It never made sense to me that the NFL didn’t go back and compile sack statistics prior to the 1982 season. But now that they’ve been comprehensively compiled unofficially, it’s only a matter of time before the official statistics are updated. And given the way that the season has expanded from 14 to 16 to 17 games – I’m still a proponent of the 14-game season – it makes no sense to exclude them any longer.
The NFL has only officially counted player sacks since 1982, which means sack records and leaderboards present an incomplete history of pass rushing. In many cases we accept these holes in the official record and move on. After all, we don’t know how many rushing yards Jim Thorpe had, passing yards Paddy Driscoll had or even how many blocked shots Wilt Chamberlain had. Heck, we don’t even “officially” know how many tackles anyone had in 2020 (or any other season). However, thanks to Official Gamebooks, ‘unofficial’ tackle totals get published in many places (including here). In the case of sacks, thanks to decades of research by John Turney and Nick Webster, we have a very thorough accounting of the statistic all the way back to 1960. Given that accounting for these ‘unofficial’ statistics allows us to paint a richer picture of the history of the game, we think it is a no-brainer to present them on Pro Football Reference, allowing fans to gain a deeper appreciation of some of football’s biggest stars in the 1960s and 1970s. This isn’t terribly different from presenting RBI totals for baseball players from before 1920 (the first season the statistic was “official”). These additions allow us to print year-by-year and career sacks totals for not just legends such as Deacon Jones (173.5), Jack Youngblood (151.5), Alan Page (148.5), Carl Eller (133.5) and Joe Greene (77.5), but also for less recognized stars like Coy Bacon (130.5), Cedrick Hardman (122.5) and Jack Gregory (106.0) whose greatness and impact can now be more readily quantified.
The historic greatness of the Purple People Eaters becomes abundantly clear when one looks at the list of top 25 sackers. Three of the top 22 – Page, Eller, and Marshall – lined up together from 1967 to 1977.