Mark Craig: Strahan rushing among the legends

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 22, 2007 - 4:58 PM

The Giants Michael Strahan belongs in the conversation among the best pass rushers of all-time.

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New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan.

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Giants defensive end Michael Strahan received no greater compliment in the Vikings' locker room this week than the one from nose tackle Pat Williams.

Asked to name the top three pass rushers in the 88-year history of the NFL, Williams veered from his penchant for verbally body slamming opponents days before he physically body slams them.

"I think it's Lawrence Taylor, Bruce [Smith] and then Strahan because Strahan brings it," said Williams, whose Vikings visit Giants Stadium on Sunday. "I love watching him on tape. And I also like Reggie [White]. I'd put him up there, too."

Lawrence Taylor, the original "LT," is in the Hall of Fame. So, too, is the late Reggie White. And Smith, a former teammate of Williams in Buffalo, will be there as soon as he's eligible in 2009.

Strahan, who turned 36 on Wednesday, is going strong toward the end of his 15th season. He leads active players with 140½ sacks, eight of them this season, including three last week in Detroit.

Identifying the greatest pass rusher in NFL history is a purely subjective endeavor. Particularly since the league didn't start keeping track of sacks as an official statistic until 1982, the year after the excitement generated in New York by Taylor's rookie season and the Jets' "Sack Exchange" defense.

All sack totals before 1982 aren't recognized by the league, which has made some graying greats awfully grumpy through the decades. Deacon Jones, the old Rams "Fearsome Foursome" end and the guy who coined the term "sack," summed up the frustration best years ago.

"Since when does 'all-time' begin in 1982?" said Jones, who by many unoffical reported accounts had 173½ sacks in a career that ended in 1974.

"Deacon Jones is one of my really good friends, and like my mentor," Strahan said. "According to Deacon, he has like 3,000 sacks. And it grows each year. Those guys who played before they had all the stats, they do have some kind of legitimate gripe. But at the same time, Reggie and Bruce up at the top, they put up record numbers that probably won't ever be broken."

Most if not all unofficial individual totals reported over the years do not surpass Smith's official record of 200. White had 198.

Although the Vikings' current pass rush is still a work in progress, the team's history includes as many great pass rushers as any other team in the league. Hall of Fame end Carl Eller's unofficial total of 130 sacks is recognized as the team's career record. Hall of Fame tackle Alan Page has been reported to have had 148½ career sacks, including 108 with the Vikings. The team also has had Jim Marshall, John Randle and Chris Doleman, among others.

"As the best of all-time, I'd have to go with Reggie White," said Bob Lurtsema, who played for both the Giants (1967-71) and Vikings (1972-76). "But from my era, Alan Page was the best pass rusher. Without question. His hands were so strong and he got off the ball so fast. Before the offensive lineman could get set, Alan was already into him. And he didn't do that once or twice. He did it all the time."

A walk through the Vikings' locker room Wednesday served as a reminder that a lot of these kids were born in the 1980s.

"The best I ever seen?" said defensive end Ray Edwards, a New Year's baby in 1985. "Dwight Freeney."

Strahan said his top three is Smith, White and Taylor. But where does Strahan himself fit in? After all, he owns the official single-season mark of 22½ (2001), and there's a chance he'll keep playing beyond this season.

"I've never thought about all that as a player," Strahan said. "I just kind of went out and played. But sometimes I do look back and go, 'Wow.'"

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