Special to The Mississippi Link
ITTA BENA – Former Mississippi Valley State quarterback Willie Totten and the late defensive lineman David “Deacon” Jones will be two of five former HBCU standouts to be honored Thursday, Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. at the MEAC/SWAC Legends Reception in Orlando, hosted by ESPN.
The Legends Award was established in 2009 to pay tribute to extraordinary alumni who have used their respective MEAC and SWAC university education to bring excellence to their professional achievements and/or community service endeavors whether local, statewide, nationally or globally.
The Legends Awards were further established to honor dedicated alumni who have helped to advance their respective institution’s mission and goals and they inspire others. Through their enduring commitment to excellence, integrity, civility, diversity and service, they serve as stellar examples for future graduates of MEAC and SWAC institutions.
Willie Totten is the former head coach of the Mississippi Valley State University Delta Devils football team, a job he held from 2002 to 2009. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
On Dec. 1, 2009, Totten resigned as college football head coach of the Mississippi Valley State University Delta Devils. His overall record at the school was 31-57.
Totten is one of a few coaches to coach in a stadium named after him. His teams played in Rice-Totten Field, named for him and legendary NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice.
Totten was Rice’s quarterback at MVSU, and with Rice as his target, Totten set more than 50 Division I-AA passing records. His team scored 59 points a game, and in one year he threw for a record 58 touchdowns. Totten played professionally in the CFL with the BC Lions (1986) and Toronto Argonauts (1987) before moving on to the NFL, as a replacement player for the Buffalo Bills during the strike-shortened 1987 NFL season. In two games as a strikebreaker, Totten completed 13 of 33 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He also fumbled nine times and accounted for eight turnovers in a pair of Bills losses.
Totten then played in the Arena Football League, playing for the Chicago Bruisers, Pittsburgh Gladiators and the New Orleans Night.
Totten is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity.
David “Deacon” Jones, who died at the age of 74 on June 3, was a Mississippi Valley State University and NFL legend.
The original ‘sackmaster’, the Hall of Fame defensive end is credited with terming the word ‘sack’ for how he knocked down quarterbacks.
The Washington Redskins said Jones died of natural causes at his home in Southern California.
“Our heartful thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Deacon Jones and the Mississippi Valley State community,” SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp said at the time of Jones‘ death. “We will truly miss this NFL pioneer and SWAC legend. I’m sure Mr. Jones will be measured by his actions on the field. We hope that he will be remembered by the impact he made off the gridiron and how he lived his life.”
A 14th-round draft pick in 1961 out of MVSU, which later produced Jerry Rice, Jones was the first defensive lineman with 100 solo tackles, reaching that mark in 1967.
A native of Eatonville, Fla., Jones played three college seasons at South Carolina State and one at Mississippi Vocational College (now Mississippi Valley State).
He was enshrined into the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame in 1994. That class included Willis Reed (N.Y. Knicks – Basketball Hall of Fame) and Lou Brock (St. Louis Cardinals – Baseball Hall of Fame). He was later inducted into the MVSU Hall of Fame in 2006.
Because sacks didn’t become an official statistic until 1982, Jones’ total is uncertain. His impact as a premier pass rusher and team leader is not.
Jones was the leader of the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome unit from 1961-71 and then played for San Diego for two seasons before finishing his career with the Redskins in 1974. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and made the league’s 75th anniversary all-time squad.
Jones made the Pro Bowl every year from 1964-70 and played in eight overall. He combined with fellow Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy on a defensive line that at times was unblockable.
The Rams’ stats show Jones with 159½ sacks for them and 173½ for his career — all unofficial, of course. Jones also was one of the most durable players, missing just five games in his 14 pro seasons.
Jones also had several small acting roles both during and after his playing career. He was a guest star on a handful of television shows — including episodes of “Bewitched,” “The Brady Bunch” and “The Odd Couple” — and appeared in the 1978 Warren Beatty film “Heaven Can Wait.”
Most recently, Jones was the CEO of his own foundation, which he began in 1997. He also made several trips to visit troops on active duty in the Middle East.