05 Feb From A Defensive Monster To Personal Demon: Mark Gastineau
If you are, or were ever even once a fan of the defensive stylings of the NFL, no matter where your team affinity lies, you admired — or at the very least respected — Mark Gastineau. The 6’5″, 265 pound monster, who wore the famed number 99 for the New York Jets for nearly a decade, was an intimidating force at Defensive End. Collecting an astonishing 100.5 sacks in his first 100 games as a professional football player in the NFL turned his already lovable face into a household name. It also made offenses plan specifically for his quickness and strength with each and every snap of the ball for the duration of his illustrious career.
Marcus Dell Gastineau was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma before moving with his parents to a ranch in Springerville, Arizona while still a small boy. He enjoyed his western landscape by entering roping contests throughout his pre-teen and teenage years, before finally arriving at Round Valley High School. Football was the least of Mark’s interests, but at the urging of his father he entertained the idea and showed tremendous promise as his high school career evolved. However, it was widely felt that there was never enough talent to derive the attention of scouts or colleges to provide a scholarship, or to nurture his career overall. Mark would enter Eastern Arizona Junior College in 1975 as a result, but was quick to garner All-American honors in his first year.
With the new attention from interested parties, Gastineau transferred to Arizona State University, but only lasted one year at Defensive End at the school. Their loss, of course, as he finally settled his wondering body and mind in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma to attend East Central Oklahoma State University. Try saying that five times fast. Since it’s practically impossible to do so and even harder to manage a brand or attract students, the name was changed to East Central University. During his tenure at the small school, Mark amassed 27 sacks, and became — although not surprisingly — the first drafted player from the establishment.
In 1979, Mark Gastineau was drafted by the New York Jets in the second round, with the 41st overall pick in the NFL Draft. With his incredible talent, it was only a matter of time before it was combined with the physical stature and defensive prowess of the balance of the “New York Sack Exchange” line-up. In 1981 the hard hitting crew collected 66 sacks collectively between the four of them: Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam. Mark had 20 of those sacks, with Klecko edging him for the lead in the group by one half of a sack. When the NFL began officially keeping the “Sack” stat in 1982, Gastineau was only credited with six that season, but was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. In 1983 he collected 19 — a record for the stat keeping era — following by a new record of 22 in 1984, and 13.5 in 1985. He was selected to five consecutive Pro Bowl games from 1981 to 1985, along with receiving the distinguished All-Pro Selection in each of those same years.
Plagued by injuries and the unpopular decision to cross the picket line during the 1987 NFL Player’s Strike, Mark fell out of favor with everyone from fans to teammates to the coaching staffs and his personal relationships. Less than halfway through the 1988 season, Mark Gastineau was leading the AFC in sacks before he announced his retirement as abruptly as he had announced his engagement to actress Brigitte Nielson. He cited the cause of his unexpected announcement as his partner’s need for his support during a difficult time in her health. Sadly, no one believed the reasoning — from her or him — and his integrity was called into question as a result.
Mark Gastineau remained the all-time sack leader in the NFL with 107.5 total sacks at the time of his hasty retirement. In 1990, Mark made one last run at success by signing a two year contract with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Sadly, he was injured and released with only four games in the books in his reprised roll. In an even sadder turn of events, Gastineau ran afoul of the law, getting arrested in 1993 on domestic violence and drug charges. He later served eleven months in prison on Rikers Island after a series of parole violations. To date, he claims to be a changed man, thanks to his new found faith in religion. For his sake, and that of all who love him, we hope so.