Hall-of-Fame pass rusher David “Deacon” Jones coined the term “sack.” But according to the NFL, he didn’t have any during his 14-year career.
That’s because the NFL didn’t officially start counting sacks until 1982. By then, Jones had been out of football for seven seasons. So his record-setting 22-sack seasons in both 1964 and 1968 for the Los Angeles Rams went unrecognized by his league, as did his 173 ½ career sacks.
Al “Bubba” Baker broke a record that didn’t officially exist in 1978 when he collected 23 sacks for the Detroit Lions. But the NFL didn’t recognize his season, either. Its record book says Michael Strahan holds the NFL single-season record with 22 ½ sacks in 2001.
But the web site profootballreference.com has taken the step to restore a history that the NFL thus far has refused to acknowledge. That site has decided to recognize the work done by football historians John Turney and Nick Webster, who have meticulously combed through the play-by-plays and watched countless game tapes from the 1950s on to credit all sacks by all players.
Their work has welcomed four new entries into the Top 10 in career sacks. In addition to Jones, who moves up to third all-time with his 173 ½ sacks, Hall-of-Famers Jack Youngblood, Alan Page and Lawrence Taylor have all benefitted.
Youngblood played 14 years for the Rams, retiring after the 1984 season. So the NFL recognizes only the 24 sacks he collected from 1982-84. But the work of Turner and Webster puts him at 151 ½ career sacks, sixth all-time. Page retired after the 1981 season. He is now credited with 148 ½ career sacks, eighth all-time.
Taylor ranks 14th all-time in the NFL’s eyes with 132 ½ sacks. But his career started in 1981 – a year before the league started counting sacks. Turner and Webster awarded Taylor 9 ½ more sacks from his 1981 season, moving him up to ninth on the all-time list with 142.
Taylor, by the way, was the inspiration for all that research.
“In 1993 when Lawrence Taylor was about to break the then-sack record, I thought there were sacks kept prior to 1981 from media guides and even football cards,” Turney said, “so I started contacting teams to see how those were kept. I was told they were through record-keeping by coaches or play-by-plays. When I was told play-by-plays, I asked to come in and look through them.”
The play-by-plays made the project as entertaining as it was educational.
“We saw some colorful ways of describing sacks – ‘tackled attempting to pass" was a standard one,” Turney said. “But I've seen ‘smeared,’ ‘killed,’ ‘dropped’ and `snowed over’ before the term ‘sacked’ began appearing in the play-by-plays.
“(Former Detroit coach) Buddy Parker called (sacks) ‘eating the ball’ in his book. The Cleveland play-by-plays often called it `dumped’ and Dallas called them `traps.’ It's always interesting to see how the old school play-by-play scorekeepers described the play.”
The NFL record book lists 12 players with 20-sack seasons. The Turney-Webster research has increased that number to 21 with Jones, Baker, Coy Bacon, Mark Gastineau, Jim Katcavage, Joe Klecko and Harvey Martin joining the list. Jones had three such 20-sack seasons. That would be a record if the NFL acknowledged his career accomplishments. Instead, the league lists J.J. Watt with a record two 20-sack seasons.
The NFL record book lists only one defensive tackle in the 100-sack club – Hall-of-Famer John Randle with 137 1/2. The Turney-Webster research adds three more Hall of Famers at that position to that list – Page at 148, Randy White at 111 and Alex Karras at 100.
And finally, the Turney-Webster research verified that Minnesota’s famed “Purple People Eaters” of the 1970s were indeed quarterback eaters. Three members of that Vikings’ front four are now counted in the 100-sack club – Page, fellow Hall-of-Famer Carl Eller (133 ½) and Jim Marshall (130 ½).