Numbers game; NFL ignores sack statistics before 1982
Imagine, if you would, that Hack Wilson never drove in 190 runs in a season. Or that Roger Hornsby never batted .424 in 1924 and George Sisler never got 257 hits in one year. Imagine that no baseball statistics existed before 1982. That, in essence, is what the NFL is doing in its campaign to sell us on the idea that Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith has tied the all-time sack record. Smith was credited with half a sack of Dolphins quarterback Brian Griese, giving him 198 for his career - the official mark - and tying him with Reggie White. This, of course, is predicated on the illusion that sacks did not occur before 1982, when the stat was first kept. And that is what drives Deacon Jones crazy. "I wish somebody would tell me how I got in the Hall of Fame," Jones said. "I wish somebody would tell me how Bob Lilly got in the Hall of Fame. Merlin Olson, Doug Atkins, Willie Davis, Gino Marchetti - how did they get in the Hall of Fame? I would like to know that.... "It's very aggravating when the media and football experts say 'all time.' It was like we didn't play." They got into Canton because people believed what they saw. And if you saw Deacon Jones play, then you know that - with all respect to Bruce Smith and Reggie White - there was no better pass rusher in the history of the league than the Deacon. "My whole career was predicated on tackles and getting to the quarterback, the sack," Jones said. "I changed everything. The term came about because of me. But there is little about us because they won't go back and research the way they should. Either that or throw all this stuff out. It's not fair, and it's demeaning." It's likely that the 198 figure does make Smith and White the all-time sack leaders. Even by Jones' own research, he had 180. But the entire process has been insulting to him and a whole generation of great football players. The NFL determined when Lawrence Taylor retired in 1993 that he was the all-time leader with 142. The issue has resurfaced since in regard to both the career and single-season record, which, according to the NFL, is held by Michael Strahan with 22 1/2. Strahan claimed that record two years ago with a bogus sack of Brett Favre, who laid down for him. The only thing more questionable than the Favre sack was that it set some sort of record. "The NFL sent me a trophy that says Deacon Jones, in 1967, had 26 sacks on the quarterback in a 14-game season," Jones said. "They won't say it nowhere else. I had 50 sacks in a two-year period from 1967 to 1968. I had 24 in 1968. I demolished this league." Football traditionally has not been driven by statistics as much as baseball, and the passion to keep accurate figures also has not been as strong - particularly on the defensive side of the ball. But the sack may be the single most compelling defensive act on the football field, the home run for a defensive player. Not to keep official figures for sacks before 1982 would be akin to ignoring Babe Ruth hit 714 career home runs or 60 in one season. The sacks statistics that do exist for the pre-1982 period have been compiled solely by private researchers with a love for the game, and, in this case, for one particular part of the game. John Turney, along with his sister, runs a gift shop at White Sands National Monument in Alamogordo, N.M. But he also is the expert on sacks in the NFL, having researched, along with a friend, the available records of every team in the league - just as a hobby. "When Lawrence Taylor held the sack record and there was a lot of publicity about it, I was pretty sure that Deacon Jones had more than he did," Turney said. "That was how it got started. I went back and read the play-by-plays of all the games and filled it in when there was something missing with NFL Films. I got to do some research there at their headquarters." He came up with 173 sacks for Jones, who played the bulk of his career with the Los Angeles Rams as part of the "Fearsome Foursome" and ended his playing days with the Redskins [he had three sacks] in 1974. Turney's figures differ slightly from those that Jones claims. He also found that there were several great players who were ahead of Taylor, who had been the proclaimed NFL sacks king. Based on Turney's research, Jack Youngblood had 151 sacks and Alan Page had 148 - a remarkable figure for a defensive tackle. Then again, these figures are based on the work of a White Sands gift shop owner but one whose credibility is probably better than the league on this.