Former New York Giants star Michael Strahan has been the NFL’s single-season sack king for nearly 20 years. However, the crown now belongs to Al “Bubba” Baker, and the 2021 NFL season hasn’t even begun yet.
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Baker. Long-anticipated research means the former Detroit Lions standout rewrote the record books decades after playing his final game.
Bubba Baker, not Michael Strahan, is the NFL’s new single-season sack king
If you’ve ever gone on Pro-Football-Reference and looked at defensive numbers for older players, you would have noticed some missing statistics. That is especially true for sacks, which the NFL did not consider an official statistic until 1982.
Record books are meant to be rewritten, especially when new data becomes available. Thanks to the hard work by several researchers, PFR now officially has 99% of the sacks from 1970 through 1981 and 95% in both the AFL and NFL from 1996 to 1969.
When those stats were officially released, the football world learned it had a new single-season sack king. Baker, a second-round pick in 1978, totaled a staggering 23 sacks as a rookie.
During a recent appearance on the Around The NFL podcast, Baker said he and his family cried tears of joy upon learning he now unofficially held the sack record.
“You know somebody tells you you’re a sack leader, and what do you do? You start crying. And I guess it’s because none of us really sat around like some players and, ‘We want this, and we want that.’ We hadn’t thought about it for at least, for at least, I’m not kidding you, 20 years.”Al “Bubba” Baker
The new research means Strahan, who had 22.5 sacks in 2001, is second on the single-season list. However, Strahan has the most of any player since the league began counting sacks, so some can and likely will argue the title is still his. Rams legend Deacon Jones is now tied for third all-time after recording 22-sack seasons in 1964 and 1968.
The new research could push Baker into the Pro Football Hal of Fame
With the new research and stats, we know Baker had 131 sacks in 181 games and had six double-digit sack seasons. The three-time Pro Bowler now unofficially ranks 21st all-time in sacks and is narrowly ahead of Coy Bacon and Jim Marshall, each of whom retired with 130.5 sacks.
Here is where things get extremely interesting. Of the 20 players with more sacks than Baker, 14 are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. DeMarcus Ware (138.5 sacks) is considered a near-lock and is eligible for the first time next year.
Julius Peppers (159.5) and Terrell Suggs (139) each should get in when they’re eligible. Jared Allen (136) and John Abraham (133.5) will also be on the ballot in 2022 and are still hoping to hear a knock on their doors.
Don’t be surprised to see the new research and his emotional reaction help Baker gain momentum for induction into the Hall of Fame. Between him and Calvin Johnson, Lions fans may want to start preparing for more trips to Canton, Ohio.
The new data means Mark Gastineau won and lost at the same time
When Strahan became the single-season sack king in January 2002, it was believed he passed New York Jets legend Mark Gastineau in the process.
Gastineau had 22 sacks in 1984, the third season that the NFL officially counted sacks. The controversy involving Brett Favre falling so Strahan could earn the record has persisted for years, and Gastineau has insisted the record still belonged to him.
Well, the record really belongs to neither of them. However, there is good news for Gastineau, who debuted in 1979. He now unofficially has 107.5 career sacks, 33.5 of which came before the 1982 season. That puts him in a tie for 37th all-time entering the 2021 season.
Baker is the single-season sack king, and Gastineau is at over 100 sacks. You might think the only loser here is Strahan, but he’s the only one of the three with a Super Bowl ring. Everyone wins!
All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.