Mark Gastineau, almost a quarter of a century after recording the last of his still-franchise-leading 107.5 sacks and retiring after a decade with the Jets, will be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor during halftime at Monday night's Jets-Texans game at MetLife Stadium.
“The honor, it’s incredible,” Gastineau said Friday afternoon on a conference call with Jets reporters. “I was taken aback by it and I just give the Lord all the glory because my life has changed. The Ring of Honor is just one of the changes that I just am so happy about and elated about.”
Gastineau was selected by the Jets out of East Central Oklahoma State in the second round of the 1979 draft. After starting only one game his rookie season, he established himself as a dominant force in his second season when he led the Jets with 11.5 sacks. The next year, in 1981, he finished with 20 sacks and would make his first of five straight Pro Bowls. Meanwhile, as a team the Jets made the playoffs, their first postseason berth since 1969.
“There’s no way in the world that I ever dreamed of playing in the NFL,” he said. “It was just a dream. And if it wasn’t for the talent that the Lord gave me, I would never have been able to make it. I was just in awe and I was in awe of being out there with players like Richard Todd, Joe Klecko and those players. They were the veterans and they led the rookies and the rookies just paid attention and did what they had to do to get by. Each day I was surprised that I made it to the next day.”
That was also the season "the New York Sack Exchange” began. The Sack Exchange was the name of the Jets’ defensive front of Gastineau, Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam. The quartet was practically unstoppable as they combined for 66 sacks in '81.
“The team that I was on, we had different threats,” Gastineau said. “We had the middle with Marty and Abdul and then the outside with Joe. So if it wasn’t me, it was Joe. And if it wasn’t Joe, it was me. That was a unique situation.”
The foursome still get together from time to time, particiefing in events such as autograph signings. He admits that at the signing appearances, fans will ask for pictures with him doing his popular sack dance.
“We’ve got an appearance coming up shortly, which is going to be on the 20th of this month,” he said. “We’ll be able to see each other.”
That Eighties Show
Gastineau's best season with the Green & White was 1984, his sixth in the league. That year, he recorded a league-record 22.0 sacks, was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, and was voted the MVP of the Pro Bowl, in which he had four sacks, a safety and seven tackles.
His single-season sack record stood for 17 years, before Michael Strahan of the Giants surpassed it at the end of the 2001 season.
“A record can be broken in the world in two seconds,” the former Jets great said, “and sometimes it’s just here today and gone tomorrow. It really, really is not that important to me. Michael Strahan, I’m happy he’s got the record. I went over and hugged him, and that was a genuine hug.”
A right thumb injury limited Gastineau during the early part of 1985, but he still was able to produce 13.5 sacks, which ranked second in the NFL that season. He played in only 10 games in '86 due to a groin/abdomen injury that ended his consecutive-games streak at 108, yet the Jets advanced to the AFC Divisional Round in the 1986 playoffs before falling to the Cleveland Browns in the second overtime.
Two years later, appearing back in full form, Gastineau was leading the AFC in sacks through the first seven weeks of the '88 season before surprisingly announcing his retirement.
He attempted a comeback to the sport in 1990 when he signed with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. But he suffered an injury early on and was released after just four games.
Making a Joyful Noise
“As far as players going down and getting injured, you really don’t have control over those things,” Gastineau said. “It’s just something that when you play in New York, it’s multiplied by 1,000 times, because they’re watched so much. I just pray that they’ll do good.
“When you’re playing in professional football, you’re going to give it all you’ve got. There’s not too many players out there on that field that didn’t get there by being dedicated and having pride in the team and themselves. So they’re not just going to loaf around. They’re not going to give up. This is when the going gets tough and the tough get going. So they’re going to be all right.”
Away from the field, Gastineau has had his share of problems, none larger than when he spent 11 months behind bars for parole violations in 2000. But the experience in prison transformed him. He lives happily in New Jersey today with his wife, JoAnn, and never shies away from the opportunity to inform others about the strong relationship he’s developed with Jesus Christ.
"We are just really content with our lives and we just worship the Lord," he said. "Now I’m in the choir at Times Square Church. And believe me, you know there’s a Lord if I’m in the choir because I don’t have that great of a voice, that’s for sure. My wife and I are both in the choir. As far as making joyful noise unto the Lord, that’s exactly what we feel and that’s what we do.”
The man who wore No. 99 with the Green & White said he anticipates he will be crying when he walks onto the field Monday night. The Ring of Honor ceremony certainly will be an emotional moment, and Gastineau's tears will come being filled with joy and praise.
“It’s a big honor,” he said, “and it’s an honor I just will cherish.”