In 1992, the National Football League was making much ado about Lawrence Taylor
becoming the NFLs all-time sack leader. It was at that point my curiosity peaked, I
began asking questions as to why the NFL did not count Taylors 1981 sack total of
9½ in his career total. I knew that the sack became an official statistic in 82,
but I wondered aloud why his rookie year was not grandfathered into the record books.
Various sources gave various answers, none of which were completely satisfactory. That was
the genesis of a research project that has now spanned eight years and required many
sources to try and find answers to my questions.
Eventually, Reggie White passed Taylor and was crowned by the NFL and Elias Sports
Bureau, the statistical arm of the NFL, as the all-time sack leader. It was amid this
backdrop that another individual was asking many of the same questions that I was. Hall of
Fame DE Deacon Jones proclaimed that it was he, not White, who was the NFLs all-time
sack king. Jones said to anyone who would listen, "Since when does
all-time begin in 1982?"
Attempting to prove Jones claims was a tedious task, especially since only a few
teams had published team sack records in their media guides. So, with the help of a
partner, Nick Webster, we traveled to every NFL city and read every available
"play-by-play." A play-by-play is a game summary that is used by Elias to
compile all NFL statistics. Additionally, I was able to research old game films in Mt.
Laurel, N.J., the home of NFL Films, to fill in where a play-by-play may have lacked.
Ultimately, this research showed that Jones was indeed the leading sacker of all time,
as he had claimed until 1997, that is. That season, White surpassed Jones
regular-season total of 173½ sacks. In the next couple of seasons, Bruce Smith has a
realistic shot at surpassing White (although rumors that White might come out of
retirement would make Smiths task much more difficult). Smith has indicated on
several occasions that, in addition to winning an NFL title, he is aiming for the sack
title as well. Entering the 2000 season, Smith trails White by 21½ sacks.
Now that Jones career has been fully researched, he will have to settle for being
second or third on the list rather than first. But, Jones understood this when the
research began by stating, "Records are made to be broken, but dammit, if the NFL
didnt recognize me as the true all-time sack king, what kind of records would Reggie
and Bruce have been breaking? The false kind. But this way it is legit, and I admire what
Reggie White and Bruce Smith have done." Jones will still push to have his sacks
recognized, but now he seems more content that his greatness has some quantification to
Others players have great regard to their place in history. When Kevin Greene retired
after the 99 season, he was asked about how his career would be remembered. His
response was simple, "What linebacker has more sacks?" When told no one, Greene
responded, "Exactly." Greene felt he had to work hard to pass Lawrence
Taylors 142 sacks, not just the 132½ he is officially credited with.
When folks talk about Jack Youngblood, it is often in the context of him playing with a
fractured fibula. What also should be mentioned is that his pass-rush record is as just
about good as anyone who ever played the game. Playing strong-side end in Ray
Malavasi-coached defenses which meant stopping the run first, then rushing the
passer Youngblood amassed over 150 career sacks.
Chris Doleman returned to the Vikings in 99 and moved in to the rarified air of
the 150-sack club. Doleman thought that getting to that mark meant that he would have to
be seriously considered for the Hall of Fame when he was eligible, considering that so few
players have made it to such a high mark.
The week prior to Taylors induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one
reporter asked him what might have happened if the Saints had drafted him. Taylor remarked
rather flippantly that he probably would have ended up in rehab sooner. Jokes aside, if
the Saints had taken L.T., sacks might still be unofficial. Taylors success
in 1981 and the monster year of the Jets "New York Sack Exchange" created
enough buzz that former Jets official Jim Kensil, who was then on the NFL statistics
committee, pushed through the requirement that Elias count sacks as official. So, not only
did L.T. revolutionize his position, he was a major force in revolutionizing sacks as a
statistic. Jones may have popularized the term, but it was L.T who made it stick.
Aside from the quantitative part of my sack research, this project was rewarding on
many levels, one of which was to see how different play-by-play accounts would record
sacks, or "passer tackled attempting to pass" as it was often called. Jones was
credited with popularizing the head slap and also mainstreaming the term "sack."
The media has often credited Jones with inventing both, but not even he claims invention
Editor's note: John Turney is the researcher for the Dick Butkus Football Network (www.dickbutkus.com) and is a member
of the Pro Football Researchers Association
Turneys All-Time Sack list
||DE-DT Reggie White
||DE Deacon Jones
||DE Bruce Smith
||OLB-DE Kevin Greene
||DE Jack Youngblood
||DE-OLB Chris Doleman
||DT Alan Page (1967-81)
||OLB Lawrence Taylor
||DE Richard Dent
||OLB-DE Rickey Jackson
||DE Carl Eller (1964-79)
||DE-OLB Leslie ONeal (1986-99)
||DE-DT Coy Bacon
||DE Al Baker (1978-90)
||DE Jim Marshall
||OLB-DE Derrick Thomas