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Celebrating LaMarr Woodley's prolific sack pace

Of all the legendary Steelers defenders, LaMarr Woodley may have been the most prolific sack master in franchise history.

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Jared Wickerham

Of all the superstars the Pirates have ever had in their long and mostly lustrous history, Ralph Kiner may have been the king of them all--at least in terms of his home run prowess.

While Kiner, who passed away in February at the age of 91, will forever be placed behind the likes of Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell (and maybe a few others) in most discussions involving the all-time Pirates greats, none of them could match the prolific home run pace Kiner set in the 40s and 50s, when he led the National League in that category for seven straight years.

Kiner ultimately finished with 369 home runs in a 10 year career that was cut short due to injury. But 301 of those dingers came as a member of the Pirates--including an incredible 271 over a six year span, when he averaged 45 a season.

Kiner's 301 bombs are the second most in team history, but not even Stargell, who finished his Hall of Fame career with 475 home runs in 21 years--all with the Pirates--could match the prolific pace Kiner set over a six year span.

And that brings me to former Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who was released last week after seven mostly productive seasons.

The word "mostly" had to be used in that previous paragraph, thanks to Woodley's struggles to stay healthy and on the field during the latter portion of his time in Pittsburgh. From the time he suffered a severe hamstring injury against the Patriots in Week 8 of the 2011 season, until Week 17 of last season, Woodley only played in 26 of a possible 40 games and recorded just nine sacks as he continued to battle injuries and questions about his conditioning.

It was kind of a sad and nondescript ending for a player who may have been the most prolific pass rusher in Steelers history.

Woodley's 57 sacks place him fifth all-time, behind Jason Gildon (77), James Harrison (64), Joey Porter (60) and Keith Willis (59.5), but none of those pass-rushers had quite the run of getting to the quarterback as Woodley.

From Week 1 of the 2008 season (his first full season as a starter after being picked in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft) through that aforementioned ill-fated game against New England on October 30, 2011, Woodley recorded an incredible 44 sacks in a 55 game span.

Only Harrison with his 36.5 sacks in 47 games from 2008-2010 comes close to matching Woodley's pace.

Kevin Greene, who also recorded 36.5 sacks over a three year span from 1993-1995 (his only seasons in Pittsburgh) made a respectable run at it, too, but it wasn't quite on par with what No. 56 did.

And if you want to throw in the 11 sacks he recorded in his his first seven postseason games, starting with a wildcard playoff game against the Jaguars in his rookie year, that would push Woodley's pace to an incredible 55 sacks in 62 games--that's pretty close to a sack a game over that time span.

Woodley's release wasn't accompanied by the same sadness and tributes that Harrison's was a year ago, which is kind of a shame and a bit surprising, considering the kind of career Woodley had in Pittsburgh, even for just a short time.

Speaking of that, years from now, when the defense from the Steelers second Super Bowl era is talked about and celebrated, Woodley may not even get to sit on the main stage, alongside Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Casey Hampton, Harrison and maybe even Porter, all of whom will no doubt garner tons of praise for their remarkable achievements.

Hopefully, people will also recognize Woodley's achievements, because they, too, were quite impressive.

When discussing Super Bowl XLIII, the most talked about play is Harrison's interception of Kurt Warner and 100 yard touchdown return on the last play of the first half (and rightfully so). However, if it wasn't for Woodley's strip-sack of Warner in the waning seconds that resulted in a fumble and  secured a victory, we may not be bragging about those six Lombardi trophies.

Don't believe me?

In The Ultimate Super Bowl Book that chronicles the first 43 Super Bowls, the author talks about how Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald was so dominant in the second half of Super Bowl XLIII, Polamalu was supposedly overheard saying he was glad the final play didn't come down to a Hail Mary because Fitzgerald may have been impossible to stop in the end zone. (I couldn't put in Polamalu's exact quote because I don't have the book with me, but it's certainly in the chapter devoted to XLIII and a mostly unknown little nugget regarding the end of that game.)

If it wasn't for Woodley, the Harrison Hundred and Ben to Ten may have been just footnotes in the most gut-wrenching loss in Steelers history.

I realize guys like Mean Joe Greene (78.5 unofficial) and LC Greenwood (73.5 unofficial) were dominant pass rushers who may have actually had untouchable numbers if sacks existed as an official statistic during their careers, but it's hard to ignore what Woodley did and the pace he set over what amounted to four seasons of game-action.

And if you want to call Woodley the most prolific pass-rusher in Steelers history, you'd have a great argument.