The NFL did not make sacks an official stat for defensive players until 1982, and even though researchers have now done the work to make pre-1982 sack totals available to football fans, the league has no plans to make those sack totals official.
A source with knowledge of the league’s record keeping told PFT that the league doesn’t anticipate any changes in its sack records, which means that only sacks recorded in 1982 and later will count toward defensive players’ statistics.
The NFL does count sacks as an official quarterback statistic going back to 1963. So in the NFL Record & Fact Book under “Most times sacked, game,” the records include Bert Jones being sacked 12 times in one game in 1980 and Charley Johnson getting sacked 11 times in one game in 1964. The issue is not that the NFL doesn’t acknowledge sacks at all prior to 1982, the issue is only that the NFL counts those earlier sacks only for the quarterback getting sacked, not the defensive player doing the sacking.
Pro Football Reference estimates that it has accurately logged 99 percent of the sacks from the 1970 AFL-NFL merger through the 1981 season, as well as most of the sacks from both the AFL and the NFL in the 1960s. Among the researchers’ findings are that Detroit’s Al “Bubba” Baker should have the single-season record with 23 sacks in 1978, and that Deacon Jones led the NFL in sacks a record five times.
Perhaps some day, those accomplishments will be officially recognized by the league. But for now, the great pass rushers of the 1960s and 1970s will have to settle for unofficial recognition.