As the world said goodbye to Deacon Jones last week, Len Rohde recalled the time he said hello.
The longtime offensive 49ers lineman set the team record for most consecutive games played -- a streak that began a week after he impressed coaches by holding his own in emergency duty against the Los Angeles Rams defensive terror.
When right tackle Bob St. Clair suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in the first half on Nov. 18, 1962, offensive line coach Bill Johnson looked down the sideline, reluctantly pondered his options and said: "Rohde, get in there!"
That's how Rohde came face to face with Jones, the man whose New York Times obituary described him as "the pass-rushing defensive end who became a master of the sack and one of the NFL's greatest defensive players."
Jones was in just his second season in '62. But to Rohde, his talent was as obvious as a smack in the face.
"Deacon had this big head slap," Rohde, now 75, recalled in a phone interview. "He had a really long reach, and he'd give you a hit on the helmet and knock you off balance. And once he had you off balance, he would try to get around you."
Jones died Monday in Anaheim Hills at age 74. During his 14 NFL seasons, the 6-foot-5, 270-pounder tormented opposing quarterbacks by racking up what everyone now calls "sacks."
Rohde, whose 15-year career with the 49ers (1960-74) almost mirrored Jones' time in the NFL (1961-74) remembers him well. In fact, some memories still echo in his ears.
"Deacon had some gamesmanship about him. He was always talking," Rohde said. "And if he got blocked, he'd automatically think it must be because you were holding, so he'd start screaming at the officials.
"You'd be thinking, 'Yeah, right.'"
Rohde and Jones didn't match up often -- they spent most of their careers on opposite sides -- but that game in 1962 might have saved Rohde's career.
He'd been drafted as a two-way player from Utah State in the fifth round of the 1960 draft but had a hard time finding his niche in San Francisco. Rohde played some backup tackle here and there but felt more comfortable whenever he lined up as the right defensive end.
After Rohde had a strong '62 preseason on defense, the 49ers started him on defense in the season opener. He promptly spent the day missing tackles and blowing assignments in a 30-14 loss to the Chicago Bears. By the time Rohde showed up for practice Monday, coach Red Hickey told him he was going back to offense.
"I figured it was all over, my career was over," Rohde said in the 2007 book "The Game of My Life: San Francisco 49ers" by former San Jose Mercury News sports writer Dennis Georgatos. "I mean, how many opportunities to you get? I knew I had been struggling on offense, so I didn't think I had a chance. I was about as low as you could go ...
"At that point, I figured I'd wait out the season and if the 49ers didn't want me, (I'd go) play defense for somebody somewhere. I knew I could rush the passer."
Instead, his career changed because of how he played against Deacon Jones. After St. Clair went down with his injury, Rohde jumped in for the second half with the goal of just getting through the game without getting completely run over. He "played respectably" (his words) and helped the 49ers hold on for a 24-17 win.
Looking back, Rohde noted that Jones, too, was just a young player trying to establish himself. Jones was a 14th-round draft pick in his second year and still two seasons away from his first Pro Bowl selection.
Rohde, though, got a sense of what was to come.
"Deacon was quick. He was real quick and you had to be ready to react to what he was doing because he had a great outside move," Rohde said.
Impressed, the 49ers coaches used Rohde as the starting right tackle the following week against St. Louis. Rhode would remain entrenched in the lineup for the next 13 years, mostly at left tackle, playing a 49ers record 208 consecutive games.
The mark has stood since Rhode's retirement after the 1974 season. (Long snapper Brian Jennings is also at 208 in a row entering the 2013 season.)
After retirement, Rohde entered the restaurant business. At one point, he owned nine Burger Kings and six Applebees. These days, the Illinois native has returned to his farming roots to create Templeton Olive Oil from his ranch near San Luis Obispo.
Rohde joins the rest of the football community in mourning the loss of Deacon Jones.
"Obviously, he is one of the greatest to ever play that position," he said.