Thanks to the work of a couple of historians, we now have a more complete list of the NFL’s all-time leaders in sacks. Plus, we have a better understanding of how dominant some pass rushers were prior to 1982 … and, Al “Bubba” Baker, please step forward.
Left unresolved, however, is one fundamental question: Who benefits most from this latest information?
Certainly, Baker is one. He had 23 sacks in 1978, which should be a single-season record. It’s not, of course, because the NFL didn’t recognize sacks as an official stat until 1982. Worse, it still refuses to consider anything prior to that date official (don’t ask me why; I don’t get it, either).
But everyone, including Baker, now knows what he did. And what he did was lead the league twice in sacks (1978 and 1980), produce six double-digit seasons in sacks and set the single-season unofficial NFL record.
He’s never been a Hall-of-Fame finalist, but he could now.
Coy Bacon and Jim Marshall are two more who could gain addition traction with the new research. They’re tied at 130-1/2 career sacks, a half-a-sack less than Baker. Bacon has never been a Hall finalist. Marshall was one once, in 2004.
Anyone else? Well, yes. There’s one under-the-radar candidate who could gain significantly from the work of historians John Turney and Nick Webster (https://www.si.com/nfl/talkoffame/nfl/sacks-now-exist-before-1982), who charted sacks by studying game films dating back to the 1960s: That's former New York Giants’ star Jim Katcavage, currently tied with Hall-of-Famer Howie Long and former Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews at 78th with 91-1/2 sacks,.
Katcavage retired after the 1968 season and was never a Hall-of-Fame finalist. Now a senior candidate, he’s never been on the short list of finalists there, either. So what about 91-1/2 sacks suddenly makes him more Hall-of-Fame worthy than before?
There are 50 players, some of whom are still active, with bigger numbers than Katcavage. But here’s the catch: Though Katcavage retired over 50 years ago, he’s not finished. Turney and Webster haven’t completed their research into the 1950s, and that’s a decade where Katcavage played four seasons and 45 games.
Unlike candidates like Baker, Marshall and Bacon, he played left – not right – defensive end, where most running plays were directed. Pass rushers typically went to the other side, and the Giants had Hall-of-Famer Andy Robustelli at right end. Plus, Baker, Marshall and Bacon combined for one first-team All-Pro nomination. Katcavage was a first-team All-Pro three times.
Then there’s this: Katcavage led the league with 20-1/2 sacks in 1963 when the NFL played 14-game seasons. Over a 16-game schedule that computes to 23-1/2, or a half-sack more than Baker in 1978 when the league moved from 14 to 16 contests.
So Katcavage was a bit of an anomaly, especially when you look at his numbers.
But remember: He’s not finished. If you do the math, he averaged .55 sacks per game, which comes out to an additional 24.75 – or 25 sacks – and now we’re talking. Because that would take him to 116-1/2 for his career and could – or should -- put him in a Canton conversation.
What’s not to like? He was an NFL champion (1956) and played in six league title games. He was a five-time All-Pro, including three first-team choices, and three-time Pro Bowler. He twice led the league in sacks (1962, 1963).
Bottom line: He checked all the boxes.
“We don’t have complete data for the 1950s,” said Turney, “which is why it has not been released. It’s a work in progress. But we are confident he will eventually have 20-30 more sacks, taking him to 110-120, or even a bit more.”
“Eventually,” said Turney, “I think Jim Katcavage could get some notice.”