Who had the most sacks in a season during the NFL's pre-modern era?
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Who had the most sacks in a season during the NFL's pre-modern era?

Thanks to pro-football-reference.com's addition of unofficial sack totals to players' resumes, more clarity on previous eras' best pass-rushing years has emerged. Here are the top sack seasons unearthed by this update, which covers the stretch from 1960-1981.

 
1 of 27

T-25. Elvin Bethea, 1973

T-25. Elvin Bethea, 1973
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One of four Oilers defenders from the 1970s in the Hall of Fame, Bethea registered six double-digit sack seasons. His productivity crested in 1973 when he tallied 16. While the star defensive end later played a vital role on Bum Phillips' "Luv Ya Blue" AFC championship game-bound teams, his top sack total came for a miserable Oilers squad. The '73 Houston team went 1-13, with Bill Peterson's stint not working out and famed innovator Sid Gillman finishing his interim head coach stay 1-8. The Oilers even ranked last defensively, marginalizing Bethea's dominant sixth season.

 
2 of 27

T-25. Randy White, 1978

T-25. Randy White, 1978
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Another Hall of Famer, White anchored Dallas' "Doomsday" defense in its final years. The menacing defensive tackle hit his high-water sack mark in 1978, dropping quarterbacks 16 times to help the Cowboys to their fifth Super Bowl of the '70s. The 1978 season marked the first of White's seven first-team All-Pro honors. The Cowboys ranked third defensively, and although they allowed 35 points to the Steelers in a Super Bowl XIII loss, White added a 17th sack in that famed game.

 
3 of 27

T-25. Joel Williams, 1980

T-25. Joel Williams, 1980
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Williams was never a Pro Bowler, and he never again topped three sacks in his 11-year career. That makes this one of the great outlier seasons in pass-rushing history. In his second NFL season, the Division III alum amassed 16 sacks to help the Falcons to the playoffs. A 225-pound outside linebacker frequently deployed as a rusher, Williams also intercepted Archie Manning twice in a game in 1980, dropped the Lions' Gary Danielsen in the end zone for a safety, and returned a fumble for a score in that same game. Williams enjoyed two stints with the Falcons; the former UDFA finished his career in 1989.

 
4 of 27

T-23. Bill Glass, 1965

T-23. Bill Glass, 1965
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At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, Glass was a terror for quarterbacks in the 1960s. Despite beginning his career in the 12-game era and ending it soon after the NFL converted to 14 games, Glass produced three 15-sack seasons. His best unofficial total came in 1965 when the Browns defensive end compiled 16.5. Acquired from the Lions in a 1962 trade that saw QBs Milt Plum and Jim Ninowski switch teams, Glass made a big difference on Browns squads that ventured to back-to-back NFL Championship Games. Glass did not make the Pro Bowl in 1965, at age 30, but the Browns went 11-3 before losing to the Packers for the title.

 
5 of 27

T-23. Fred Cook, 1975

T-23. Fred Cook, 1975
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These sack-researching efforts could introduce a productive Colts pass rush to a new group of fans. The 1975 Colts compiled 59 sacks in 14 games, with defensive ends Cook and John Dutton leading the way. The duo combined for 33.5 QB drops, with Cook totaling 16.5. These two spearheaded Baltimore's "Sack Pack," a D-line also featuring defensive tackles Joe Ehrmann and Mike Barnes (16 sacks between them). The Colts won the first of three straight AFC East titles in 1975. Cook's four fumble recoveries -- one that produced a TD against the Jets -- helped the cause as well. The 1974 second-rounder played seven Colts seasons.

 
6 of 27

T-20. Ike Lassiter, 1967

T-20. Ike Lassiter, 1967
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Lassiter became a vital component of the Raiders' late-1960s rise. The talented defensive end produced four straight double-digit sack showings to close out the AFL's run. This stretch peaked in 1967 when Lassiter recorded 17 sacks for an Oakland team bound for Super Bowl II. A grueling blocking task for O-linemen, Lassiter stood 270 pounds. The former Broncos draftee teamed with D-tackle Dan Birdwell and All-Pro D-end Ben Davidson; the trio combined for 40.5 unofficial sacks for a 13-1 Raiders team in 1967. Lassiter was not an AFL All-Star that year and made just one in his 10-year career.

