How Steelers John Banaszak ushered in the era of defensive sack dances in the NFL

Super Bowl XIII - Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers
Super Bowl XIII - Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

It seems every defensive lineman in the NFL has some sort of sack celebration they showcase after a quarterback sack. The Steelers T.J. Watt has one so do Takeo Spikes, DeMarcus Ware, Jaren Allen, Shawne Merriman, Barry Cofield, and numerous others in NFL history. However, there was a time that was not the case. Oddly enough, it was an unlikely Steelers defensive lineman who ushered in the era of sack celebrations.  

In 1975 took a chance on an undrafted free agent from Eastern Michigan, John Banaszak. Though he played for Eastern Michigan, they never gave him a scholarship. Having grown up near Cleveland he was a staunch Browns fan in his childhood. When the Steelers signed Banaszak, he called his father and said guess what? I was just signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Promptly his father hung up on him.

Eventually, Banaszak's father came around, accepted the notion of his son playing for the Steelers, and converted into a Steelers fan. However, John still had to make the Steelers squad. Playing defensive end, he would have difficulty proving he could make the team. The Steelers already had a defensive line comprised of Joe Greene, Dwight White, L.C Greenwood, and Ernie Holmes.

John, when he got to training camp, knowing that making the final roster would be difficult, made up his mind he was going to find a way to make the final roster. With hard work and perseverance, his play impressed coaches enough that they kept him on the final roster. Though initially, he was not a starter, that was fine by Banaszak. He never became a regular starter until 1978.

Steelers John Banaszak changes the course of NFL history

In the NFL pre-1975, sacks, while a pivotal part of the game, were not celebrated in any sort of way. They were just routine defensive plays. John Banaszak eventually changed that. He did not deliberately set out to create sack dances, but he paved the way for them in what was just an exuberant reaction to recording his first NFL sack with the Steelers.

Early in the 1975 season with the Steelers, he had gone into the game partly due to the injury of one of the starters. Eager to get to the quarterback when the ball was snapped, he fired off the line beating the offensive blocker and sacked the quarterback. So thrilled what he did next changed the NFL forever. After recording his sack, he was so excited he threw his arms in the air showing his excitement for getting the sack.

At the time, John did not think much about his reaction to recording his sack, nor did he think anyone would notice. Then came the post-game media interviews, and numerous reporters had one question on their minds. They all wanted to know why John was out there celebrating the sack, which had never been done in the NFL.

Not really sure how to answer, but he responded that he was just excited to have the chance to be in the game and be able to sack the quarterback. When recording his sack, he was so excited he just threw his arms in the air to give a visual display of the excitement he felt at that moment. From that point, sack dances became more prevalent in the NFL, and John earned the nickname "Banasack".

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This is just another example of how the Steelers dynasty of the ‘70s transformed the NFL from the Mel Blount rule, fan-based clubs in the stands from Franco’s Italian Army leading to the Dawg Pound in Cleveland or the Cheeseheads in Greenbay, and of course, the birth of sack celebrations.