Former New York Jets’ great Joe Klecko is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that has a lot of people A) puzzled, B) frazzled and C) downright angry. But Joe Klecko isn’t one of them.
“The honest truth?” the former defensive lineman said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “It’s not frustrating at all for me. It’s not frustrating one bit. Reason being: It’s in God’s hands.”
Well, yeah. But it’s also in the hands of 48 selectors who haven’t made Klecko a finalist or semifinalist since his retirement following the 1988 season. Now, of course, he’s a senior candidate, and it’s not just the deep pool of qualified candidates that’s a potential problem for Klecko; it’s that the Jets are one of only four teams that haven’t had a senior nominee.
But Klecko is more than qualified. He was a Pro Bowler at three different defensive positions (nose tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end) and, as AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1981, he produced a league-best 20-1/2 sacks. Of course, that was one year before sacks were recognized as an official statistic.
That doesn’t help Klecko’s cause, and, frankly, neither does his versatility. While it was a plus when he played, it could hurt his Hall-of-Fame candidacy. Reason: Voters aren’t sure what to consider him – a defensive end, a defensive tackle or a nose tackle. Preposterous? Nope. Actually, Klecko believes it contributes to his exclusion from Canton.
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “(Hall-of-Famer) Joe Delamielleure brought to my attention when one of the voters asked him that. And (the voter) said, ‘Well, we don’t know what he is.’ And Joe, who is a passionate guy at everything, had an absolute hernia over it. As he explained, ‘How could you dominate at three different positions and not understand it?’
“The guys that I played against are the voices that aren’t heard as much. Because, I guess, as a reporter or as an analyst or as a person that watches the game … they couldn’t possibly understand what I would be. When Joe says, ‘It’s not that he played the three different positions; it’s that he dominated it.’ You know? And I think that was a big statement by Joe to bring it out of the woodwork because a lot of guys were hung up on that.”
But while Jets’ fans are hung up on Klecko’s failure to make it to Canton, he swears he isn’t. Yes, he admitted, his chances would’ve been enhanced had the Jets won a Super Bowl, but they didn’t … and so he remains on the outside looking in, hopeful that the senior committee one day will push him as a candidate.
But he’s not alone. We’ve had DeLamielluere, Howie Long and John Hannah — all Hall of Famers — on the Talk of Fame Network, pushing Klecko for induction. What’s more, Hannah called Klecko and Long the best all-around defensive linemen he played against.
“I love all the guys that are in there,” Klecko said of the Hall. “They’re all friends of mine, and they all tout me and tell me I should be in there. But the thing about is, for me … really … I enjoyed the game. I am a student of the game, and I love the game.
“To be in the Hall of Fame would be, of course, the piece de resistance. You have Red Grange, Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik, who I, of course, idolized. I was from Philadelphia, and I always wanted to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. (But ) to be in the Football Hall of Fame would just be tremendous. That’s why I keep the memory of the whole thing ad that I could possibly be there some day.
“I don’t maybe promote it. I don’t do that because it’s not right for me to say anything about it. It’s only right for other people to talk about it. I could never say what Anthony Munoz says about me (he called Klecko one of the top defensive ends he had to block). I could never do that.
“(So) it’s not frustrating. If it’s supposed to happen I believe it will happen. And if it’s not supposed to happen, you know what? I take my blows as they come, and I walk through life with it. That’s the way it is.”