Sacks didn’t become an official NFL statistic until 1982, but now thanks to Pro Football Reference there’s a record of the statistic going back to 1960. While sacks before ‘82 are unofficial, it’s still neat to see all the new numbers they’ve compiled, if for no other reason, than to get a better appreciation for defenders that played before the sack was the premier stat for defensive linemen.
This doesn’t change the all-time sack leader (Bruce Smith with 200), but it does finally show the terror caused by the inventor of the head slap, Deacon Jones, as his 173.5 sacks are unofficially third all time.
The most in one season (unofficially) does have a new leader as Al “Bubba” Baker’s 23 from 1978 as a rookie with the Detroit Lions tops Michael Strahan’s 22.5.
The leader board for the Chicago Bears has been affected as well with Dan Hampton picking up 25 sacks from 1979 to 1981, which moves him into third all-time in team history with 82. Jim Osborne, who played in 186 games for the Bears from 1972 to 1984, was the biggest mover as his 81 sacks is now fourth all-time in Chicago franchise history.
Doug Atkins moved up to fifth all-time with 64.5 sacks, but there’s still five years of his Bears career unaccounted for (1955-1959), and Jack M Silverstein, our resident Chicago sports historian, Tweeted that Atkins’ sack total in 1958 could be close to Richard Dent’s team record of 17.5 that he set in 1984.
But what about the unofficial sack record of 18 that has been credited to Doug Buffone, who played for the Bears from 1966 to 1979? I’ve seen the record written up in the past, and I’ve heard in discussed on sports radio too, but maybe that’s just more Chicago urban legend that factual.
When the Chicago Tribune ran down their top 100 Bears players, they had Buffone at number 48 overall and they referenced 37 (unofficial) career sacks that the team had him down for, with nary a mention of a single season record.
This latest Pro Football Reference exercise has Buffone down for just 15 career sacks, so what’s with the discrepancy?
Here’s what PFR wrote about their methodology in adding sacks to their database.
Turney and Webster, stalwart members of the Pro Football Researchers Association, have been compiling these numbers for nearly 30 years. To read a bit about their work and methods, we would recommend checking out these articles from the Hartford Courant, New York Times and ESPN’s old Page 2. The important things to know are that these numbers are based upon review of official play-by-plays, watching game film, photographs and coaches’ stats. The work continues to this day as new information is discovered, particularly for numbers from the early 1960s.
It’s remarkable how thorough the research is, given the many obstacles. 99% of sacks from the 1970 merger to 1981 are accounted for. From 1966 to 1969, it’s closer to 95% (both AFL and NFL). 1961-64 is about 80% coverage. About two-thirds of sacks in 1960 are accounted for.
The Twitter account @NFL_Journal has done plenty of research over the years, and they believe the 18 sacks that has been credited to Buffone is too high. They say that number includes quarterback knockdowns “and film confirms it.”
Stats in the early part of the NFL are hard to come by, so there will always some some numbers that fall through the cracks, but PFR has been the go-to for statophiles for years.
Their new Bears’ sack numbers are fun to go though, and it really brings a new appreciation to what guys like Jim Osborne, Mike Hartenstine, Ed O’Bradovich, and Wally Chambers did in their careers.