In the early years of professional football, there are legendary players and stories of spectacular games, but many of the records are apocryphal. Unlike professional baseball, which followed detailed scorebooks almost from the start, soccer wasn’t that demanding. For example, stats like quarterback hits and passes defended are commonplace today, but only emerged in the 21st century. Even rudimentary information such as “solo” tackles or fumbles did not enter the box until the 1990s. Because of this, it’s hard to compare today’s players to the legendary stars from 50 years ago, even with surface-level statistics.
But now, thanks to the obsessive efforts of John Turney and Nick Webster, two members of the Pro Football Research Association, some of these former players will finally see a fair record of their size. Before 1982, the “sack” was not an officially recorded statistic, so we have no statistical record of the great pass rushers of yesteryear. As a blog post in the soccer statistics database pro-football-reference.com explains, Turney and Webster carried out a comprehensive review of past records to reconstruct the official 1960 sack totals. As a result, they claim that 99 percent of sacks from 1970 to 1981 are now recorded, as well as the vast majority of sacks from 1961 to 1969.
As a result, we now have a clearer picture of the great Buffalo Bills from the team’s earlier years. The greatest benefactor? Defensive tackle Tom Sestak. Sestak was a three-time unanimous all-AFL selection and played for the Bills from 1962 to 1968. PFR’s balance sheet shows that Sestak has collected 52.0 sacks in its seven-year career, making it fifth overall on the franchise leaderboard. It’s also the franchise sack record for a defensive tackle, ahead of Kyle Williams’ 48.5 sacks.
Sestak also holds the record for single-season sacks from a Buffalo Bills DT at 15.5 in 1964. Bruce Smith holds the record of 19.0 sacks in 1990 and Bryce Paup had 17.5 in 1995.
Another player who saw his greatness recognized was “Gentle” Ben Williams, the defensive end, who played ten seasons for the Bills from 1976 to 1985 and who also died last May. As his Ole Miss obituary noted, when Williams retired from the NFL, he was the Buffalos’ career sack leader with 45.5 sacks. Further bookkeeping increased its total to 52.0 bags, linked with Sestak in fifth place.
Another important detail for Bills fans: Bruce Smith’s layoff record remains intact. NFL legend Deacon Jones, the “Secretary of Defense”, was also the man who coined the term “sack”. He played from 1961 to 1974 which means his entire career fell into the unofficial sacking record. Turney and Webster’s research confirms that Jones had 173.5 sacks in his storied career, which remains in third place after Smith and Reggie White.