Khalil Mack continues to leave an indelible mark on the University at Buffalo football program. He will leave as the Football Bowl Subdivision career leader in forced fumbles, a record he tied-broke-shattered by causing three in Tuesday night’s 44-7 victory at Miami. He may yet depart as the FBS career leader in tackles for loss, a record that dangles just 2.5 negative takedowns away. And he’ll bid adieu as UB’s career leader in sacks, a mark he broke earlier this season.
It’s enough to make one wonder if UB football ever has had a force comparable to Mack on the defensive side of the ball. And the answer is yes, it has, although the statistical evidence is lacking.
Sacks and tackles for loss were foreign terms when defensive end Gerry Philbin suited up for what was then the University of Buffalo during the early 1960s. The NFL didn’t introduce the sack as a statistical category until 1982, nine years after Philbin played the final game of a decorated 10-year AFL-NFL career.
It’s unfortunate that Philbin’s career preceded football’s statistical surge. A story on the New York Jets’ website, written when Philbin was placed on the team’s Ring of Honor in 2011, says he would have been credited with 19 sacks in 14 games in 1968, a season that culminated with the Jets taking down the mighty Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Jets coach Rex Ryan recalled Philbin’s impact in the story written for NewYorkJets.com. Ryan’s father, Buddy, oversaw the defensive line for head coach Weeb Ewbank on that ’68 team.
“I remember my dad telling the story about him going up against Bob Brown, who was a Hall of Fame tackle who was mean as he could be,” Ryan said. “He was having a good day against Philbin, but Philbin just kept coming, kept coming. At the end of the game, Gerry got back-to-back sacks and the Jets won.
“It was one of those deals where he was so relentless, he never let up the entire game. If you weren’t at your best, he was going to beat you.”
For Philbin, a native of Pawtucket, R.I., UB was the launching pad to pro stardom. He signed with the Jets after being selected in the third round of the 1964 AFL draft (he was also selected by Detroit in the third round of the NFL draft). He became a two-time All-Pro selection and was named to the all-time All-AFL team following the NFL merger. An ESPN ranking of the 50 greatest all-time Jets puts him at No. 17.
Although it’s been almost 50 years since he wore a UB uniform, Philbin still maintains allegiance to the program. He was here some five years ago for an alumni “game.” He’s parked in front of the television if a UB game is available for viewing.
“I still follow the team,” Philbin said by phone Wednesday from his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “I’ve followed the whole thing this year. They had a good schedule. I watched the Baylor game, the Ohio State game. I saw the game last night. They had a good game.”
Philbin is often touted as one of the Jets’ greatest draft heists in that his pro impact far exceeded the expectations of the AFL’s 19th overall pick (the Jets took Ohio State running back Matt Snell third overall that season, making it one of the more productive drafts in the history of the franchise). Mack is unlikely to remain on the board as long as Philbin did. He’s widely projected as a top-10 pick and earlier this month became the second player in UB history selected to participate in the Senior Bowl. Philbin was the other.
“He’s a good player. He deserves it,” Philbin said. “My congratulations to Mack. I remember my Senior Bowl game quite vividly. It was a great game. We played in Mobile, Ala., and I became friends with a lot of players who went into the NFL with me. I wish him the same experience. I’m sure he’s going to have his opportunity in the NFL and they’ve had other players from Buffalo in the NFL doing well.”
Most of all, Philbin is pleased to see UB football gaining acceptance in Western New York. It has been, as these almost 50 years attest, a long time in the making. UB dropped football from 1971-76 and it’s been an arduous climb back to relevance.
“It’s great. I’m happy for the team,” Philbin said. “I think Buffalo needs this. They can support a team like the University at Buffalo and they can support a professional team like the Buffalo Bills. And I’m happy to see that.
“I think they’re doing great right now. They’re back where they should be.”