Glance at the Eagles’ official record book under all-time sack leaders and you won’t see Carl Hairston’s name listed.
Why would you?
Officially, Hairston had just 9.0 total sacks as a member of the Eagles. Unofficially, he had many, many more.
While it’s not necessarily news that Hairston was a very good pass rusher during his Eagles career, a lot of new information is finally available. And now it’s being recognized by ProFootballReference for the first time.
Sacks did not become an official statistic in the NFL until 1982, so any sacks before that season were simply not counted. Until last week. After decades of painstaking research from John Turney and Nick Webster, ProFootballReference has added unofficial sacks from 1960-1981 and this research has literally re-written the all-time leaderboards in sacks.
So Hairston and his 9.0 sacks? Nope. He is now credited with 57.5 career sacks during his time with the Eagles because 48.5 of them — including 15.5 in 1979 — came before sacks were officially counted. But now on PFR, they finally are.
So here’s a look at the Eagles’ official top 10 and the new unofficial top 10 of all-time Eagles’ sack leaders:
Three players — Hairston, Dennis Harrison and Ken Clarke — are new additions to the Eagles’ top 10 list.
But because these guys played long before I was born, I emailed the friendliest living Eagles encyclopedia I know — Ray Didinger — to find out more about the newest members of the Eagles’ top 10 list in sacks.
The Eagles drafted Hairston in the 7th round back in 1976 out of Maryland Eastern Shore (then Maryland State) and he went on to play eight seasons with the Birds.
“At various times in his life, he drove a truck and washed dishes in an all-night diner. He was all about hard work, in other words,” Didinger said. “Vermeil loved those players.
“He was the Eagles defensive captain five years in a row (1979-83) and he missed only one game in eight seasons. He recorded more than 100 tackles five years in a row (1977-81) which is a lot for a defensive lineman and he led the NFC with [15.5] sacks in 1979. High effort guy, never took a play off.”
Because Hairston played for the Eagles from 1976-1983, just two of his seasons counted toward his official sack total. He had 4.0 sacks in 1982 (in just 9 games during the strike year) and 5.0 in 1983. But Hairston piled up most of his sacks before the NFL ever counted them. So, officially, he’s 42nd on the Eagles’ all-time sack list, tied with Michael Bennett and Sam Rayburn and just a half sack behind Cullen Jenkins. But really, he’s tied for fifth all-time with Greg Brown, who had 7.0 sacks in 1981 that are now counted as well.
“After Vermeil stepped down, the Eagles traded Hairston to Cleveland for a ninth-round draft pick,” Didinger said. “They thought he was finished at 31, but he played six years for the Browns, led the team in sacks in 1986 (nine) and was voted the Defensive MVP in '87.”
Official career sacks - 47.5
Official sacks w/ Eagles - 9
Official + unofficial career sacks - 96
Official + unofficial sacks w/Eagles - 57.5
Pre-official sacks - 48.5
The Eagles drafted Harrison out of Vanderbilt in the fourth round back in 1978. He was mostly a rotational player during his first two seasons, but became a starter in 1980 for the Super Bowl team.
Harrison was a mammoth man at 6-foot-8, 275 pounds, “which was freaky big in those days,” Didinger said.
“He tied for the NFC lead in sacks (10.5) in the strike-shortened 1982 season. He led the team with 23 QB hits the same year. He was the only Eagle selected for the Pro Bowl that year.”
In fact, that 1982 season ended up being the only Pro Bowl of Harrison’s NFL career. He had 10.5 sacks in just nine games in that strike-shortened campaign.
Harrison’s best sack seasons came after they became an official statistic. He had 34.0 from 1982-1984, which was good enough to put him 11th on the Eagles’ official all-time list. But if you add in his 21.5 from 1978-1981, he’s a top-10 guy.
“He was a good player, but he never become the dominating pass rusher they hoped he would be when they drafted him,” Didinger said. “Marion Campbell, defensive coordinator and later head coach, said Harrison was ‘a player with Pro Bowl-caliber abilities.’ Reading between the lines, Campbell seemed to be saying Harrison has a lot of tools but he doesn't play to that level all the time.”
Official sacks in career - 39.5
Official sacks w/ Eagles - 34
Official + unofficial sacks in career - 61
Official + unofficial sacks w/ Eagles - 55.5
Pre-official sacks - 21.5
Clarke joined the Eagles in 1978 as an undrafted free agent from Syracuse. He ended up playing a total of 10 seasons with the Eagles and four more with the Seahawks and Vikings after that. According to Didinger, Clarke rotated with Charlie Johnson for the first four years of his career, coming in on passing downs and busting through double teams.
Clarke, listed at 6-2, 268, “got his sacks the hard way” as a nose tackle in the Eagles’ 3-4.
After not starting a single game with the Eagles in his first four seasons, Clarke became a full-time starter and started 83 over the next six seasons.
“He did not miss a game, other than strike games, in 10 seasons with the Eagles,” Didinger said. “His streak of 139 consecutive games ranks among the team's all-time leaders. He combined rare strength (he could bench press 465 pounds) with surprising quickness. He was one of the first NFL players to take aerobics to improve his flexibility.”
To Ray’s point, Clarke’s consecutive games played streak of 139 ranks sixth in Eagles history. His 148 total games played ties him for 13th in Eagles history.
Officially, Clarke is 13th on the Eagles’ sack list, but he is 10th thanks to this new research.
Official sacks in career - 43.5
Official sacks w/ Eagles - 32.5
Official + unofficial sacks in career - 59.0
Official + unofficial sacks w/ Eagles - 48.0
Pre-official sacks - 15.5
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