State Your Case: Joe Klecko

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

Joe Klecko wasn’t outstanding at one position. He was outstanding at three. And while that made him invaluable to the New York Jets it’s made him invisible to the Hall of Fame’s board of selectors.

A member of the Jets’ famed Sack Exchange, Klecko is the only defensive player in NFL history to be voted to the Pro Bowl at three different positions — defensive end, defensive tackle and nose tackle — which should put him on the Hall-of-Fame radar. Yet the guy’s never been discussed, and that’s not the bad news.

This is: There will be only one senior nominee in 2015, 2017 and 2019, which reduces Klecko’s chances significantly and backs up a line that already is too long.

Klecko deserves better. The league’s 1981 Defensive Player of the Year and member of the Jets’ Ring of Honor, he seems to be penalized by being accomplished at a variety of positions — not just one. I’m serious. When the Hall considers candidates, it measures them against the competition at their positions — with those at or near the top considered the most eligible.

But Klecko didn’t play one position. He played three, and he was so good that Hall-of-Fame tackle Anthony Munoz has said that Klecko not only was the strongest opponent he ever faced but put him in the company of pass rushers Fred Dean, Lee Roy Selmon and Bruce Smith.

All but Klecko are in the Hall of Fame.

Of course, not going to a Super Bowl or winning a league championship hurts Klecko, but tell me how many titles Selmon won. The truth is that Klecko is not only compromised by his versatility, but by playing on a defensive line that included the flamboyant Mark Gastineau. He held the league’s single-season sack for 16 years and gained more attention than Klecko, partly for his dance after sacking a quarterback and partly because people love pass rushers who collapse the pocket.

But Gastineau wasn’t considered a complete player; Klecko was, and don’t take it from me. Listen to Hall-of-Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure, who called Klecko the “equal” of Joe Greeen and Merlin Olsen — two more guys in the Hall of Fame.

Or take it from Hall-of-Fame center Dwight Stephenson. He said Klecko was one of the two best interior linemen he ever faced and used the adjective “great” when describing him. There there’s former teammate Marty Lyons, a defensive tackle who played alongside Klecko. He labeled him one of the game’s best, strongest and most prepared players.

I think you get the idea. Klecko was no ordinary Joe. He was an extraordinarily gifted defensive lineman who could occupy centers, take on blockers and bull-rush tackles. In 1981 he led the league with 20.5 sacks — but try selling that to the board of selectors. Sacks weren’t recognized as an official statistic until the following season.

“I will write a letter to say Joe Klecko belongs in the Hall of Fame,” Munoz told WFAN radio.

Get in line, Anthony. There are plenty of former players, coaches and teammates out there who will stand up for Klecko, but Klecko’s future isn’t in their hands. It’s in the hands of the Hall’s nine-member seniors committee, and this just in: Its pool of candidates was just cut in half for 2015, with the Hall allowing two contributors next year instead — a practice it will adopt every other year through 2019.

In the meantime, Klecko sits and wonders when … no, if … his time will come, and what might have happened if he excelled at just one position instead of three.

“There’s not another player who went to the Pro Bowl at three different positions,” said DeLamielleure. “You take a defensive end and put him at nose tackle, and he’s just as good there? That’s a great player. We need to get Joe Klecko in the Hall of Fame.”

 

Joe Klecko, defensive tackle, 1977-1987KleckoJActionIV

 

Courtesy of the New York Jets

 

4 Comments

  1. Rich Quodomine says:

    Think Klecko was great – saw him play many times in Jets / Bills games. Which of course, leads to the next point: When they do the reconcilation of DTs into the Hall, do you have a Klecko, Smerlas, LC Greenwood succession? Stats are no friends of these great players.

  2. Rich Quodomine says:

    Made an error on last comment: Greenwood was a DE. My error.

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