Conspiracy theorists and New York Giant haters can kvetch and moan about it all they desire, but it won’t change anything.
On January 6, 2002, the last day of the 2001 regular season, Michael Strahan took possession of the NFL’s single-season sack record after a controversial sacking of Brett Favre. Needing just half a sack to tie Mark Gastineau’s 1984 record of 22 quarterback baggings, Strahan was shut out for most of the game.
As the clock was winding to its fourth quarter end, Favre mysteriously slipped while running toward Strahan, and the gap-toothed defensive end two-hand-touched his way into the record books.
Twenty two and a half sacks has stood as the “official” NFL record for over a decade. Since then, a number of All-Pros have come close to taking Strahan’s title away. Last season alone, Minnesota’s Jared Allen and Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware had, respectively, 22 and 19.5 sacks.
In fact, Allen had 3.5 sacks in the last game of the regular season, bringing him oh so close to erasing Strahan’s name off that page.
Needing talking point niblets to tide fans over until training camps begin, or at least until a juicy scandal detonates, NFL.com posted a side-dish story about Allen and Ware, and how both believe a twenty-five sack season is feasible.
Little do they know how right they are, and how blissfully ignorant they are of their history.
While sacks are an exciting part of the modern game, providing bone-crunching highlights and climactic turning points, the actual statistic of a “sack” wasn’t logged and archived until 1982. When you look at rushing statistics over the course of NFL history, you’ll find a wide variety of legendary names that include ancient greats like Steve Van Buren and Jim Brown.
But in the category of sacks, you pretty much find only players that never had to practice an air-raid drill in elementary school.
Somewhere, sometime, somebody (well, probably a group of somebodies) decided to go back and pore through as many old NFL games as possible to get perspective on accurate sack totals, just to see if any of these modern records are legitimate. After all, could you imagine if nobody kept track of home runs in Major League Baseball until 1982? By the late 1980’s, Jose Canseco would be revered perhaps moreso than Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron before him, which is enough to make Bob Costas break out in Crackerjack-scented eczema.
The man who coined the phrase “quarterback sack” would be the beneficiary of this research. David “Deacon” Jones terrorized many a signal-caller during his fourteen seasons with the Rams, Chargers, and Redskins, but it was in Los Angeles that Jones caused the most damage.
The boldest member of the ‘Fearsome Foursome’, a terror cell of a defensive line that included Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier, and Lamar Lundy, Jones would violently slap at the helmets of offensive linemen before the tactic was deemed illegal. With this skill at hand, Jones also used his quick bursts of speed to do the one thing he did better than any defensive star of his era: kill the quarterback.
According to chroniclers that have painstakingly reviewed every possible game that Deacon Jones played in, Jones can be credited with 194.5 sacks, which would actually make him third all time in NFL history behind Bruce Smith and the late Reggie White. It’s just a shame a common statistic in this day and age isn’t used to officially add Jones to the record books retroactively.
But this brings the conversation back to single-season records. We’ve established that Strahan owns the record as it stands now, with 22.5 sacks. We’ve also made it clear that Allen and Ware have come close to that mark, while now contending that 25 sacks in a season is a reachable, and apparently lofty, goal.
What if I told you that, in 1967, Deacon Jones had 26 sacks?
Media guides for the three teams which employed Jones have printed this fact. In fourteen games in 1967 (yes, this was achieved BEFORE the sixteen games that Strahan and company have had to work with), Deacon Jones blew past blockers, assaulting linemen, and slalomed past fullbacks en route to dragging the quarterback into a muddy, grassy abyss.
And he did it over four more times than Michael Strahan did during the so-called “record” season.
But his maulings of Bart Starr, Joe Kapp, Don Meredith, and John Brodie, among many others, are not recognized by the NFL. It’s such a non-factor in NFL canon, that two players are openly discussing the possibility of reaching a number that’s one less than his best total, as if that number would be record-breaking.
If the 1967 season had never happened, or if Jones had merely skipped that season to tour on the carnival freak show circuit as “Deacon, The Head-Slapping Man of Steel”, then Allen and Ware’s proclamations would have more merit.
Not because beating Strahan’s record would still be the accepted standard, but because in 1968, Deacon Jones had 24 sacks, thus giving merit to the flex goal set by our modern All-Pros.
But geez, think about that: over a two year span, Deacon Jones had FIFTY SACKS. If Deacon was born forty years later, not only would he be hailed as the greatest defender in the NFL, but every jock-sniffing YouTube user with editing equipment would be compiling highlight reels of Deacon’s most crushing hits set to Young Jeezy’s rhymes.
But Deacon doesn’t play in the modern NFL. Instead, he retired after the 1974 season, a full eight years before the defensive action that he made famous would become an official stat. And as such, the numbers in his body of work is met with an unfortunate ignorance that time and circumstance made possible.
If Jared Allen or DeMarcus Ware, or anyone else for that matter, ever reach 26.5 sacks in a season, then carrying this flag for Deacon becomes moot.
But if they want to do it the right way, they have to sit out two games, playing only fourteen. If you’re going to make history, do it the right way.
Because there’s no more Brett Favre to fall down for them.