Keidel: Jets' Joe Klecko Is The Gold Standard, Even Without The Gold Jacket


As the NFL celebrated a century, the league has conducted polls, concocted lists, and crafted high courts to rule on the ultimate greatness of pro football's neglected icons. 

You saw the intimate theater of Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson getting a visit from David Baker, head of the Hall of Fame, to inform the two former coaches that they were part of the "Centennial Class" - a special group of guys who were granted a gold jacket in honor of the NFL's 100th birthday. Their eyes bubbled with tears as the mountainous Baker welcomed them to Canton, Ohio.

New York Jets defensive tackle Joe Klecko (73) against the Miami Dolphins on Dec 15, 1979 at the Orange Bowl.Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

We also saw the sad side of elections, when former Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson tearfully scolded his TV while he was publicly snubbed. 

Locally, we should mourn the misguided groupthink that has kept Joe Klecko from the Hall of Fame. The former Jets defensive lineman didn't have his snub filmed, taped, or replayed before us, but that should not keep us from denouncing it. 

Klecko wasn't part of historic teams with cinematic names - such as Doomsday Defense, Steel Curtain, or Purple People Eaters. But Klecko was part of the New York Sack Exchange, where he and Mark Gastineau feasted on quarterbacks for the better part of the 1980s. And while Gastineau had the era-chic mullet and splashy sack dance, Klecko was sacking quarterbacks from a harder position and, unique Gastineau, he was an epic run-stopper. 

And when you hear about some of the fine players who entered this unique, Centennial Class - from Harold Carmichael to Donnie Shell - it's hard to pile all of them over Klecko. 

As a young Steelers fan I adored Donnie Shell, a former safety who played on the back end of those iconic Pittsburgh clubs from the '70s though largely toiled on the mediocre teams of the '80s. But as a native New Yorker who was forced to watch the Jets every Sunday - we had no satellite TV or NFL Ticket in 1983 - it was clear that Klecko impacted a football game exponentially more than Shell.

To frame Klecko's dominance, consider he had 20.5 sacks in his rookie year (1981) and was named Sports Illustrated's NFL Player of the Year. Sadly, sacks were not an official stat until 1982. Consider that Klecko is the only player to reach the Pro Bowl at three different positions. Then consider thaat Klecko is the only NFL player to be named an AP All-Pro at two different spots and is not enshrined in Canton. 

But with linemen we must gaze beyond stats, which aren't as sexy or revealing for the grunts who fight on the line of scrimmage every play. Just listen to the conga line of legends who praise Klecko and advocate his induction into the Hall of Fame. Howie Long, John Hannah, Dwight Stevenson, Anthony Munoz, and Joe DeLamielleure - all Hall of Famers - gush over  Klecko's strength, talent, and temerity. Stevenson said that Klecko was one of the two toughest linemen he's ever faced, while DeLamielleure compared Klecko to Joe Greene and Merlin Olsen. And Munoz mentioned Klecko with sack master and Hall of Famer Bruce Smith. Almost all of Klecko's peers marveled at his motor, which never took a play off. 

Whenever there's a sacred list or vote there's always a forgotten, forlorn star who didn't dance with every tackle, or engage in strobe-light self-promotion. Joe Klecko didn't tell us he's a Hall-of-Famer, he just proved it. Joe Klecko was the gold standard, even without the gold jacket.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.