Looking back on Green Bay Packers history, some interesting seasons jump out, especially ones that don’t include the names Starr, Favre, or Rodgers. One season that stands out is 1989, which established several franchise records, but the one that may be the most unbreakable isn’t the one that you may think.
The 1989 season may trigger many different memories. The first might come from draft night when the Packers selected tackle Tony Mandarich ahead of Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders. That selection led to a contract holdout and a career that easily falls into the category of most disappointing ever.
That season was also easily the greatest individual season of quarterback Don Majkowski‘s career, which saw him throw for 4,318 yards, more than doubling his output from any other season. He led the league in 1989, surpassing an impressive group of passers that included Jim Everett, Dan Marino, Mark Rypien, and Warren Moon, who rounded out the top five.
Majkowski’s top target that season was the incredible Sterling Sharpe, who posted a stat line of 90 catches for 1,423 yards and 12 touchdowns. Sharpe, like Majkowski, earned the first Pro Bowl nod of his career. His receiving yards and touchdown total that season was good for second in the league, behind only Jerry Rice.
With all of those headlines standing out from the 1989 season, the record that flies a bit more under the radar is the 19.5 sacks recorded by 25-year-old linebacker Tim Harris, which stands today as a franchise record. It still ranks among the best single defensive seasons in league history, tied with a group that includes DeMarcus Ware‘s 2011 season with the Dallas Cowboys and Aldon Smith‘s 2012 season with San Francisco 49ers as the 13th-best total in NFL history.
How did Tim Harris, a guy who isn’t often mentioned in the same breath with Packers greats, much less defensive or even linebacker greats, reach such a lofty total in a single season? Well, it wasn’t consistency. Harris had six games without a sack, including a three-week stretch in October. He also had six games with multiple sacks, highlighted by a four-sack performance against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4. He added three sacks in a game against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 12th and had seven more sacks in the six games to close out the season.
For any record to stand for better than 30 years means that it had to be an impressive feat. But if you consider some of the people who have lined up on defense in Green Bay during that timeframe, it makes the record all that more impressive.
Reggie White did record 21 sacks in the 1987 season — a 12-game season, in fact — in one of the greatest individual defensive seasons of all time. However, he was still a member of the Philadelphia Eagles and wouldn’t join the Packers until 1993. White would post double-digit sack totals four times in Green Bay, including an impressive 16 sacks in 1998, but none could touch Harris’ total from 1989.
That 16-sack season by White remains the second-highest total in Packers history. There have been a variety of impressive pass rushers who have graced Lambeau Field, notably players like Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Clay Matthews III, and Za’Darius Smith, but all three of those players have peaked at “just” 13.5 sacks in a single season while wearing the green and gold. In fact, Aaron Kampman has been the only one who approached that peak, hitting 15.5 sacks in 2006.
If KGB, Clay Matthews, and Za’Darius Smith have all fallen short of that magical season by Tim Harris, will that record ever be broken? The only players period who have surpassed that total in the last decade are guys like Aaron Donald, who hit 20.5 sacks in 2018, and J.J. Watt, who hit 20.5 sacks in 2012, his second season in the league.
It will take a Hall of Fame-caliber talent to break through with a 20-sack season.
It certainly isn’t likely to happen this season for the Packers, even though the team could have an incredibly good pass rush. The design and scheme of how defenses run these days tend to share the wealth, and players like Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Rashan Gary could all post good numbers, but it’s unlikely that any of them will have an all-time season like Tim Harris had in 1989.