According to the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ single-season record for sacks is 16, set by outside linebacker James Harrison in 2008. But as noted by Mike Lynch of Sports Reference dot-com, “the NFL has only officially counted player sacks since 1982, which means sack records and leaderboards present an incomplete history of pass rushing.”
But on July 12, 2021, pre-1982 sack statistics were added to Pro Football Reference (PFR), which has allowed PFR to “print year-by-year and career sacks totals for not just legends such as Deacon Jones (173.5), Jack Youngblood (151.5), Alan Page (148.5), Carl Eller (133.5) and Joe Greene (77.5), but also for less recognized stars like Coy Bacon (130.5), Cedrick Hardman (122.5) and Jack Gregory (106.0), whose greatness and impact can now be more readily quantified.”
Move Over James Harrison?
The additional sack statistics (dating back to 1960), give the Pittsburgh Steelers a new (unofficial) single-season sack leader, that being Eugene ‘Big Daddy’ Lipscomb, who had 17.5 sacks in only 14 games during the 1961 season. Strangely, that wasn’t good enough for him to make the Pro Bowl that season, though he did the following year, for the third and final time in his career.
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Lipscomb–6-foot-6 and approximately 300 pounds–started his career with the Los Angeles Rams, playing in 25 games over three seasons (1953-55) before he was waived and picked up by the Baltimore Colts for $100. It was in Baltimore that he had some of the best years of his career, including first-team All-Pro seasons in both 1958 and 1959.
Then “in July ’61, to the shock of Colts fans, the 29-year-old Lipscomb was the key player in a five-man deal that sent him and center Buzz Nutter to the Steelers for Jimmy Orr, [a] promising flanker with the gifted hands, and two warm bodies,” explained writer William Nack in a 1999 piece for Sports Illustrated titled “The Ballad of Big Daddy.”
Lipscomb went on to play in 28 games for the Steelers over the next two seasons before his life was cut short at the age of 31 on May 10, 1963. A heroin overdose was the official cause of death, though Lipscomb’s “friends and teammates harbor a powerful skepticism” about that, advises Nack in his article. Nevertheless, Big Daddy sure made an impression on Pittsburgh fans during the relatively short time he played for the Steelers, not to mention Pittsburgh’s head coach, Buddy Parker, who Nack quotes as having referred to him as “the best man I ever saw at knocking people down.”
Lipscomb is One of Three Steelers to Lead the League in Sacks
Regardless, Lipscomb’s 1961 season remains one of the most impressive pass rushing performances in team history. In fact, it was the first of only three times that a Steelers player has led the league in sacks, with Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene recording 14 in 1994 and T.J. Watt getting 15 in 2020.
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