American Football Database
Mark Gastineau
No. 99     
Defensive end
Personal information
Date of birth: (1956-11-20) November 20, 1956 (age 65)
Place of birth: Ardmore, Oklahoma
High School: Eagar (AZ) Round Valley
Career information
College: East Central Oklahoma State
NFL Draft: 1979 / Round: 2 / Pick: 41
Debuted in 1979 for the [[{{{debutteam}}}]]
Last played in 1988 for the [[{{{finalteam}}}]]
Career history
Career highlights and awards

NFL Records:

  • NFL Record 2 Consecutive Years Leading League in Sacks
  • NFL Record 4 Sacks in a Pro Bowl

New York Jets Records:

  • Career Sacks, (107 ½)
  • Single Season Sacks, (22)
  • Single Game Sacks, (4)
Sacks     107 ½
Games     138
Seasons     10
Stats at

Marcus Dell Gastineau (born November 20, 1956) is a former American football player who was a leading defensive end for the New York Jets from 1979 to 1988. A five-time Pro Bowler, his 100½ quarterback sacks in only his first 100 starts in the NFL made him one of the quickest and most feared pass rushers of his generation. Gastineau is ranked the 8th greatest pass rusher in NFL History on NFL Network's NFL Top 10 Pass Rushers.

Early life

Gastineau was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and moved to Springerville, Arizona at the age of seven, when his parents, Ernie and Lou, bought a ranch. Ernie built his son a rodeo ring, and Mark began entering team-roping events at 12. Mark's other passion was collecting Indian artifacts in Arizona's White Mountains. At Round Valley High School, Gastineau needed urging from his father to play football. Gastineau showed promise, but not enough to attract attention from major colleges.


He entered Eastern Arizona Junior College in 1975 and earned All-America honors in his first season. He transferred to Arizona State University, and spent just one season playing defensive end there before finally settling upon East Central Oklahoma State University, now East Central University, in Ada, Oklahoma. He had 27 quarterback sacks in his college career,[1] and earned Outstanding Defensive Lineman honors for the North in the 1979 Senior Bowl. He became ECU's first-ever draft pick when the New York Jets selected him in the second round of the 1979 NFL Draft.[2]

New York Jets

Gastineau was among the most talented and honored defensive linemen of his era. He made the Pro Bowl five straight seasons (1981–85) and finished his ten year career with 107½ sacks, the Jets all-time record. He was a First-team All-Pro in years 1981-85 and was consensus All-AFC in each of those years.

The "New York Sack Exchange"

In New York, Gastineau was a key part of the famed "New York Sack Exchange," the Jets defensive line that also included Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam. The four combined for 66 sacks in 1981, including twenty by Gastineau (In 1981 sacks were unofficial, but Gastineau's 20 sacks trailed Klecko by only ½ a sack), to lead the Jets to their first playoff game since 1969. He was Second-team All-Pro in 1981 as well as being consensus All-AFC. In November 1981, he, Klecko, Lyons and Salaam were invited to ring the ceremonial opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, which served as the inspiration for their nickname.[3]

With Klecko rupturing the patella tendon in his right knee in the second game of the strike shortened 1982 season against the New England Patriots, Gastineau became the new unofficial leader of the "Sack Exchange." Though he was often double teamed, he finished the season with six sacks, and was voted the NFL Defensive Player of the Year by NEA (and awarded the George S. Halas Trophy). The Jets made the playoffs again in 1982, losing the AFC Championship game to the Miami Dolphins.[4]

Defensive Player of the Year

The 1983 season started with Gastineau and the Jets' first round pick of the 1983 NFL Draft, quarterback Ken O'Brien, getting arrested and charged with assault at Studio 54.[5] Despite this off-the-field indiscretion, Gastineau totaled 19 sacks to lead the NFL for the first time.

Gastineau was nationally famous for doing his signature "Sack Dance" after sacking an opposing quarterback. However, he had to stop when the NFL declared it "unsportsmanlike taunting" in March 1984 and began fining players for it. The ban on the Sack Dance stemmed from a 1983 game against the Los Angeles Rams, when Gastineau and Rams Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie Slater got into a fight following a Gastineau sack of Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo.

Gastineau had his best individual season with an NFL record 22 sacks (leading the NFL for the second year in a row), 69 tackles and one fumble recovery for a touchdown in 1984. He was voted the UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year, and was also named MVP of that season's Pro Bowl after tallying four sacks and a safety in that game. Gastineau's sack record stood for seventeen years until Michael Strahan broke it in 2001.

New defensive coordinator Bud Carson installed a 3-4 defense for the 1985 season. Gastineau shifted from left defensive end to right defensive end, although he did move him around to allow for mismatches. Gastineau broke his hand early in that season but still finished second in the league with 13½ sacks and was voted All-Pro by the NEA.

The Jets finished 11-5 in 1985 to earn a wildcard spot in the playoffs along with fellow AFC East rivals, the New England Patriots. Gastineau recorded a sack in the Jets' 26-14 loss to the Pats at the Meadowlands.[6]

1986 playoffs

For the start of the 1986 season, Gastineau was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated alongside New York Giants star linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Injuries limited Gastineau to just two sacks in ten games (his lowest total since his rookie season) as he was slowed by groin and abdominal muscle ailments and then by a damaged left knee that required arthroscopic surgery and forced him to miss the last five games of the regular season.

Gastineau rebounded in the postseason, recording a sack in the Jets 35-15 wildcard round victory over the Kansas City Chiefs[7] and 2½ more in the Divisional Round Playoff game against the Cleveland Browns. However, late in the fourth quarter of that game, with the Jets leading 20-10 and the Browns facing a second down and 24 from their own 18-yard line, Gastineau was called for a questionable roughing the passer penalty.

