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The New York Jets Top Players #7, 6 & 5

The best get better

New York Jets

We enter rarefied air with the #7, 6 & 5 players in Jets history. These men have had the greatest impact on the success of the Jets over the years. These are the men who shone brightest on the field of play.

#7

Joe Klecko DT/NT/DE 1977-1987

Joe Klecko was too small, too slow, with too short arms to play pro football. All he did was dominate the line of scrimmage like no man before him. To call him a blue collar type player is an honor to Joe Klecko. He was a man who acted like a roughneck, carrying his helmet like a lunch pail on his way to the oil rig.

Joe Klecko was born in Chester Pennsylvania, which is just outside Philadelphia, which of course is a blue collar town. The Joe Klecko story is unique; Joe had a career before he attended Temple University on his way to the Jets.

Growing up Joe Klecko liked sports but not organized sports. He preferred sandlot sports, playing on local baseball and softball teams. Joe made money by driving a truck so he felt he didn’t need college. He played football briefly at St. James high school, but he lacked determination and wasn’t even noticed by college scouts when he graduated in 1971. Klecko even tried boxing, working out at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia. He even sparred with the champ ‘Smokin Joe’ himself. That was an eye opening experience. As Klecko tells it “one of his punches that missed was enough to convince me not to become a professional boxer.” It was a wise decision.

Joe made extra money playing semi-pro football with a team called the Ashton Knights. Joe DiGregorio, the Temple University equipment manager, was the semi-pro football organizer. He registered Klecko as “Jim Jones” to protect his eligibility, even though Klecko wasn’t interested in playing college football. When DiGregorio saw the 19 year old destroying much larger players with amazing strength and speed he convinced the coaches at Temple University to offer him a scholarship. It took some cajoling from his parents and girlfriend, but Klecko finally agreed to play for the Temple Owls.

When he enrolled at Temple Klecko was inspired by their Hall Of Fame coach Wayne Hardin, who was once the head coach at the Naval Academy. Hardin developed two Heisman trophy winners in Joe Bellino (1960) and Roger Staubach (1963) at the Naval Academy. As a freshman in 1973 Klecko started sporadically until he had a 15 tackle, 5 sack game against the University of Delaware. Klecko played nose tackle with the Owls and he was also inspired to take up boxing again. During his time at Temple (1973-76) he won two NCAA boxing championships in the heavyweight division. He also led the Owls in tackles (as a nose tackle) his last three years on campus.

Klecko had a great football career at Temple but he wasn’t highly thought of by pro football scouts. Klecko was drafted by the New York Jets in the 6th round of the 1977 draft (#144 overall) to a team that was coming off a 3-11 season and whose head coach quit during the season.

The Jets had hired Walt Michaels (who was the LB coach of the Jets in Super Bowl III) to be the new head coach and to bring stability to the franchise. Michaels was a no nonsense coach with a proud Polish heritage just like Klecko, so the two shared a mutual respect and special bond that would last a lifetime. The two didn’t agree on everything, but they had a strong working relationship. Klecko recalled “Walt and I had some tense little conversations. We used to yell at each other behind closed doors, but he respected that and could handle it.”

As an undersized defensive tackle Klecko started only 6 games his rookie season but still led all rookies in the NFL with 8 sacks on the year. The Jets were rebuilding. They went 3-11 again that first year. In 1978 Klecko had another 8 sack year, and the Jets improved to 8-8. Klecko started every game except for one between 1978-1981, and the team gradually added talent. As a defensive end in 1981 Joe Klecko was part of the famous New York Sack Exchange and led the NFL with 20.5 sacks. Here as a defensive end, he disposed of the offensive tackle to make the sack on Phil Simms.

Klecko was an All-Pro in 1981, but a ruptured patella tendon cut his season short in 1982. Klecko played in only two games in 1982 but still had two sacks. Klecko worked hard in rehab and was able to come back and start every game the following 1983 season. The Jets moved Klecko to defensive tackle, fearing his quickness would be limited by the knee injury.

