In the 1980's, no name was more synonymous with the word "sack" than Gastineau. The Jets defensive end was notorious for pummeling his way through offensive lines and leaving quarterbacks in a heap of misery.
Although some hardships in his personal life have often taken the spotlight away from his football career, Marcus Dell Gastineau will go down in NFL history as a pioneer of the defensive end position. The Oklahoma native entered the NFL virtually under the radar and his lasting success as a pro was improbable. After transferring out of two colleges in two years, Gastineau played his junior and senior seasons at East Central University in Ada, OK, an institution where no football player in school history had ever been drafted.
After collecting 27 career sacks at East Central, Gastineau was invited to the annual Senior Bowl where the Jets coaching staff was heading his North team. Gastineau earned recognition as the team's Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman en route to a 41-21 victory by Walt Michaels' squad. Gastineau's counterpart, Marty Lyons, a 6'5" defensive tackle from Alabama, earned recognition as the South's Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman. Michaels and the rest of the Jets staff took note and selected Lyons in round one (14th overall) and Gastineau in round two (41st overall) the following April.
The addition of Lyons and Gastineau to a defensive line already featuring promising third-year defensive end Joe Klecko and veteran Abdul Salaam gave the Jets the foundation for the heralded "New York Sack Exchange."
In 1981, the foursome totaled 54.5 sacks, and over the next five seasons, Lyons, Gastineau, and Klecko accounted for a combined sack total of 140, with Gastineau leading the way with 79.5.
"Mark is the premier pass rusher in the NFL," said former Jets head coach Joe Walton in 1984. "He is a true All-Pro."
Gastineau was just that. After starting just one game and recording two sacks in his rookie season and then breaking out in 1980 with 11.5 sacks and 122 quarterback pressures, Gastineau was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1981 and returned every year for the next five seasons.
"Mark is multi-dimensional," said Pittsburgh Hall of Fame defensive lineman "Mean" Joe Green of Gastineau. "He can run around you and he can run over you. Sometimes the best guys are eccentric, but he gets it done."
In 1984, Gastineau got it done and then some. On opening day, he set the pace by tying his career-high of four sacks in a game against the Colts. He went on to break both the Jets team record and NFL record for sacks in a season with 22 during his finest season as a professional. Gastineau earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in addition to Pro Bowl MVP honors after he accounted for four sacks, one safety and seven tackles.
Miami tackle Eric Laakso was the unfortunate Dolphin representative to block Gastineau for six consecutive seasons from 1979 to that memorable '84 season.
"Some ends are strong and some are fast, but very few have the qualities of size, strength, and speed that Gastineau has in such quantities," Laakso said. "That's what makes him so difficult. What it comes down to is: can I back up as fast as he can run forward six yards?"
After seven weeks of the 1988 season, Gastineau shocked the football world as he announced his retirement on the brink of another impressive campaign, averaging a sack per game.
Throughout his unparalleled career in Jets Green and White, Gastineau racked up 107.5 total sacks including 100.5 sacks in his first 100 starts. His 22 sacks in 1984 stood as an NFL record until 2001 when Giants defensive end Michael Strahan broke the mark with 22.5.