With his long hair and incredible ability to take down the quarterback, Gastineau defined “cool” in New York after Joe Namath retired.
Not everything was perfect for Gastineau, though, and he eventually landed behind bars. Then, he found an outlet that helped him far more than his legacy of sacking quarterbacks ever would.
Mark Gastineau helped revolutionize the sack
The sack is among the NFL’s most interesting stats in that it’s been around forever, but it’s still relatively young.
Let us explain. Teams have, in theory, been able to tackle a quarterback at or behind the line of scrimmage since the NFL formed in 1920.
It wasn’t until 1961 that the league began tracking yards lost via sack. But in 1982, with the likes of Mark Gastineau and Lawrence Taylor hitting quarterbacks with ease, the NFL started crediting players with official sack totals.
Officially, Buccaneers legend Lee Roy Selmon had 23 sacks in his career because all of those came from 1982 through when he retired. The Pro Football Hall of Fame estimates that Selmon actually had 78.5 sacks from 1976-84.
Gastineau is among the greatest Jets ever
Officially, Mark Gastineau had 74 sacks in his career, all coming from 1982-88 when he played for the New York Jets. Gastineau debuted in 1979 and became a full-time starter in his second season.
During the 1983 and 1984 seasons, no one could stop Gastineau. In 1983, the All-Pro defensive lineman totaled a career-high 19 sacks. A year later, Gastineau set an NFL record with 22 sacks in 16 games.
Michael Strahan broke Gastineau’s record in January 2002, but some still consider Gastineau the all-time leader because of the circumstances involving Strahan’s final takedown. Packers quarterback Brett Favre went down and took a sack, one that was credited to Strahan, in a Week 17 game to give Strahan the record.
Gastineau has publicly said that he believes the record still belongs to him. Jared Allen and Justin Houston each reached 22 sacks in 2011 and 2014, respectively, but neither topped Strahan’s 22.5 sacks.
Mark Gastineau has used religion to change his life
In September 2000, Mark Gastineau received an 18-month prison sentence for violating probation and failing to complete an anger management course after assaulting his girlfriend.
Gastineau was let out after 11 months, and the experience changed him. While at the lowest point of his life, Gastineau said he turned to Christianity.
In a 2018 appearance on the WOR Sports Zone, Gastineau credited faith for keeping him strong during his health problems. Gastineau battled colon cancer and has struggled with the after-effects of playing in the NFL.
“There will be days I’ll get up and I’m good but I’ll tell you Pete, and my wife will tell you, she helps me get out of bed, she’ll help me remember names. The [NFL’s treatment of its former players] is wrong. They are wrong. I’m not telling them to give me zillions of dollars. I don’t want zillions of dollars. I want to be treated with respect. I want the NFL to treat people right.”
Gastineau, who turned 64 in November, is still battling numerous health problems. He was diagnosed with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.