The play had originally resulted in an incomplete pass by Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar so instead of having a 3rd-and-24 situation, the 15-yard penalty on Gastineau gave the Browns a first down at their own 33. From there, the Browns drove the remaining 67 yards to a touchdown which cut the Jets' lead to 20-17. The Browns would later tie the game with 7 seconds remaining in regulation on a 22-yard field goal by Mark Moseley and win it on a 27-yard field goal by Moseley 2 minutes and 2 seconds into the second overtime period.

After the game, Gastineau said that he hadn't been guilty of roughing and that he was "just following through." Teammate Marty Lyons, the Jets' other starting defensive end, defended Gastineau saying, "(Ben Dreith) is a referee who's known to take care of the quarterback." Joe Walton, the Jets' head coach would say only, "It was a very key play, Mark was just trying to do the best he could do."[8]

1987 NFL Players' strike

In 1987, Gastineau was the only New York Jet regular to immediately cross the picket line in that year's players' strike, citing his need to pay alimony. Teammate Dave Jennings said of this understandably unpopular move: "We expected it from Mark. He's always put himself in front of the team. He's a very selfish individual."[9] Gastineau got into a fight with backup center Guy Bingham when he drove into the Jets complex early in the strike. Gastineau wound up having the last laugh of a sort when teammates Marty Lyons and Joe Klecko joined him later that season in breaking the players' strike.


Gastineau met model and actress Brigitte Nielsen following the 1987 season, and soon began a highly-publicized romance.

Gastineau led the AFC in sacks seven weeks into the 1988 season.[citation needed] He then abruptly announced his retirement soon after Nielsen, to whom he had previously announced his engagement, claimed to be suffering from cancer of the uterus.[citation needed] At the time of his retirement, Gastineau was the NFL's all-time leader in sacks.

The announcement was followed by a surge of investigation by local New York papers of whether she was telling the truth, reflecting citywide mistrust of Gastineau.[10]

Gastineau tried a comeback, in the Canadian Football League in 1990. He signed a two-year contract with the BC Lions, but got injured and was released after only four games.[citation needed]

Career statistics

Year Team GP/GS Sacks Int FR TD
1979 New York Jets 16/1 2* 0 0 0
1980 New York Jets 16/16 11½* 0 1 0
1981 New York Jets 16/16 20* 0 2 0
1982 New York Jets 9/9 6 0 0 0
1983 New York Jets 16/16 19 0 2 1
1984 New York Jets 16/16 22 0 1 1
1985 New York Jets 16/12 13½ 0 3 0
1986 New York Jets 10/7 2 0 0 0
1987 New York Jets 15/7 0 0 0
1988 New York Jets 7/7 7 0 1 0
Career 137/108 107 ½ 0 10 2
  • Sacks were not an official stat until 1982
  • Postseason Stats: Played in seven postseason contests, with five starts, and had nine sacks including 4½ in 3 games during the 1982 postseason.


In 1991, Gastineau began a career in boxing, compiling a 15-2 record before retiring in 1996. His first fight against Derrick Dukes produced a first-round knockout. Dukes, a professional wrestler, later admitted he took a dive. TV newsmagazine show 60 Minutes interviewed several others that fought Gastineau and were told to take dives to make Gastineau look good. His career ended in 1996 when he lost to another former football player, Alonzo Highsmith. His record in boxing was fifteen wins, two losses, and one no-contest.[11]

Personal life

His ex-wife Lisa Gastineau and their daughter Brittny Gastineau (whom he has not seen in 17 years) were the stars of the E! reality television show, The Gastineau Girls. Gastineau has a son with actress Brigitte Nielsen, Killian Marcus (born on December 15, 1989 in Scottsdale, Arizona).[citation needed]

Gastineau made a small cameo appearance as a prisoner in a crowd during a prison football game in the 1989 film Lock Up starring Sylvester Stallone (to whom Nielsen was married prior to her relationship with Gastineau). Later he himself would spend time in prison, as he has had several run-ins with the law, including domestic violence and drug possession in 1993. In 2000, Gastineau spent eleven months behind bars in Rikers Island for parole violations.

Gastineau has said he has become a changed person and hopes to have put his turbulent past behind him. Shortly after his release from prison in 2001, he claimed to have a religious conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. Gastineau has appeared on programs such as The 700 Club to speak of his experience.[12]


  1. 1985 Topps Football Card, #337 Mark Gastineau
  2. "Mark Gastineau".
  3. Cimini, Rich (2008-09-06). "Jets defense looking to regain glory days of Sack Exchange". New York Daily News.
  4. "New York Jets 0 at Miami Dolphins 14". January 23, 1983.
  5. Zimmerman, Paul (September 3, 1984). "The Verdict Is In On Practice: Ken O'Brien and Mark Gastineau spent the week in court, not training camp, but still led the Jets to victory". Sports Illustrated.
  6. "New England Patriots 26 at New York Jets 14". December 28, 1985.
  7. "New York Jets 35, Kansas City Chiefs 15". December 28, 1986.
  8. "New York Jets 20 at Cleveland Browns 23". January 3, 1987.
  9. Anderson, Dave (1987-10-04). "It's Time for the Jets to Sack Mark Gastineau". New York Times.
  10. Eskenazi, Gerald (1998). Gang Green: An Irreverent Look Behind the Scenes at Thirty-Eight (Well, Thirty-Seven) Seasons of New York Jets Football Futility. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 243–244. ISBN 0-684-84115-0.
  11. "Mark Gastineau". BoxRec.
  12. Garber, Greg (2002-01-04). "Gastineau ready to put his (track) record behind him". Retrieved 2009-10-03.