 
7 of 27

T-20. Tommy Hart, 1972

T-20. Tommy Hart, 1972
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A 10th-round 49ers pick in 1968, Hart ended up contributing on some very good (and then several less good) San Francisco squads in the 1970s. Hart compiled two 16-sack seasons, with the 1972 slate his most productive. The defensive end posted 17 sacks that year, which featured the 49ers winning the NFC West for a third straight season. Although that season ended with a brutal collapse, when Roger Staubach came off the bench to lead a divisional-round comeback, Hart stayed productive. San Francisco's strong-side D-end delivered a 16-sack slate at age 32 in 1976.

 
8 of 27

T-20. John Dutton, 1975

T-20. John Dutton, 1975
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It took until Robert Mathis' 19.5-sack 2013 season to eclipse Dutton's 17 in the Colts' record book. In 1975, Dutton spearheaded the Baltimore Colts' "Sack Pack." Dutton's 17-sack season unofficially ranks second in Colts history. Neither Dutton nor rush mate Fred Cook was on the 1970 Colts' Super Bowl team; each arrived as a 1974 draftee. The '75 Colts' 59 sacks led the NFL, and Dutton -- a former fifth overall pick -- was a Pro Bowler on each of Baltimore's three straight AFC East-winning teams from 1975-77. He ended up playing 14 seasons, with the latter half coming in Dallas.

 
9 of 27

T-14. Gene Lipscomb, 1961

T-14. Gene Lipscomb, 1961
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An unfair opponent for 1950s and early-'60s offensive linemen to face, Lipscomb was 6-foot-6 and 284 pounds. The monstrous D-tackle lands on this list despite only playing three seasons even counted for Pro-Football-Reference's sack update. Nevertheless, Lipscomb -- in his first season with the Steelers, following a 1961 trade that sent wideout Jimmy Orr to the Colts -- delivered a 17.5-sack season. Pittsburgh went just 6-8 that year, but Lipscomb's sack total led the NFL. This season paved the way for "Big Daddy" to be a 100th Anniversary Team finalist and, perhaps, for a teenage LL Cool J to name-check him in one of his first songs.

 
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T-14. Carl Kammerer, 1966

T-14. Carl Kammerer, 1966
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The 1966 Washington squad ranked 13th defensively and allowed an NFL-record 72 points to the Giants in a November game. But Washington deployed one of the league's top defensive ends that year. Kammerer, in his sixth season, accumulated 17.5 sacks. This came for a Washington team that had no one else notch more than six. Washington acquired Kammerer from San Francisco for just an eighth-round pick in 1963. After combining for just four sacks over his first three D.C. seasons, Kammerer totaled 29 from 1966-67. The then-Otto Graham-coached team did not finish over .500 in those seasons.

 
11 of 27

T-14. Tony Cline, 1970

T-14. Tony Cline, 1970
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In terms of rookie-year sack production, Cline's 17.5-sack rookie season is in rarefied air. Jevon Kearse holds the modern-era mark, with 14.5, but Cline unofficially has the most sacks by a rookie in AFC history and the second-most by a first-year player in NFL annals. A fourth-round pick out of Miami, Cline joined a Raiders team amid a dominant run. His sack total helped Oakland to one of its nine conference title games from 1967-77. While Cline could not replicate it, the edge rusher did stick with the Raiders through 1975 and record 11 sacks that season. The Raiders waived him ahead of their 1976 Super Bowl year.

 
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T-14. Cleveland Elam, 1977

T-14. Cleveland Elam, 1977
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Three 1970s 49ers appear on this list, with San Francisco's "Gold Rush" D-line representing another pass-rushing group that should receive more notoriety with uniform sack numbers surfacing. Injuries limited Elam to five seasons, but he flashed brightly early. In his third season, the San Francisco defensive tackle collected 17.5 sacks. Unfortunately, the 49ers were mired in mediocrity -- amid staff uncertainty -- in the years before Bill Walsh's arrival. Elam was off the team before Walsh's first season. But between 1976 and '77, he totaled 31.5 sacks and made back-to-back Pro Bowls.

 
13 of 27

T-14. Ezra Johnson, 1978

T-14. Ezra Johnson, 1978
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The Packers of the 1970s and '80s do not come up much, hence this helmet photograph. But Johnson enjoyed a standout 1978 season when he steamrolled to 17.5 sacks. Taken with one of the first-round picks the NFL gave the Packers for losing Ted Hendricks to the Raiders in 1975, the 1977 draftee dominated in his second season -- the defensive end's only Pro Bowl in a 15-year career. Green Bay went just 8-7-1 that year. Johnson did not make the playoffs in a non-strike year with the Packers, but the pass-rushing specialist did compile 14.5 sacks in 1983. He finished his career with 96 sacks.

