Coffee ‘n’ Jets: Jets Fan Favourite On the Homestretch to Canton

September 10, 2022

Former member of the Jets New York Sack Exchange, Joe Klecko deserves to make his way to Canton in 2023. The Jets don’t often retire a jersey and Klecko’s was the 3rd the Jets ever retired, so why don’t we talk about Joe Klecko more often in the way that we talk about Mark Gastineau and John Abraham? We’ll dive into some background and information on this versatile defensive lineman who dominated not one, but three positions during his career with the Jets.

I never saw Joe Klecko play a single snap. He’s from an era of New York Jets football that is history to me, like it is to a lot of fans. Klecko was the 3rd Jets former player to have his jersey, 73, retired in December of 2004. The only players before him were Joe Namath and Don Maynard, both member of the Hall of Fame.

So it stands to reason we should all know who Joe Klecko was to the team and the impact he had. Larger than life characters like Joe Namath and Mark Gastineau make their own way into the limelight, but some players quietly dominate their position and have a lasting impact, and Joe Klecko certainly fits that description.

Joe Klecko, a member of the famed ‘New York Sack Exchange’ – Image courtesy of USA Today

Who Is Joe Klecko?

A few quick Klecko-facts:

  • 11 year career played in New York 1977-1987
  • Totalled 78 sacks over 155 career games
  • Played 1 final year with Indianapolis before retiring after 1988 season
  • 4 time Pro-Bowler – selected at 3 different positions
  • 2 time first team All-Pro selection
  • 1981 Defensive Player of the Year when he led the league in sacks
  • Had several small roles in Burt Reynolds movies after his football career

Prior to his college career at Temple, Joe drove trucks in his hometown of Chester, a working class suburb of Pennsylvania. He played semi-pro football for the Ashton Knight under the pseudonym ‘Jim Jones’ (he was registered by the equipment manager of the Temple college team who registered him this way to protect his eligibility for college football) before being offered a scholarship to play at Temple. As well as football Joe boxed at college and won the NCAA Heavyweight Division title twice.

The NewYork Jets officially retired jersey number 73 in 2004 – Image courtesy of USA Today

Despite putting up some good numbers at the college level, Klecko was selected in the 6th round (144th overall) of the 1977 NFL Draft by the Jets. He was initially drafted to play defensive tackle but was moved to defensive end for his rookie year where he led all rookies with six sacks.

Domination Along The Line

A member of the defensive line that earned the moniker ‘New York Sack Exchange’ alongside Abdul Salaam, Mark Gastineau and Marty Lyons, Klecko himself led the NFL in sacks on two separate occasions. This is something the Jets and their fans want so desperately it’s be a constant area of discussion over the last 10 years. Klecko played all over the line; listed as defensive end, defensive tackle, and nose tackle; exactly the kind of versatile player Robert Saleh would love to have on his line today.

Former Seattle Seahawk Centre Blair Bush put Klecko’s impact another way: “Some people call it the bull rush, we call it ‘The Klecko Skate’ because when he hits you, it looks like you’re rolling backwards on skates.”

Klecko’s own philosophy on the game though should tell you everything you need to know about him: If you’re not mad at yourself if you lose one battle, you don’t belong out there, and if you do lose one battle, how could I never lose that battle again? That’s how you have to play the game.” That’s the kind of attitude fans love to hear and is something that has started becoming more common on the podium since Robert Saleh took over in 2021.

If you need to get pumped up before a game, watch some highlights of Joe Klecko and watch sack after sack from a man who dominated on the defensive line.

The next step for Joe will come in January when the committee will vote on the nominees. If Klecko gets the required 80% vote he’ll be inducted in August 2023. Watching his press conference the day the announcement that he’d made it to this stage tells you what it would mean to Joe and his family for this to happen. When asked about the disappointments in the past when he’s been close to the Hall Of Fame Klecko was sanguine “I’ve learned not to get excited about anything until, as they say, the cheque’s in the bank”.