Klecko’s power and use of leverage allowed him to overcome much larger players in the trenches. Here is a sack of Raiders’ QB Kenny Stabler with the entire Sack Exchange in full view.

Joe’s down-to-earth personality made him popular with teammates and fans alike. Despite his growing celebrity, Klecko always stayed true to his working class roots. He was an everyman type of hero. Klecko was so popular that he was asked to follow Matt Snell’s lead and do some beer commercials. He was also in movies like Smokey and the Bandit with Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleason. Klecko is listed in the credits as playing a “Polish truck driver.” This didn’t change Klecko at all. He was still the same hard working straight shooter he always was.

Klecko was developing sort of a legendary status. His ability to overpower players at his weight of 265 lbs was very apparent. Center Blair Bush of the Seattle Seahawks coined a term for Klecko after facing him saying “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.” Here is Klecko doing just that to Blair Bush.

By 1985 the Jets had moved to a 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Bud Carson. This moved Klecko again, this time to the nose tackle position, one he was familiar with having played there in college. He again gained All-Pro Status as a nose tackle. Klecko became the first and still the only defensive lineman to be a Pro Bowl player at three different defensive line positions in NFL history.

The Jets started 1986 10-1, but a series of injuries (including Klecko who was having a great season) caused the Jets to lose their final 5 games and finish 10-6. They managed to make the playoffs as a wild card team. Klecko worked back from arthroscopic surgery only to injure his knee again, and he watched as the Jets lost a heartbreaking double overtime game to the Cleveland Browns. Klecko returned in 1987 following major reconstructive knee surgery, but both he and the Jets struggled mightily. Joe played only 7 games and he was released after the season.

Joe Klecko was a meat and potatoes, quiet, stoic leader of the Jets defense for 11 seasons. His 78 career sacks from mostly interior defensive positions were simply amazing. The fact that he was a 2 time All-Pro and a 4 time Pro Bowl player is amazing, since the Jets had winning records in only 4 of his 11 years. When he played he was a dominating force. He should have a bust in Canton, Ohio, but that omission is another part of the Jets curse. The most vocal advocates for Klecko to the Hall of Fame are the players he played against. Many thought he was by far the most difficult player they had to block and believe his career is being sadly overlooked.

On a personal note, as a Jets fan for over 5 decades Joe Klecko is my favorite Jet, though I loved Curtis Martin as well. Klecko was an unassuming, hard working player who let his play do the talking. It is easy to see why he was such a fan favorite.

#6

Kevin Mawae C 1998-2005

Kevin Mawae was born to a military family in Savannah, Georgia. Like most military brats Mawae moved frequently depending on where his father was stationed. The family moved to Kansas, then Germany when Kevin was 8 years old. This is when he started playing football on a military base in Hanau, West Germany. When Mawae was 13 his father was moved to Fort Polk near Leesville, Louisiana. Kevin earned All-Academic honors there as well as All-State accolades in football.

Mawae’s love of football was profound. As he tells it, it’s the only thing he wanted to do. “I just loved playing football. I started playing when I was 8 years old and my goal was to be an NFL Player. There was no plan B for me and not because I didn’t have a plan or other options. I just didn’t want to do anything else.”

Mawae earned a scholarship to LSU. After sitting out a redshirt season he started 7 games at left tackle and was an ALL- SEC freshman selection. Mawae played all three offensive line positions as a sophomore, earning 1st team All-SEC honors. As a junior he was a third team All-American at left tackle. He moved to center as a senior for all 11 games.

Kevin Mawae was a 2nd round pick by the Seattle Seahawks (#36 overall) in the 1994 NFL draft. He played his first two years mainly as a right guard, which helped running back Chris Warren have back to back Pro-Bowl seasons with over 1,300 yards each year. He moved to the center position at the start of the 1996 season and stayed there for the duration of his career.

