The Under-Appreciated Wrecking Machine: Joe Klecko

With all of the great nicknames afforded to NFL players and their positions, the 1981 New York Jets Defensive Line fit the moniker the «New York Sack Exchange» perfectly. The four men of mayhem who combined for 66 total sacks in a single season were Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons, Mark Gastineau and Abdul Salaam. Klecko claimed 20.5 of those sacks alone, making him a fiercely imposing figure opposite any team’s offense.

Joseph Edward Klecko was born in the blue collar town of Chester, Pennsylvania, where his Polish roots were reflected with grandeur from neighboring families. He attended St. James Catholic High School for Boys where he played football for the duration of his schooling.

Before moving on to attend Temple University in Philadelphia, Joe played in the Seaboard Football League for the Ashton, Pennsylvania Knights. To maintain his amateur status for college, he played without pay and under the pseudonym «Jim Jones». He claimed his education status as a graduate from «Poland University».

As a Temple Owl, Joe Klecko was named Rookie of the Week as a freshman in 1973 after recording 15 tackles and five sacks in one game. He led the team in tackles in his last three years on the squad, and was a force to be reckoned with upon sight, let alone snap. He was named to Temple University’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987, just over a decade after his departure.

In 1977, it was finally time to make his love for the game count professionally. Joe Klecko was drafted by the New York Jets in the sixth round, with the 144 overall pick. After several years of working his defensive value to the bone, he was finally teamed up with his wrecking crew to amass the league high sack count of 20.5 in 1981 — although the stat wasn’t kept on record until the following year. The start of the stat was developed, it is popularly believed, as a result of the Sack Exchange’s popularity, combined with the debut of Lawrence Taylor’s incredible defensive prowess around the same time. Klecko played only one game in 1982, thanks to a ruptured patella tendon in his right knee. The New York Jets made the playoffs that year, losing to the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship game.

Five years after his debut in the NFL, Klecko was moved to Defensive Tackle, from the Defensive End position, where he thrived incredibly. He was a Pro Bowl attendee at DT his first two years at the position, 1983 and 1984. One year later, the defensive scheme was reworked, and with the new 3-4 approach, he was forced once again to switch positions. This time he was being moved to Nose Tackle where he capitalized on his versatility as a football player recording 96 tackles, five forced fumbles, 7.5 sacks, and a second All-Pro selection. In 1985 that third position change, and his incredible ability to adapt to any defensive approach, landed him in spectacular company in the record books. Joe Klecko became only the second man, after the legendary Frank Gifford, to be selected to the esteemed Pro Bowl Game at three different positions. That standing record is a remarkable feat for any NFL player, let alone one who used to play for free, using fake credentials solely for the love of the game.

Joe Klecko was released from the New York Jets in 1987, after a disappointing 6-9 season. He played one more year with the Indianapolis Colts before hanging up his cleats for good, divulging his knee problems as the culprit for his professional football demise. Since his retirement he has been nominated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with no success in entry to date. His famed #73 jersey, however, was retired by the New York Jets in 2004 making him only the third player in Jets’ history to receive the honor. The other two, who any NFL player would be happy to hang their number aside, are Quarterback Joe Namath and Wide Receiver Don Maynard — both Hall of Famers. With any luck from the football Gods, and memories of the time before statistics ran and ruled the league, Joe Klecko just might get that honorable enshrinement. Ask any Jets fan of his era, and we’re sure that they’ll say he deserves it.

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