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Hall of Fame Joe Klecko: Recalling the tale of his greatness

USA TODAY Sports-Historical Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday night, the NFL’s 2023 Hall of Fame class was announced. For New York Jets fans, this announcement was met with excitement as it named not one, but two iconic Jets as inductees: cornerback Darrelle Revis and defensive lineman Joe Klecko.

Something about fandom that has always interested me is how ‘lore’ gets built within a franchise. In my favorite example for the Jets, many of us were born well after Joe Namath’s time but many of us still know of his exploits, his successes, and his failures better than we know the story of players we actually watched and got to cheer for.

With this in mind, I thought it would be cool to take a quick walk down memory lane and lay out why these two players are so revered for those who may have been born to late to witness it first-hand. This will be a two-part piece with the first part covering Darrelle Revis and the second part covering Joe Klecko.

Joe Klecko’s objective career

The New York Jets selected Joe Klecko out of Temple University (go Owls) with the 144th pick (6th round) in the 1977 NFL draft. He went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL, 11 of which were with the New York Jets.

From an individual accolades perspective, Klecko is quite decorated:

  • 4x Pro Bowl
  • 2x All Pro
  • 1x NFL Defensive Player of the Year (as voted by the Pro Football Writers)

Joe Klecko’s lore

While Klecko’s accolades are impressive, the legend of Klecko among Jets’ fans looms considerably larger than the typical player who makes a few pro bowls. In trying to write this piece, this is something that I had to dig into in order to fully understand because I wasn’t born until several years after Klecko’s career.

First, Klecko made the Pro Bowl 4 times... but he did it at three different positions on the defensive line: right end, left defensive tackle, and nose tackle. Notably, he was the first defensive player in NFL history to accomplish this feat.

Second, while Klecko’s sack total is “officially” 24, it is actually 78. This is because Klecko’s career was already several years in by the time the NFL began officially counting “sacks” as a statistical category in 1982.

Third, Klecko’s “peak” was as high from an ability to sack the QB perspective as anyone in history. In 1981, he recorded 20.5 sacks, which would be tied for the 8th highest official (and 13th highest unofficial) single-season sack total in NFL history.

Fourth, he was a member of the famed “New York Jets Sack Exchange.” This was the nickname used to refer to the Jets’ dominant defensive line from the 1980s, which consisted of Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons, and Abdul Salaam and is considered one of (if not the) best individual position unit in Jets’ history. In what cemented the nickname, the group was even selected to ring in the opening Stock Exchange Bell in New York City in 1981.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Jets Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Fifth, the man is revered by other Hall of Famers.

Hall of Fame Tackle Anthony Munoz ranks him among the toughest players he had to block.

Similarly, Hall of Fame Quarterback Terry Bradshaw identifies him as a player that they schemed around.

“I love Joe Klecko,” Bradshaw said along the Super Bowl’s Radio Row this week. “He was tough. You had to always build your offense around him. First you had to protect yourself against him. Then you had to trap him, you had to try to neutralize him. If you didn’t, he was so disruptive.” - Quotes taken from

Congratulations, Joe Klecko. We were lucky to have you then and the Hall of Fame is lucky to have you now.