Alabama Football: The Chase for Alabama’s Unbreakable Sack Record


Will Alabama football ever have another linebacker as phenomenal as Derrick Thomas? In 1988 alone, he registered 27 sacks.  27! The unanimous All-American linebacker departed the Capstone with 52 career sacks.

Mention an all-time great Alabama football linebacker and fans will immediately shout names such as Rolando McClain, Donta Hightower, CJ Mosley or Reuben Foster.

The younger generation of fans did not witness the great Derrick Thomas. They cannot appreciate how this modern marvel produced straight nightmares for opposing offensive linemen.

Hailed as the purest pass rusher to ever play the game, collegiate or professional. Number 55 could change a game as soon as an offensive tackle whiffed blocking him, giving him a clear path to destroy the quarterback.

The six foot three inch, 255-pound linebacker was an absolute menace on the playing field. In 1988 against a Joe Paterno led Penn State squad, the Butkus Award winner was relentless against quarterback Tony Sacca. Thomas led the Tide’s defense in holding the Nittany Lions to 71 yards rushing, 98 yards passing plus zero-for-14 on third down. Sacca never felt comfortable in the pocket, and it showed in an 8-3 victory.

The 1980’s Defensive Player of the Decade’s final stat line was 13 tackles, 12 knockdowns, nine quarterback hurries and three sacks.


Derrick was driven to succeed at Alabama after something occurred during his freshman year at practice with All American linebacker Cornelius Bennett. He thought about quitting the team but stayed after conversing with his mentor. Fueled by Bennett, Thomas wrote on a piece of paper,

"“I, Derrick Thomas, promise when I graduate from the University of Alabama, Cornelius Bennett’s name will not be on any of the record books.”"

Derrick Thomas shattered the team record for sacks his junior season with 18, besting Bennett’s ten sacks. The following season, he obliterated his record with 27 sacks. Today, that national record still stands. In 2002, linebacker Terrell Suggs came close with 24 sacks at Arizona State. The nearest Crimson Tide defender is Lombardi award winner Jonathan Allen with 12 sacks in 2015.  Suggs finished with 44 career sacks, which is eight behind Thomas. Allen finished with a distant 28.5.


In the 1988 Hurricane Bowl against the Texas A&M Aggies, Thomas recorded five sacks. Derrick recorded four sacks in a game—-twice.

The two-time All-SEC award winner reached those numbers playing in only 12 games per season. Today’s player can play up to 15 games plus they are rotated more than in the past to keep them fresh throughout the game.

Alabama Crimson Tide Football
Alabama Crimson Tide Football /

Alabama Crimson Tide Football

Sacking quarterbacks were his forte, but he affected the game in multiple areas by blocking kicks and forcing fumbles. Thomas holds school records for blocked kicks (5) and forced fumbles (10). He left the Capstone amassing 204 tackles, 52 sacks and 68 tackles for loss. His all-around impact on the game called for his selection to the Crimson Tide’s Team of the Century.

Selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1989 with the fourth pick, Derrick won NFL Rookie of the Year. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler and had 126.5 sacks during his 11-year career. Thomas has the NFL record for sacks in a game with seven against the Seattle Seahawks in 1990.  A member of the 1990s NFL All-Decade team, Derrick forced 45 fumbles during his career.


DT passed away from a tragic car accident in 2000 at the tender age of 33.  Inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 was deserving but it was not his highest honor.  The Miami, Florida native posthumously entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009 and finally, the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

Next: Six Bold Predictions for 2018

This upcoming season, Raekwon Davis will be a downright nuisance for opponents.  The massive lineman will be tough to double team. If any player has the opportunity to break Thomas’s record this season, it would be Davis. Next, a fully healthy Terrell Lewis could also pose a threat to the unbreakable record.