Stra­han wants Don­ald to break his sack record

The Island Packet (Sunday) - - Sports - BY SAM FARMER AND GARY KLEIN

If Michael Stra­han’s NFL sea­son sack record has to fall – and it even­tu­ally will – the Hall of Fame de­fen­sive end wants Aaron Don­ald to top­ple it.

“The sack record is fan­tas­tic and it’s great,” Stra­han said Thurs­day by phone. “But I hope Aaron does break it. There have been guys who have got­ten close, but I just want it to be a good guy who breaks it. Not some jerk, or some guy who doesn’t care about it or take pride in what he does and just kind of luck­ily rolls through.

“I want some­body who rep­re­sents the NFL in the right way. He’s that guy.”

At Rams head­quar­ters Thurs­day, Don­ald couldn’t help but feel flat­tered to hear that.

“Any time you get a Hall of Fame player that even knows my name, you’re go­ing to be pumped up about that,” he said. “So it means a lot com­ing from a guy like that.”

It’s far from a given that Don­ald will even match what Stra­han did for the New York Giants dur­ing the 2001 sea­son, when he ac­cu­mu­lated 22 1/2 sacks.

With one game to play, at home Sun­day against the San Fran­cisco 49ers, Don­ald has 19 1/2. So he needs three to tie the record, match­ing the pro­duc­tion he had last Sun­day against Ari­zona. But he has shown such games aren’t once-ina-ca­reer out­ings; he had four sacks against the 49ers when the Rams played them in Week 7.

“It’s some­thing that’s out there,” Rams coach Sean McVay said of the record. “You don’t ac­knowl­edge (it) in the team meet­ings. You talk about guys play­ing to the best of their abil­ity, and do­ing dif­fer­ent things to hope­fully make plays like that. But that’s not some­thing that we’re say­ing, like, ‘This is the key to the game for us to be able to win as a team.’ ”

First things first. The Rams need to beat the 49ers in the fi­nale to se­cure the No. 2 seed in the NFC play­offs, and the first-round bye that comes with it. In that sense, the sack record is merely ic­ing. But it’s also a spec­tac­u­lar ac­com­plish­ment, espe­cially be­cause Don­ald is a de­fen­sive tackle who is rou­tinely dou­bleteamed, as op­posed to a de­fen­sive end who fre­quently has only one player, an of­fen­sive tackle, be­tween him and the quar­ter­back.

“He’s on the in­te­rior, and that’s kind of like fight­ing your way out of a phone booth be­cause you get sur­rounded on all sides,” said Stra­han, who was a left de­fen­sive end, mean­ing he lined up op­po­site the right tackle. “When peo­ple know you’re the guy who gets sacks and cre­ates all that stuff, not only are you fight­ing in a phone booth, but they’re con­strict­ing the walls of the phone booth by mak­ing sure ev­ery­body’s re­ally pay­ing at­ten­tion to you. You kind of have that dou­ble trou­ble.”

Rams run­ning back Todd Gur­ley called Don­ald “the best foot­ball player I’ve ever been around.”

“It’s an honor to be able to just wit­ness great­ness and play along­side him,” Gur­ley said.

In Ari­zona, af­ter he set both the fran­chise sack record and the NFL mark for sacks by a de­fen­sive tackle, Don­ald had to hold back tears on the team bus.

“Be­cause it’s part of his­tory,” he said. “This is stuff you dream about. You al­ways want to have suc­cess, but you never think it’ll be as big as it is. So just play­ing the game and putting the body of work in and watch­ing it pay off meant a lot.”

(It’s note­wor­thy that the NFL be­gan rec­og­niz­ing sacks as a statis­tic only in 1982, so play­ers whose ca­reers pre­dated that, do not fac­tor in, among them Rams Hall of Fame de­fen­sive end Dea­con Jones.)

RICK SCUTERI AP

With one game to play, Los An­ge­les Rams de­fen­sive end Aaron Don­ald has 19 1⁄ sacks. The sin­gle-sea­son record is 2 22 1⁄2, by Michael Stra­han.

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