When Michael Strahan recorded his final sack of 2001 for a record-setting 22.5 sacks on the season, it was a controversial moment in NFL history because Brett Favre took a dive to give Strahan the record. But it should have been controversial for another reason: If the NFL had practiced better statistical record keeping, Strahan’s record wouldn’t have been a record at all.
The NFL has only counted sacks as an individual statistic for defensive players since 1982, meaning many of the great pass rushers of NFL history don’t have their achievements in the official record books. But unofficially, those achievements are now being recognized and are widely available to football fans.
Several football researchers have been compiling sack statistics from before 1982, using game books, play-by-play logs and other sources, and the statistical website Pro-Football-Reference.com has now collected them all in one place. Pro Football Reference now estimates it has 99 percent of the sacks from the 1970 AFL-NFL merger through the 1981 season accounted for, as well as about 95 percent of sacks in both the AFL and NFL from 1966 to 1969, and about 80 percent of sacks from 1961 to 1965. (For 1960 and earlier, it’s harder to track sacks reliably.)
This represents a watershed moment for the kinds of football fans and researchers who obsess over statistics and want to know how many sacks Deacon Jones had (173.5), or who led the league in sacks in 1979 (Jack Youngblood). And it turns out that Strahan, when he recorded 22.5 sacks in 2001, fell just short of the record. The actual record was set by Lions rookie Al “Bubba” Baker in 1978, when he recorded 23 sacks.
Baker should be glad that pre-1982 sacks are now easily available. And so should every football fan.