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Norm Willey, who claimed 17 sacks in a game, dies at 83

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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.

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17 Responses to “Norm Willey, who claimed 17 sacks in a game, dies at 83”
  1. buffaloniner says: Aug 20, 2011 6:18 PM

    Rock on Norm. If that big man in the sky exists, sack him good for me the next time he tries to throw a bad pass my way. Tell him it was from BuffaloNiner. He’ll get a kick out of it. R.IP.

  2. atwatercrushesokoye says: Aug 20, 2011 6:25 PM

    If he were playing today he might sack Cutler on every single pass play!

  3. hobartbaker says: Aug 20, 2011 6:28 PM

    Norm took a blow to the head early in the game and was seeing double.

  4. jacksaysfu says: Aug 20, 2011 6:42 PM

    My Grandad was @ that game and he ALWAYS swore Willey had 12 sacks . Weather its 8 , 12 , or 17 , that guy must have been a monster … RIP Norm Willey , legends never die !

  5. ninerfaithful75 says: Aug 20, 2011 6:45 PM

    Is it wrong that I know wish the official stat was quarterback dumps?

  6. piratefreedom says: Aug 20, 2011 6:54 PM

    I miss Dr. Z

  7. hobartbaker says: Aug 20, 2011 8:02 PM

    Further research shows that Norm had 8 sacks, not 17, and was actually 41 years old at the time of his death.

  8. mdnittlion says: Aug 20, 2011 9:47 PM

    Norm was Philly and Philly was Norm & that’s a fact.

  9. j0esixpack says: Aug 20, 2011 10:25 PM

    Whenever one of these tough bastard old timers go down I think of this Berman interview with George Halas:

    I was interviewing George Halas and I asked him who is the greatest running back you ever saw. And he said, ‘That would be Red Grange.’ And I asked him if Grange was playing today, how many yards do you think he’d gain. And he said, ‘About 750, maybe 800 yards.’ And I said, ‘Well, 800 yards is just okay.’

    He sat up in his chair and he said, ‘Son, you must remember one thing. Red Grange is 75 years old.’

    Chris Berman on ESPN’s SportsCentury show[

  10. Deb says: Aug 20, 2011 11:41 PM

    Eight or 17, it’s still an amazing feat. RIP Mr. Willey. Thanks for building the game we love today.

    And RIP to you, too, DT. We still miss you. Roll Tide!

  11. wiscdave says: Aug 21, 2011 1:18 AM

    Bud Grant played in that game. Someone could ask him.

  12. dirtdawg55 says: Aug 21, 2011 3:43 AM

    Rex Ryan claimed to be at that game and when asked how many sacks Willey had, he said “one beeellion sacks”. He then offered a contract to Norm, claiming he knew one day he (Ryan) would be a head coach in the NFL and that Norm would be the finishing veteran piece to his multi-Super Bowl winning team.

    Or so he claims.

  13. lance19 says: Aug 21, 2011 4:16 AM

    I sacked Conerly 13 times that day…no biggie… ;)

  14. richm2256 says: Aug 21, 2011 8:53 AM

    How could they not have recorded info like that in the papers back then?

    Even if it wasn’t called a ‘sack’ back then, it was still a tackle of # whatever (QB), by #86 (Willey). That much should have been available, no?

    As good as a guy needs to be to get even 8 sacks, I hate people who exaggerate their own performances.

    If you’re THAT good, there’s no need to fudge; the real stats will be impressive enough.

  15. 1historian says: Aug 21, 2011 9:21 AM

    Just so you all know the greatest defensive end EVER was in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, he played college FB at San Francisco, he wore #89 for the Baltimore Colts and his name was and still is – Gino Marchetti.

    With all due respect to Norm Willey.

  16. Deb says: Aug 21, 2011 2:19 PM

    @richm2256 …

    The above article says:

    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.’”

    Looks like the 17 figure came from the press covering the game.

  17. george1293 says: Aug 22, 2011 8:34 AM

    Norman was my brother-in-law. He has a copy of the New York newspaper framed where the NY sportswriter stated it was 17 sacks and that it was the greatest exhibition of defensive football in the history of the game. And the reason NY used a backup quarterback in the second half was that the great Charlie Connerly refused to go back in the game because of the beating he was taking at the hands of Wildman Willey.

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