Norm Willey, a defensive end for the Eagles in the 1950s, has died at the age of 83.
To modern fans, Willey may be best known for an NFL Films feature about him in which he claimed that he once sacked Giants quarterback Charley Conerly 17 times in one game — before sacks were an official statistic and before the term “sack” was even in use.
The Philadelphia Bulletin reported, “Willey awed inhabitants of the Polo Grounds by dumping Charlie Conerly 17 times while he was attempting to pass. Eleven of the dumpings came in sequence, causing New York scribes to remark, ‘He’s the greatest defensive end we’ve ever seen and probably the greatest we’ll ever see.’”
There’s some dispute about how many sacks Willey actually had in the game, and Willey acknowledged in the NFL Films profile that many people don’t believe him when he recounts the game.
“Count me as one of those nonbelievers,” Paul Zimmerman wrote in Sports Illustrated in 2000, “because I happened to be at that game: Philadelphia Eagles 14, New York Giants 10, Polo Grounds, Oct. 26, 1952. . . . My chart has New York quarterbacks Charley Conerly and Freddie (Needle) Benners going down 14 times, with Willey collecting eight of the sacks.”
Even if Willey had only eight sacks in that game, that’s still one more than the official NFL record of seven sacks in a game, set by Derrick Thomas in 1990.
Willey played in 92 games for the Eagles from 1950 to 1957 and was an All-Pro three times.