Let’s just say I am not being picky on this one. There are several fascinating records involving interceptions, making it too hard to only “pick “one. So here is a list:
Most Interceptions, Season: Night Train Lane, 14, 1952 (also most by a rookie)
Most Interceptions, Career: Paul Krause (1964-79), 81
Most Interceptions Thrown, Game: Jim Hardy, 8, 9/24/1950 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Most Interceptions Thrown, Season: George Blanda, 42, 1962
Most Interceptions Thrown, Career: Brett Favre (1991-2010), 336
The “Unbreakable” Factors
For each of these records, the same theme persists. Interceptions are less frequent in today’s game. That makes it harder for quarterbacks to throw a lot of them, and it is harder for defenders to come up with a lot of them.
The data in the picture is based on statistics from the NFL only (no AFL).
Interceptions were more than twice as common on a pass play during Night Train Lane’s career. Still, his record of 14, done as a rookie in 12 games, is one of the all-time great records in NFL history.
The more dubious records of interceptions thrown by quarterbacks are still gaudy in their own “make you want to puke” kind of way. Any quarterback would likely get tossed from the game before tossing eight interceptions like Jim Hardy did that day.
It’s the same way with Blanda and the statistical marvel that is his 1962 season for the Houston Oilers. Blanda threw 42 interceptions in 14 games, the Oilers had 57 turnovers as a team yet they still finished 11-3. It does help to have a defense that had 52 takeaways and allowed the second fewest points in the league.
The Oilers won an absurd six games with at least five turnovers (four in a row at one point). Those are “records” as well. They almost won the AFL Championship game with Blanda throwing five interceptions.
Only four teams in NFL history have thrown at least 40 interceptions in a season. Three of them played in the AFL (1962 Oilers, 1961-62 Broncos).
Needless to say, the early days of the AFL were unique. That’s just another reason why we’ll never see 42 interceptions again in a season.
We also won’t see another “gunslinger” like Brett Favre. He had six seasons with at least 21 interceptions.
Night Train’s mark should be here to stay, as no player since Lester Hayes in 1980 has had 13 interceptions in a season. Ever since moving to a 16-game schedule in 1978, no player has had at least 11 interceptions since Everson Walls in 1981. While some recent players like Champ Bailey, Asante Samuel and Antonio Cromartie have had a season with 10 interceptions, they are still four behind the legendary Lane.
Likewise, Paul Krause’s 81 interceptions appear safe. Emlen Tunnell is second with 79, but he retired before Krause even debuted. The great Rod Woodson finished with 71, and he managed to play 238 games but still finished 10 short (Krause played 226 games). Darren Sharper recently finished with 63.
Ed Reed is the active leader at 57, but he has talked about retirement and would need at least three great seasons to catch Krause. Reed had three interceptions while playing in all 16 games in 2011.
Charles Woodson has 54 interceptions, but he will be 36 years old this season. After that, you would have to look at Asante Samuel (45 interceptions at age 31), but his new role is unclear in Atlanta.
When it comes to Hardy’s eight interceptions in a game, Ty Detmer was the last to throw seven in a 2001 game against the Browns. Even Peyton Manning and Brett Favre have thrown six in a game in the last decade. But I’ll bet anything no one ever throws nine in one game to break Hardy’s record.
Blanda’s 42 interceptions are seven more than runner-up Vinny Testaverde (35 with the 1988 Buccaneers in 15 games). That was the last time anyone exceeded 30 interceptions. Any quarterback would be benched in today’s game before throwing 42 interceptions. No team had more turnovers in 2011 than Tampa Bay, and they had 40. That is for the entire team; not just the quarterback. Blanda is safe.
At retirement, Blanda held the record with 277 career interceptions, but Favre was able to extend that to 336. Favre has also thrown more passes than any player in NFL history (10,169), so it’s not as though he was terrible in the interception department. He just threw more than his fair share.
As quarterbacks continue to throw more short passes, the gunslingers are a dying breed. There may never be another Favre: a quarterback who was as durable as they come and played with reckless abandon.
Peyton Manning is now the active leader with 198 interceptions, but even if his tenure in Denver is long and disastrous, he will not sniff the 138 interceptions required to match Favre. That would be nearly 28 per season if Manning played five more years.
Drew Brees is actually next in line with 146 interceptions. Only 190 away from Favre.
As you can see, the interception records speak to an older era of just letting it rip. There’s not much room in today’s efficient game for that sort of “fun.”