Mawae came to the Jets as a free agent from the Seattle Seahawks following the 1997 season. The Jets’ offense averaged 357.2 yards per game (second best in the AFC and fourth best in NFL) after averaging only 295.4 yards a game the year before. The Jets made it to the AFC Championship game in 1998 and led 10-0 at halftime, but lost to the Denver Broncos, the eventual Super Bowl champions.

Mawae was powerful enough to move defenders from the hole, but he also had elite athleticism to make plays on the move. Here he gets out ahead of Curtis Martin, clearing the linebacker out of the way for a first down. Mawae is #68.

On this next play Mawae is able to pull out to make a touchdown paving block on a defender in the hole. Quickness, agility, speed and power were Kevin Mawae’s calling cards.

In 1999 the Jets went 8-8 after losing starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde to a torn Achilles tendon in the opening game of the year. The Jets were ravaged by injuries that year when they were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders. Running back Leon Johnson tore ligaments in his knee and was out for the season. Wide receiver Wayne Chrebet broke his foot during the exhibition season and missed six weeks, and cornerback Otis Smith was lost for a month with a broken collarbone.

Although the Jets season was ruined in 1999, it started a run of 6 consecutive Pro-Bowl seasons for Kevin Mawae. Two of those years he was also honored as a first team All-Pro while playing every snap in 1998 and 1999. Through this time Mawae continued to develop as a player. He had a varied skill set that few at his position could match. He was powerful enough at the point of attack to drive players off the line. Or he could use his skills to control a defender, wrenching him, then turning him out of the play, creating gaping holes like here.

There was a reason that no matter where Mawae played he had 1,000 yard rushers with a variety of skill sets. In 13 of his 16 pro seasons in the NFL Mawae paved the way for at least one 1,000 yard running back. The list of 1,000-yard ground gainers included Chris Warren (twice) Seattle; Curtis Martin (seven times) for the Jets; Travis Henry (once), LenDale White (once) and Chris Johnson (twice) Titans. In Mawae’s final season in the NFL he paved the way for Johnson’s 2,000-yard season, which was a fitting cherry atop Mawae’s career.

The key to Mawae’s success was his versatility in being able to not only work in any offensive scheme, but to excel in those schemes. His skill set included quickness to get on a player immediately after the snap. He also had speed to get outside or downfield to make a block. Here he ventures far downfield, and even though he doesn’t make a crushing block, the Jets score a long TD on a screen pass.

On this play Mawae looks like he actually is faster than the receiver, fullback Richie Anderson, as he leads his man down the field. This is extraordinary speed for a player who weighs nearly 300 lbs.

Mawae started 118 straight games for the Jets (177 in his career) when in 2005 he tore the triceps muscle in his left arm and missed the rest of the season. With his future uncertain at 34 years old the Jets moved on from Kevin Mawae. They drafted his replacement in the 1st round of the 2006 NFL draft, a player by the name of Nick Mangold.

With the Jets Kevin Mawae was a 6 time Pro Bowl player from 1999-2005, a second team All-Pro in 1998 and a 5 time first team All-Pro in 1999-2002 and 2004. Mawae was inducted into the New York Jets Ring of Honor in 2017 and inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2020.

#5

Nick Mangold C 2006-2016

Nick Mangold was a natural athlete who was born in Centerville Ohio. He attended Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, where he excelled in track and field, wrestling and football. He was not highly recruited but somehow made it to Ohio State, where Mangold surprised coaches with his abilities as a freshman. His offensive line coach Jim Bollman stated ”Most guys you get out of high school have to be taught to play center. He already knew the mechanics of the position. That was a big, big advantage.” Mangold played in 8 games as a true freshman. He took over the center position in the 2nd week of his sophomore season when the starter went down with a knee injury. By the time the starter returned Mangold had cemented his position as the starter and the former center was moved to guard.

