The sometimes strong, but often subtle, winds of change tend to bring down the stone wall records of the NFL. They don’t usually tumble down with as much reverb as say, those in Major League Baseball, and habitually they’re nothing more than a footnote in a 50 word ESPN press release. It’s not to say that we don’t hold reverence for the NFL forefathers, because we do, but we tend to value the man over the record in most cases. Player’s reputations are passed down through generations like cave paintings or campfire stories. We hear them from our fathers and mothers, our grandmothers and grandfathers, our uncles and aunts. Whoever was there to witness the action gets served the task of calling out the legends.
In an unrivaled time of readily available information there remains a charm to this medieval process of story sharing. Perhaps it’s because we’re Bengal fans and our team’s relationship is young in comparison to most. But, there is a charm in not being so analytical. We know Pete Rose by many things, but most notably we can define him by the number 4192. I find it difficult to put a numeric label on almost any Bengal. We can’t recall numbers so accurately when we think of Bengals players because we remember the player, alive in our heads forever replaying their greatest hits -- season and career totals often escape us. This is all different of course when we find a stat that causes us to raise our eyebrows, for example a stat like Eddie Edwards’ 87.5 career sack total, which is still to this day a franchise record.
Carlos Dunlap approaching Eddie Edwards' sack record
As Carlos Dunlap closes in on the Bengals' all-time sacks record, we're reminded of how Eddie Edwards should have more sacks on his record.
Born in Sumter, South Carolina, and raised in the muggy Florida sunshine, Edwards played football at Fort Pierce Central High School. He then made the jump to play at the University of Miami where he earned honors as an All-American defensive end. In his 1976 season at Miami he earned the coveted Jack Harding award. Named after the revered Hurricane coach, this honor is presented to the player who is deemed to be the MVP of the team. A year later in 1977 with the 3rd overall selection, Edwards was plucked by the Bengals and it was a good fit, landing as one of the best draft selections in Bengals history. But the accolades don’t stop there. Edwards would go on to play in both Bengal Super Bowl appearances, be elected as a Pro-Bowler in 1981, and still to this day hold the franchise record for most career sacks.
Though, let’s take a look at the sack total. If you were to look up Edwards’ career numbers you would notice that he’s actually listed at having 47.5 sacks (seemingly more impressive is that it still lands him the top spot). The reason being is that the ‘sack’ wasn’t considered an official statistic and wasn’t tracked until Edwards was nearly halfway done with his career.
Aside from the imposing career number, Edwards was also able to make some memorable single game moments, including a 5 sack day against Cleveland in 1980. This is still a Bengals record (although now it’s shared with Antwan Odom who tied Edwards in 2009). The single game triumph occurred during the last game of the 1980 season. The Bengals were done with nothing to do but get a few extra shots in against the playoff bound Browns and their wiry quarterback, Brian Sipe. Edwards recalls the day and claims it to be one of those times when you can do no wrong. A ‘zone game’ when the feet go where they should and the arms unstrap lineman in perfect motion.
My favorite part in doing research on Edwards was the ‘unofficial sacks’ headline that continued to pop up. What better way to add to the legendary myth than to put something like that next to your name? While I’m sure others would call it an asterisk, in the sports world we see that as a negative. An asterisk gives you a place in the record books but it’s a dishonorable discharge. Your accomplishment is noted and received, but we know something irregular was going on behind the scenes. But ‘unofficial’, can be something to be proud about. It denotes something that happened before it was a law. It’s something that will forever be draped in mythos. It’s how many strikeouts Satchel Paige really had in his career. It’s how many stagecoaches Jesse James knocked over. Unofficial is an apology with partial credit and fabled status while the asterisk is a denouncement. We add the terminology to the cave paintings and campfire whispers when we talk about Eddie "Unofficial" Edwards.
You aren’t drafted as a third overall pick if you weren’t dominant, you don’t play 12 years in the same uniform if you didn’t carry weight, and you certainly don’t gain 87.5 ‘unofficial’ sacks in a career and remain a franchise record holder if you aren’t one of the best Bengals in history. Albeit, one I’ve never seen.