1987 strike altered all-time sacks list

Jared Allen's incredible 2011 season almost broke the NFL's sack record, but he might not have been close to the record if Reggie White's 1987 season hadn't been cut short by the players' strike.

Here is a Paul Harvey-style NFL "Rest of the Story" that might change your opinion of how records are kept and set in the NFL.

At the end of last season, I asked Jared Allen if he thought there should be an asterisk on Michael Strahan's single-season sack record. Allen fell a half-sack short of Strahan's 2001 record of 22.5. While Allen had an immediate and emphatic "no" answer, the reason for my asterisk question pertained to how Strahan set the record.

In the NFL, if the "fix is in," you typically find out about it. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. Even at the moment Strahan's record happened, it looked fishy. Brett Favre, looking to do "a solid" for Strahan (a known "buddy" of his), inexplicably late in the game rolls out on a naked bootleg in Strahan's direction. This wasn't the brash young Favre, this was a "soon-to-be talking about retirement" Favre. It looked suspect to say the least. The sack broke the old record of 22 sacks by Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau. "The Flop" – which took its place in dubious connection to "The Catch" or "The Drive" or "The Hail Mary" – was so named because of Favre's willingness to take a dive, which was reaffirmed as time passed.

Before the play on which Favre was "sacked" for the official record, as former teammates would later attest, he audibled out of a play called from the sideline and then double-crossed his own teammates. The play was called as a short pass to the left (away from Strahan) and Favre audibled to a play designed to be a run up the middle. Instead, Favre tucked the ball and ran directly to Strahan's area. Don't take my word for it, watch it yourself below and listen to what the announce team thought of the play the moment it happened (not 11 years later).

Conspiracy freeze-frame theorists claim a smile is visible on Favre's face as he gets sacked. While Allen refused to acknowledge that Strahan's record is fraudulent, there should be an asterisk on the all-time sack record. But it has nothing to do with Allen or Strahan.

In Allen's chase of the sack record in 2011, much of the focus (at least locally) was that the Vikings had an impressive laundry list of players in their own team record book as any in the NFL. Working his way up the franchise sack list would be monumental, much less considering the all-time NFL record was within reach.

For Allen to set an NFL record, he would have to set a team record first. That wouldn't be easy.

Twice Allen had recorded 14.5 sacks in a season, but all that got him was tied for seventh place in the Vikings history books. Carl Eller had 15 sacks twice. John Randle had 15.5 sacks in 1997. Alan Page and Keith Millard each had 18 sacks in a season. Chris Doleman had the team record of 21 sacks in 1989 – ironically the same season that Millard posted 18, another glaring omission to the amazing achievement those two had in one season.

But, as Allen fell a half sack short of the record, something jumped off the page at the revised all-time single-season sack list updated by the NFL heading into the 2012 season. Allen is now tied for second with Gastineau all-time, dropping Doleman and Reggie White into a tie for fourth place with 21. Doleman achieved his mark in 1989. White did that two years earlier.

It's at this point that the Paul Harvey "Rest of the Story" starts to make sense.

Two years before Doleman etched his name in the history books at No. 2 on the all-time list, White put his name there. So what? That year was 1987.

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Strike of 1987 and the infamous "Scabs" that replaced the NFL rosters with a collection of rag-tags and misfits, the NFL stars of the day played just 12 regular-season games that season. White was among those who played just 12 games … and recorded 21 sacks.

Allen was vehement in his belief that no asterisk should be placed on his pursuit of the all-time single-season sack record. However, there should be one, considering that, at the pace he was on, White would have had 28 sacks if he continued his 12-game pace in 1987 for a 16-game season. It might have set a mark that would never be touched.

Strahan still holds the record – tainted as is it may be. Allen is second all-time for his amazing performance in a season when his team trailed late in so many games that his opportunities for sacks decreased because opponents were running out the clock. But there should be an asterisk attached to the record because White has been largely forgotten for arguably the most dominant performance by an NFL defensive end in league history. It wasn't a quarterback doing a flop that prevented him from setting the record. It was the labor unrest of 1987.

And now you know, the rest … of the story.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

VikingUpdate.com Recommended Stories

Up Next