen—Gary Burley (#3-'75, Eddie Edwards (#1-'77), and Wilson Whitley (#1-'77), once again making Bacon expendable so the Bengals granted him his wish and he was sent to Washington in July. It should also be noted that this was after the Bengals had taken Ross Browner with a 1978 #1 pick, adding to their stockpile of high picks on the defensive line making Bacon even more obsolete.
There, he provided Jack Pardee with a good pass rush from the blind side for three seasons before finally running out of gas in 1981. Washington had a young lion ready to take Bacon's place at right end—Dexter Manley, who could run a 4.5 and had been running down on kickoffs (as the L-1) and punts (as a gunner) the first half of the season with abandon. 

Bacon even lost a little weight in Washington, dropping to about 265 pounds down from 278 that he played at in San Diego and Cincinnati perhaps to compensate for getting older. However, he kept talking. 

In 1979 he angered Dick Vermeil and Eagles left tackle Stan Walters after one game in which Bacon played well, getting lots of pressure on Ron Jaworski. He told the papers that he was reading Walters' stance and that he knew when it was a pass and when it was a run. Walters and Vermeil didn't think it was true, but Walters said he'd "look at the film". It was classic Coy.
When the USFL formed in 1982 Bacon found a job with the Washington Federals and Bacon got one more season out of his 41-year old body and bagged himself 6.5 more sacks playing in a defense that was mostly a 4-3 but would mix in some 3-4 fronts.
Bacon at right end in a 3-4
The old dog even learned a new trick: standing up as a linebacker to give the Federals defense a 3-4 look. He still rushed, but it certainly was something he'd never done before—using a two-point stance.

Bacon as a de facto linebacker with Washington in 1983
But habits are habits, Bacon used one of his old tricks as well, here is a headslap against the left tackle of the Generals—
Boys will be boys and Coy will be Coy, once a disciple of Deacon Jones' head slap, always a disciple. Bacon began his career with that move and ended it with that move (at least a few times).

Career stats—

After his playing career, he had some colorful moments, taking on the name "Boom Boom" Bacon and joining the pro wrestling circuits. He was arrested for possession of cocaine in 1986 and later that year nearly lost his life when he was shot at his own door by a stranger who was never arrested.

The shooting changed Bacon's life:  he became rededicated to his Christian faith and settled down to a more peaceful like in his hometown of Irontown, Ohio, doing motivational and faith-based speaking, getting involved in the community, attending local sports events—enjoying life.

Certainly, Bacon's legacy is sealed, he was one of the best at what he did—rushing the passer. He ended his NFL career with1 30½ sacks despite not entering the NFL until he was 26 years old and playing until he was 39. He also had at least 73.0 run stuffs. 

For a quick comparison recent blind-side rushers Jason Taylor had 76.0 stuffs, John Abraham had 54.0, Dwight Freeney had 39.0, Jared Allen 72.5, DeMarcus Ware 67.5. 

Certainly, there are differences in playing time, years played, and so on but as a thumbnail sketch that gives you an idea that Bacon was seeing runs develop and making some tackles behind the line of scrimmage and that is what his scheme asked him to do.

In terms of pass-rushing Bacon rates as one of the best-ever.

At Bacon's passing in 2008 Bengals owner Mike Brown was quoted the Los Angeles Times saying "Coy was the best rusher I've ever seen, and that would include people such as Deacon Jones,. “He had feet as light as a dancer’s”. 

Left tackle Doug Dieken said that Bacon, on AstroTurf, was as good as there was. He was a different player at our place, on grass, but he used to drive me nuts. And Paul Zimmerman, who named Bacon to his New York Post All-Pro team in 1976 named Bacon as one of the ten best pass rushers of All-Time in 2000. 
Bacon was never First-team All-Pro and has four seasons with post-season honors and that is likely was hurts his Hall of Fame chances more than anything. 

That, and perhaps his so-called troublemaker issues. If that is what they were. There did seem to be one or two at every stop—not following rules. Trying out for a pro team when he had to have been advised that something like that was not allowed. Disappearing during the season on his semi-pro team. Not wanting to play left end in Los Angeles. Not liking the Monday after games practices in San Diego. Not wanted to play a 3-4 defense in Cincinnati. Trash talking the Eagles when he was in Washington. 

Who knows? Maybe he was just standing up for his abilities and knowing what he could and couldn't do on the football field, knowing he was a right end and a right end in a 4-3 defense exclusively. And knowing practice on Mondays was dumb. maybe he had valid points.

Sure there were other issues, the use of prohibited drugs in his career (and after which may have been linked to his shooting and potentially costing his life). Not understanding college rules about contact with pro teams but maybe college was not for him. 

Anyway, Lander McCoy Bacon was a great pass rusher. For his football life, maybe that is enough. It sure is for some recent players who sure got a lot of publicity. Why not for Coy?


  1. Bacon is similar to John Sample, a talented player for hire who could justify his pay while also being selfish. Both players moved around at a time when the Rozelle Rule was keeping a lot of players bound to their teams. A starter with a specialized talent for going after the QB, Bacon had a great year in 1976 but the Bengals losing two of their last three games with the division in sight might have taken him awhile to get over ...

  2. One of my Dad's favorite 'Skins. Thanks for the article!

  3. Great write-up today on Jim Katcavage on the talkoffamenetwork site, a player you guys have endorsed for years. With his 1950s totals, I am thinking at least 115 sacks for his career. How did this guy fall between the HOF cracks ?
    Of course Jimmy Patton poses the same question ...