How many sacks did Mean Joe Greene record in his career? How about Super Steeler pass rusher L.C. Greenwood? That depends on who you ask, and whether you care about what stats the NFL considers “official”.
If you look at historic NFL defensive stats and don’t know what is going on, you might be surprised to know that officially, Derrek Tuszka with his sack in the Titans game just moved ahead of Mean Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood for career sacks for the Pittsburgh Steelers. he also has more forced fumbles, tackles for a loss, and passes defended than Mean Joe did.
“Wait a minute,” you respond, “you are saying Derrek Tuszka has made a bigger statistical impact than Mean Joe Greene?” The answer, if you only look at official NFL stats, is yes. Official NFL defensive only stats for the 1970s include interceptions. . . and that is it. Fumble recoveries were recorded for both offense and defense so we have those too. Officially Joe Greene’s NFL career statistics are 1 interception, 1 fumble, 16 fumbles recovered. Sacks became an official NFL stat in 1982, the year after Mean Joe Greene retired. Forced Fumbles came around in 1989, tackles are still not an official stat, but they are at least recorded by teams and go back to the late 80s, early 90s depending on when teams started recording them.
What does this mean? First off it means Steeler fans celebrated when James Harrison passed Jason Gildon’s 77 sacks and became the official Steeler sack leader. But that sack against the Ravens in 2016 wasn’t the one that gave him the actual lead. It brought him to 77.5 sacks, tying him with Mean Joe Greene for second place. It was his next sack, which took place 6 minutes and 33 seconds of game time later with his second sack of Joe Flacco on the day, which brought him to 78.5 sacks, putting him ahead of L.C. Greenwood’s 78 career Steeler sacks.
It also means T.J. Watt is not 3rd in career sacks for the Steelers, that spot belongs to Mean Joe right now, and personally, I’m not going to take that away from him just because the NFL doesn’t care about history.
But it means more than that, it means T.J. Watt is not yet the Steelers single-season sack leader. Watt’s 1.5 sacks this past Sunday put him in a tie with Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb and his fantastic 1961 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers when he recorded 17.5 sacks in 14 games, leading the NFL in a stat that didn’t exist and wouldn’t be recognized until well after his death.
For people who don’t know about Gene Lipscomb, he won two NFL Championships with the Baltimore Colts, was a three time Pro Bowler, two time First Team All-Pro, and a professional wrestler in the offseason. Talk about the difference in pay and off-season training back then. Lipscomb was a finalist for the 2019 NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time team.
On a team like the Steelers with the history this franchise has, ignoring the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of players that played before 1982 is disappointing. I know I’ll be ready with a glass of bourbon next week, waiting for the moment when T.J. Watt actually breaks the Steelers single-season sack record. I’ll also be looking forward to next season when he will likely be chasing, and passing Jason Gildon, Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, and maybe even James Harrison’s career sack numbers to take over as the Steelers career sack leader.
On a side note, If we are counting Mean Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood’s sacks, then I need to note that T.J. Watt needs to beat Al Baker’s 23 sacks from the 1978 season, and not Michael Strahan’s 22.5 sacks from 2001, to take over the real single-season sack record.
Ignoring Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood, when the work put into recording pre-1982 sacks is verifiable, and has been shown to be likely more accurate than the official stat keeping since 1982, seems disrespectful to the greatest defense the NFL has ever known, and the Steelers incredible legacy. Although he only played two seasons in a Steeler uniform, and did so well before the Steelers became a respected franchise, Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb is a part of that legacy. He deserves to be remembered and his accomplishments deserve to be celebrated as well.