Sunday, November 04, 2001

Bacon was Bengals' sackmaster

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Coy Bacon's 22 sacks in 1976 aren't listed in the NFL's record book. Only in the Bengals'. Sacks became an official league statistic in 1982, and former New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau set the season record with 22 of his own in 1984.

        Twenty-five years ago, Bacon was the first and last truly great pass rusher in Bengals history. A quarter-century later, the team would like to see another defensive end, rookie Justin Smith, be the next one. The Bengals' first-round draft pick, Smith has two sacks in six games, and Bacon sees his promise.

    Bengals All-Time Leaders
  • Coy Bacon 22 (1976)
  • Mike Reid 13 (1973)
  • Ron Carpenter 13 (1974)
  • Eddie Edwards 13 (1983)
        “He can do some things. He's got quick feet,” said Bacon, who was at Paul Brown Stadium and saw Smith in the Bengals' 24-0 loss to Chicago. “They all had a bad game that week. But he's going to be a good one.

        “They need to stop moving him around so much, but I guess that's the way they do things today. The have him right, left, in pass coverage. If you want him to get real good, leave him in the one spot.”

        Bacon played more than a generation ago. But he and Smith, as players, share the same playing size - 6 feet 4, 270 pounds. Speed, quickness and agility were Bacon's primary strengths. Smith's, too. But Bacon had the now-outlawed head slap at his disposal.

        “It was one of my best moves,” Bacon said. “And offensive lineman can stick their hands out now and do a lot of grabbing.”

        Bacon, 58, came out of Ironton, Ohio, and attended Jackson State. He entered the league in 1966 with the Dallas Cowboys before moving on to the Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers. He came to the Bengals in a trade before the '76 season.

        Bacon lined up opposite Gary Burley (10 sacks) and anchored a defense that gave up just 15 points a game. The team went 10-4, but failed to make the playoffs.

        “He was the best pass rusher I ever saw,” Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, an offensive tackle back then, said of Bacon. “A lot of guys will stand up and shake, but he always gained ground. Never wasted any steps. He could make you miss. He was a very nimble body for a guy his size. He had a body lean that was always going toward the quarterback.

        “He'd shake and bake his head. He had everything going. He was a wriggler. You're backing up and wondering what was coming next.”

        Bacon's biggest game was the last one of the season, a 42-3 victory over the Jets at Shea Stadium. Bacon sacked Joe Namath four times in Namath's last game with the Jets.

        “Determination had a lot to do with it,” Bacon said of his ability to pressure quarterbacks. “Off the ball is the best policy. That ball is snapped, and you go, and the offensive lineman is getting off late. You take your first move before they know what hit him.”

        Bacon made the Pro Bowl in 1976 and again in 1977, even though he dropped off to 5.5 sacks.

        “Coy was the best rusher I've ever seen, and that would include people such as Deacon Jones,” said Bengals president Mike Brown, who was assistant general manager to his father, Paul Brown, when Bacon played for the Bengals. “He had feet as light as a dancer's.”

        Bacon finished his career with the Redskins from 1978-81. He missed the Redskins' Super Bowl season by one year, but decided to keep his home in the Washington, D.C., area.

        But Bacon fell into the wrong crowd, “people who say they love you and set you up and get you started on drugs and alcohol,” he said.

        He got hooked on cocaine. He lost his values and almost his life.

        In July 1986, Bacon was arrested on charges of cocaine possession. Two weeks later, shortly after midnight, he heard a knock on his apartment door. He answered and was greeted by a gunshots that entered his stomach and passed through his body.

        “I lost over half my blood,” he said. “It's a blessing I'm here.”

        For two weeks, he was in the hospital, where his life began to change. Bacon said he could feel God in his heart.

        “If I'd continued doing (drugs), I was going to die,” said Bacon, who has a long scar running vertically up his abdomen as a reminder of his former life.

        Bacon moved home to Ironton. He started a lawn-service company and went to work for the state. He's employed as a juvenile corrections officer with the Ohio River Valley Youth Center in Franklin Furnace, Ohio.

        “We have a unit with 36-38 guys,” he said. “We transport them to school, to dinner. They are troubled kids, and we try to steer them right.”

        He has been a born-again Christian for 15 years, clean and sober.

        “I enjoy working with young people,” Bacon said.

        Mike Brown invited Bacon to Bengals training camp in August. Bacon was one of several former Bengals who spoke to current players of the franchise's glory days.

        Brown sees Bacon's life now as Bacon's glory days.

        “His physical prowess was always there, and it wasn't easy for him to get everything working on and off the field,” Brown said. “He knew how to tear things up off the field, too. And he paid the price for that, too.

        “He's found a niche in society that he's happy in. He's become a good citizen.”

Smith chasin' Bacon

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