State Your Case: Why one NFLer called Coy Bacon "the best pass rusher I ever saw"
The official NFL record for sacks in one season is 22-1/2, set in 2001 by Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan. The unofficial record is 26, set in 1976 by Coy Bacon.
You can look it up.
What’s remarkable about that figure is that it was accomplished in a 14-game season. What’s not remarkable is that it was accomplished by Bacon, a defensive end who played for the Rams, Chargers Bengals and Redskins and was a three-time All-Pro.
What he isn’t is a Hall of Famer. Never been a finalist. Never been a semifinalist. Never been discussed.
And that’s hard to fathom considering his productivity.
Now before we go farther, let’s make something clear: There’s no agreement on the 26 sacks. Bacon played for Cincinnati in 1976, and the Bengals insist the figure is accurate. Others do, too. But the league didn’t recognize sacks as an official statistic until 1982 … or one year after Bacon retired from the NFL.
So anything and everything prior to that date is questionable.
Historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal, for instance, credits Bacon with 21-1/2 sacks in 1976. Nevertheless, according to Turney’s figures, that still puts him at 130-1/2 for his pro career – or two fewer than Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor, two more than Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor and 30 more than Hall-of-Famer Charles Haley.
Bottom line: What happened in 1976 may be in doubt, but what happened over a 15-year career is not. Coy Bacon was one of the game’s most effective pass rushers ever.
“He was the best pass rusher I ever saw,” Bengals’ radio analyst Dave Lapham, a former Cincinnati lineman, told the L.A. Times. “He always gained ground … never wasted any steps. He could make you miss.”
When Sport Illustrated’s Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman in 2000 named the 10 greatest pass rushers of all time, he included Bacon. He was 10th. Four years later, Hall-of-Fame executive Gil Brandt listed his best-ever defensive ends and made Bacon the 23rd choice.
When he was 41, Bacon was drafted by the Jacksonville Bulls of the United States Football League. Now, I don’t care that you may know nothing of the USFL. The point is: At 41, Coy Bacon was good enough to be drafted … and drafted by a league that produced Hall-of-Famers Reggie White, Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Gary Zimmerman, as well as Super Bowl MVPs Young and Doug Williams.
“Bacon was big for a defensive end, 6’4, 270 pounds,” Zimmerman wrote in 2000, “and given to furious pass rushes when the mood seized him.”
Lander McCoy Bacon was born on Aug. 30, 1942 in Cadiz, Ky., and played collegiate football at Jackson State University. However, he left college before graduation and was never drafted.
After a brief stint of minor-league football with Charleston of the Continental Football League, he was signed as a free agent by Dallas. But he didn’t stay long. The Cowboys traded him to the Rams for a fifth-round draft pick after Bacon impressed then-coach George Allen at a rookie scrimmage.
It was that his career took off. He would become part of the Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome,” moved from tackle to defensive end in 1970 after Lamar Lundy retired, and made the first of his three Pro Bowls with L.A.
He was later traded to San Diego … then to Cincinnati … and then on to Washington before retiring from the NFL after the 1981 season. At each stop, he had at least one season with double-digit sacks and produced eight of them throughout his career.
He finished his career in 1983 with the USFL Washington Federals.
Bacon died in 2008 at the age of 66, with Bengals’ owner Mike Brown calling him “the greatest pass rusher our team has ever had.” He didn’t say “defensive end.” He said “pass rusher,” and there’s a big difference. Because Coy Bacon was not a three-down defensive end. He didn’t play the run. He played the pass.
And there were few better.
With the emphasis today on sacks, you’d think Coy Bacon would gain traction among the Hall’s senior committee. Sadly, that’s not the case. His name not only isn’t on a short list; it’s never come up. Too bad, too. Because he deserves more than an asterisk in the record book.