 
14 of 27

T-14. Gary Johnson, 1980

T-14. Gary Johnson, 1980
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The Chargers' defenses of the early 1980s are often blamed for celebrated squads not booking a Super Bowl trip, but Johnson did his part. On his way to All-Pro honors in 1980, the defensive tackle ripped off 17.5 sacks for an 11-5 San Diego team. Despite his D-tackle role, Johnson led the NFL in sacks that year. The Bolts ranked just 18th defensively and gave up 34 points to the Raiders in a home AFC championship game loss, but Johnson made four straight Pro Bowls during the franchise's "Air Coryell" years. The former first-rounder played 10 NFL seasons, almost all of which as a Charger.

 
15 of 27

T-11. Cedrick Hardman, 1971

T-11. Cedrick Hardman, 1971
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Joining Tommy Hart and Cleveland Elam as a Pro Bowler on the 49ers' "Gold Rush" defensive line of the 1970s, Hardman delivered the top sack season for this unit by dropping QBs 18 times in 1971. On his way to compiling a 1970s-most 108 sacks, Hardman did his most damage in his second season -- one in which the 49ers journeyed to the NFC championship game. While the 49ers did not beat the Cowboys to advance to Super Bowl VI, Hardman disrupted Roger Staubach throughout that game. The speed rusher added 3.5 sacks against Dallas and, regular and postseason combined, amassed 22.5 in his masterpiece year.

 
16 of 27

T-11. Alan Page, 1976

T-11. Alan Page, 1976
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The chief menace on one of the NFL's greatest defensive lines, Page delivered his best sack work in the Vikings' fourth Super Bowl season. The fleet-footed D-tackle totaled 18 sacks in 1976, making his ninth straight (and final) Pro Bowl. This exclamation point season punctuated the Canton native's smooth path to the nearby Hall of Fame. While this was not Page's best season, with the 1971 slate earning him NFL MVP acclaim, the centerpiece of the "Purple People Eaters" proved vital in lifting the Vikes past the Cowboys and Rams to Super Bowl XI.

 
17 of 27

T-11. Jack Youngblood, 1979, 1973

T-11. Jack Youngblood, 1979, 1973
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Joining the Rams at the tail end of their "Fearsome Foursome" era, Youngblood dominated for a decade and became a central piece of the team's 1970s resurgence. The seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end topped out with an NFL-leading 18 sacks in 1979 -- a season he punctuated by playing on a broken leg in the playoffs -- and added 16.5 in his first year as a full-time starter in 1973. The Rams won the first of their seven straight NFC West titles in 1973, and Youngblood's uncomfortable postseason six years later helped Los Angeles to its first Super Bowl. Youngblood retired after the 1984 season; his 151 sacks still rank in the top 10 all-time.

 
18 of 27

T-8. George Andrie, 1966

T-8. George Andrie, 1966
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Playing on a defensive line housing Jethro Pugh and Hall of Famer Bob Lilly, Andrie faced plenty of single blocks. He won a lot of those matchups. The Dallas defensive end's best sack season came in 1966 -- the Cowboys' first playoff campaign -- when he registered an NFL-leading 18.5. He added two more sacks on Bart Starr in the Cowboys' last-second loss to the Packers in the NFL Championship Game. Andrie was with Dallas through its first two Super Bowls in the early '70s, but the 6-foot-6 rusher's best stretch came during his 20s in the '60s.

 
19 of 27

T-8. Jack Gregory, 1972

T-8. Jack Gregory, 1972
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After beginning his career in Cleveland, Gregory made his biggest statistical splash in his first New York season. The Giants traded a first-round pick for Gregory and saw him reward the move in 1972 by tallying an NFL-most 18.5 sacks. Lining up at multiple spots on the Giants' D-line that year, the defensive end made his second and final Pro Bowl that season. The Giants ranked in the top 10 defensively but missed the playoffs. They did not qualify during Gregory's tenure, but it took until Lawrence Taylor's 1986 MVP season for a Giant to surpass Gregory's total.

 
20 of 27

T-8. Bill Stanfill, 1973

T-8. Bill Stanfill, 1973
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Because of the 1972 team's perfect season, the 1973 Dolphins are among the most overlooked great teams in NFL history. Their resume outflanks the unbeaten team's, and Stanfill served as the '73 squad's top rusher. The defensive end racked up 18.5 sacks for the 15-2 Dolphins, who were not challenged in the playoffs en route to their second title. A former top-10 pick, Stanfill registered 10 sacks in both 1972 and '74. The Pro Bowl edge player represented an essential piece for Miami's "No Name Defense." 

