For 20 years, the NFL's all-time single-season sack record has belonged to Michael Strahan. The retired Giants legend famously led the league -- and all pass rushers who came before and alongside him -- with 22.5 sacks in 2001. But according to new unofficial statistical records from Pro Football Reference, Strahan may never have broken the sack record in the first place. The website now estimates it has logged most sacks recorded from 1962 up until 1982, when the NFL began officially tabulating the statistic, and indicates former Lions Pro Bowler Al "Bubba" Baker actually hit 23 sacks during his 1978 Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign.
Pro Football Reference's numbers, of course, are technically unofficial. But the website has used official NFL gamebooks, which have logged unofficial tackle totals for decades, as well as info from stat researchers John Turney and Nick Webster, to compile sack marks all the way back to the 1960 season:
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.
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The less recognized stars, it seems, would include Baker, who went to three Pro Bowls and earned first-team All-Pro recognition once during a 13-year career with four different teams, but had never previously been recognized -- and still, officially, is not recognized -- as the NFL's all-time single-season sack leader. Baker racked up 75.5 unofficial career sacks, and his three best double-digit sack seasons in Detroit -- 16.0 in 1979, 18.0 in 1980 and 23.0 in 1978 -- would stand as the Lions' unofficial franchise-best marks.
In total, Pro Football Reference estimates it has tracked 99% of sacks from 1970-1981, 95% from 1966-1969, 80% from 1961-1964, and about 67% from 1960.