Mangold ended his Buckeye career with 33 starts in 45 games and was a star at the Senior Bowl that year. The Jets needed a center since they released Kevin Mawae, a player who had a historic career with the Jets, after the 2005 season. The Jets selected Nick Mangold with the 29th pick in the 1st round of the 2006 NFL draft.

To his credit Mangold stepped right in and took over with the offense not missing a beat. Mangold didn’t miss a game his first 5 seasons. In his first 10 seasons he started a total of 156 of a possible 160 games, nearly matching his 1st round draft companion D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who started all 160 games.

Nick Mangold had some epic battles with many players over the years but his trench wars with Vince Wilfork of the New England Patriots were worth the price of admission. Wilfork was a powerful nose tackle who used his 325 lbs of force with skill. He was an All-Pro and 5 time Pro Bowl player who would wage war with Mangold twice a year for many seasons. Mangold got the best of Wilfork most of the time but there was a price to be paid. Those meetings would take a lot out of both players the following week.

Nick Mangold was about 20 lbs heavier than Kevin Mawae and he wasn’t as quick or as fast as his predecessor. However, Mangold was a little more powerful and also had the ability to stone defenders in the hole, then remove them from the play. Here Mangold uses his feet along with his power to move a defender from the point of the running play.

Both lines are slanting to the right of the offense so Mangold continues the momentum in that direction without letting his man free from his grasp.

Mangold never was given the credit he deserved for being a smart player. He came in as a rookie, made all the line calls and gave up only one half sack on the year. He was so impressive as a first year player that many thought he deserved rookie of the year honors.

During Mangold’s time in New York he had to snap to 13 different QBs, with many of them having little experience. Mangold had to take on a role of mentor to help QBs with protection changes as he saw what the defense was trying to do against his inexperienced quarterbacks. His knowledge and his position as leader of the offensive line during those times were invaluable to the team.

Mangold was not without some excellent movement skills. He just wasn’t a dancing bear like some before him. He was more than capable of working to the second level or in combo blocks to open holes in the run game.

Mangold was a humble player who always projected the image of a loveable oaf, but he was really a very cerebral center. He would scope out the defense to devise the best blocking strategy based on the angles needed. In this way he used positioning rather than power to devise a plan of attack. This was done with a quick glance at the defense and reading how they were moving to decipher their real intent.

Sometimes it just takes power to get the job done. Here in a pivotal playoff game, with time running down, Mangold makes the key block which springs Shonn Greene for the TD that puts the game out of reach.

As an offensive lineman there are so many traits you need to succeed. Mangold had the power, the brains, the determination, the toughness and the snap to step quickness, but he lacked true speed and on the move agility. He struggled to make blocks in open spaces.

Two more things Mangold had are grip strength and powerful hips. Hips are extremely important in football. With interior linemen their hips need to be powerful, able to drive forward but also torque a player from a hole when needed. An offensive lineman wants to gain leverage by starting low, then coming up to the defender powerfully, which will lift him slightly and take away his leverage. You can then use your grip strength to grab hold of the defensive player which controls him. You then step with your right or left foot to the side (powerfully) which moves the defender out of the hole you want a RB to run through. Here is an example of that technique in action.

This is a subtle move. If you watch closely you will see Mangold come from low to high on the block. This takes away any leverage that the defender might have. He does this at the same time he latches on with vise grip power to the defenders jersey just inside the outside layer of the shoulder pads. He does so as officials will allow holding the jersey inside by the chest plate but not outside by the shoulder pads. Mangold then uses some upper body power along with his hips as he twists the player out of the hole and to the side. The running back then runs through the hole off the backside of Mangold into the end zone.

Mangold is in my opinion a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. He was a 7 time Pro Bowl player and a two time All-Pro. His lack of playoff/Super Bowl wins are his biggest detriment. I think it is absurd to hold the lack of success of a team against a great player. If Mangold had played for New England he would have had numerous Super Bowls wins.

Nick Mangold will be inducted into the Ring of Honor sometime in the future along with his draft mate D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

Next up: #4, 3 and 2