 
21 of 27

T-6. Harvey Martin, 1977

T-6. Harvey Martin, 1977
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Moving into the upper reaches of pre-modern sack royalty, Martin was a wire-to-wire force in the Cowboys' best season under Tom Landry. In the final year of the 14-game schedule, Martin ripped through a 20-sack season. The 1977 Defensive Player of the Year punctuated his season with three playoff sacks, including two in a Super Bowl XII rout that ended with Martin and Randy White as co-MVPs. Dallas forced eight Denver turnovers that day. From 1976-78, Martin accumulated a staggering 49 regular-season sacks and teamed with White and Ed "Too Tall" Jones to keep the "Doomsday" pass rush elite into the 1980s.

 
22 of 27

T-6. Mark Gastineau, 1981

T-6. Mark Gastineau, 1981
Owen C. Shaw/Icon Sportswire

Few NFLers have been as statistically dominant as Gastineau in the early 1980s. In addition to holding the actual sack record for nearly 20 years, the Jet defensive end reached the 20-sack plateau three years prior. The flamboyant yet relentless edge rusher recorded 20 sacks in 1981, with him and teammate Joe Klecko combining for 40.5 to help the Jets to the playoffs. Ahead of his 22-sack record-setting season, Gastineau also blew up for 19 in 1983. His early-'80s stretch marks one of the best in pass-rushing history.

 
23 of 27

T-4. Jim Katcavage, 1963

T-4. Jim Katcavage, 1963
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Defensive linemen had it a bit easier around the midcentury point, with QBs holding the ball longer as defensive backs mauled receivers. Few preyed on offensive linemen more than Katcavage, a Giants defensive end who did plenty to ensure the team qualified for three straight NFL title games in the early 1960s. Katcavage is unofficially credited with 20.5 sacks in 1963, making him the only non-Deacon Jones player to reach 20 during the '60s. Katcavage teamed with aging Hall of Famer Andy Robustelli on the edges of the Giants' 4-3 defense. They combined for 35 sacks in 1963.

 
24 of 27

T-4. Joe Klecko, 1981

T-4. Joe Klecko, 1981
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The anchor of the "New York Sack Exchange" led the way in sacks becoming an official statistic. In the same year Gastineau got to 20, Klecko reeled off 20.5 for a Jets team that totaled 66. With defensive tackles Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam combining for 13, this defensive line -- with some help from notable 1981 rookie Lawrence Taylor -- changed NFL history. Unofficial sack totals were no more by 1982. Klecko later moved to defensive tackle and played a 3-4 D-end role, and while he only surpassed 11 sacks once in a season, his age-28 slate opposite Gastineau was one of the best.

 
25 of 27

3. Coy Bacon, 1976

Coy Bacon, 1976
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Long one of the forgotten gems of the pre-sack era, Bacon's 1976 season has resurfaced. In his first season after being traded from the Chargers to the Bengals, Bacon delivered an AFC Central sack spree. Despite being 34, Bacon reached 21.5 sacks. Some outlets have credited him with more, but 21.5 places him near the top all time. The Bengals went 10-4 and featured a top-10 defense in 1976. While the Chargers did well to land Hall of Fame wideout Charlie Joiner in the deal, Bacon went 2-for-2 in Pro Bowls with the Bengals and will now be further recognized thanks to some retroactive stat-keeping.

 
26 of 27

2. Deacon Jones, 1964, 1968, 1967, 1965

Deacon Jones, 1964, 1968, 1967, 1965
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Unofficial totals comprise a key part of the Rams legend's legacy, but when grouped together with the post-1982 numbers, the top 10 becomes a Deacon Jones shrine. Jones owns three of the 10 best sack seasons in NFL history. In addition to his 21.5-sack 1967 season, Los Angeles' head-slapping terror reached 22 in both 1964 and '68. Also collecting 19 QB drops in 1965, Jones destroyed 1960s right tackles and teamed with fellow Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen to anchor the Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line. This configuration opened the door for the most prolific sack stretch the NFL has seen.

 
27 of 27

1. Al Baker, 1978, 1980

Al Baker, 1978, 1980
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Baker did not submit a career on Jones' tier, but the recent sack unearthing effort leaves his rookie year atop the all-time list. A second-round pick in 1978, Baker authored a montage that ended with the only 23-sack season in unofficial or official sack history. This came for a 7-9 Lions team in the first season of the 16-game era. In addition to Baker's edge-rushing onslaught as a rookie, he also led the league in 1980 by accumulating 17.5 sacks. Detroit missed the playoffs again that year. While Michael Strahan's record still stands, some long-overdue publicity has come Baker's way thanks to this much-needed update.

Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.

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