NFL defenders got no credit for sacks until they gave them a name

The nfl's highest paid stars are quarterbacks, so it makes sense that the second most valuable players are the guys who terrorize quarterbacks.

The smash mouth defenders capable of pushing an offense backwards. But before guys could make big bucks for man handling quarterbacks like this, the nfl had to define and measure that valuable skill.

It took longer than you'd think. American football began in the late 19th century, with a variety of rule sets. Some focused on kicking a ball through a goal, like soccer.

Others were built around carrying the ball, like rugby. But what basically all versions of football had in common, was chaos. Large, violent mobs of men pushing and grappling to try advance the ball down field, you know, just guys being dudes.

But around 1880, a dapper gentleman named, walter camp proposed rule changes that would shape the game you now recognize as football. Camp's version of the game, organized the mobs on either side of an ever changing line of scrimmage, a temporary barrier that neither team could cross, until the play started.

The play began when a player snapped the ball, first by kicking, but eventually with the hands, to a player designated as the quarterback. By 1920, the league that would eventually become the nfl was formed.

And the game wasn't all that different from the one we're still watching a century later. It's still hinged on the line. As soon as that line of scrimmage was drawn, defenses were concocting ways to bust through it, and bury the guy with the ball.

They called this, dumping the quarterback. It made sense, you run up to the guy with the ball, and you dump him on his ass. Dumping the qb was a distinct and important event in any game.

But leagues didn't bother to track it. A team or a player might keep count as a matter of pride, but you wouldn't find it on any stat sheet.

By the 60's, the nfl recorded instances of quarterbacks losing yardage, but not the player responsible for it. Before that would happen, the dump would need some pr.

But first, a name change. There are a few potential origins for term, 'sack.' It is after all, a pretty obvious metaphor.

Just like the visigoth sacking rome, linebackers topple the quarterback. But that's not what washington coach, george allen, meant when he used the term in the early 70's.

According to assistant coach, marv levy, allen was game planning for dallas cowboys quarterback, craig morton, and vowed to take that morton salt, and pour him into a sack.

Classic 70's smack. Morton later sued the nfl for failing to protect players from head injuries. The case made the league see the error in its ways, and today they do a great job with player safety.

The man who most famously drew the parallel between tackling a quarterback for loss, and pillaging a city, was deacon jones. A man who terrorized qb's and really anyone who stood in his way.

Jones haunted quarterbacks in the 60's and 70's, and claimed to have developed the term, 'sacking.' Said deacon, sacking a quarterback, is just like you devastate a city, or you cream a multitude of people.

I mean, it's just like you put all the offensive players in one bag and I just take a baseball bat, and beat on the bag. America picked up on the word, and you can find references to sacking the quarterback popping up in newspapers around the late 60's.

Before george allen supposedly coined the term for use in his salt related smack talk. But the nfl still wasn't recording the stat.

Sack artists like jones and his similarly destructive, ram's teammate, coy bacon, had to keep track themselves. The ram's fearsome foursome, was one in a long line of nickname defenses, that popped up in the 70's and early 80's.

Defense was becoming marketable, with the sack as its signature move. And sacks were becoming bankable too. A new crop of defensive stars like lawrence taylor, were getting contract incentives based on the number of sacks they recorded.

So finally, before the '82 season, the nfl decided to begin logging sacks. The first sacks registered by individual players happened on september 12th, 1982.

You'd need play by play data to say which one was first, but I can tell you, lt had one that day, jack youngblood had one, houston's jesse baker, and cleveland's chip banks each had three.

But the real pioneers of the sack, came long before. The players who took up dumping the quarterback as soon as the line of scrimmage was invented, and the defensive stars who's individual efforts went undocumented.

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