Chapter 1: Has History Forgotten Joe Klecko?

Almost three decades removed from his final National Football League game, Joe Klecko resides in Colts Neck, NJ. While that is his primary residence, many people believe Klecko should also find a permanent home in Canton, OH. Who was Joe Klecko? What kind of impact did he have on the game? And finally, why is he worthy of strong consideration from the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Senior Committee? *Over the course of the next five days, we will take a deep dive into what makes Klecko uniquely qualified for the honor of football immortality.

*It is ironic that Joe Klecko continues to face a blockade that he hasn’t been able to penetrate. For a large portion of Klecko’s 12-year run in the National Football League, he was unblockable. The Jets’ defensive line dynamo excelled at multiple positions and is one of three players in league history to have gone to the Pro Bowl at three positions.

“He was one of the most unique performers in NFL history,” said MMQB’s Peter King, who is a member of the Board of Selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

While both Dan Hampton (DE, DT and NT) and Frank Gifford (DB, HB and Flanker) are in the Hall, Klecko has not yet gained an invite to join the immortals. After first becoming a modern-day candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994, the former Jets stalwart will be considered as a senior candidate for a fourth consecutive summer.

“I think it’s time for Joe Klecko to get that nod. I really believe that,” said Hall of Famer Howie Long, a former Raiders defensive lineman who went to eight Pro Bowls. “This is not something I’ve been saying over the last four or five years. It’s something I said in the year 2000 when I was inducted. I am a big believer in his impact on the game, and that he was dominant, and that he did it at three different positions is pretty remarkable.”

Myth Begins with Jim JonesIn the trenches, Klecko owned superhero-like strength. But his rise to NFL elite began with an initial block. He was turned away when he tried out for the Saint James HS football team in Chester, PA.

“I had gone out when I was a freshman in high school and I had lined up against one of the big guys. They had a plank drill to see who was the toughest and who would knock who off the board,” he said. “I lined up and one of the coaches told me to get out of there before I got hurt. I was so shy. I got embarrassed and I left.”

The son of a truck driver, Klecko turned away from football. He got his 1955 Chevy ready for drag races and put in long hours at his uncle’s service station in the summer.  Klecko eventually decided to play his senior year after growing three inches and adding 60 pounds. He flourished at defensive end and became an all-state performer.

Success was fleeting as there were no scholarship offers.  Klecko went to work driving trucks and later joined the Aston Knights, a semi-pro team in the Seaboard Football League.

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“I would get on the bus for a road trip and I was wet beyond the ears like nobody’s business,” Klecko said. “I’m 18 years old and they’re getting cases of beer and bottles of liquor for the ride home. I’m like this is new to me; it’s crazy. It was the guys who were the real nuts and bolts of football back then.”

The Knights knew they had a promising talent in Klecko and they wanted to protect his long-term college prospects. To ensure Klecko maintained amateur status, they made up a fictitious name for the tough kid of Polish origin.

“They said you’re going to be Jim Jones from Poland University,” Klecko said. “They pulled the name out of a hat and it would be fine enough to keep me under the radar.”

But it’s difficult to keep overpowering defensive ends under the radar. Aston equipment manager John DiGregorio took the same job with Temple, and he alerted Owls head coach Wayne Hardin of “Jim Jones.” Klecko would gain eligibility and suit up for Temple between 1973 and 1976, twice making the All-East team and receiving All-American mention his junior and senior campaigns. After sitting one game, Klecko never came off the field.

“The football field is where I made my name. I remember my first game, we played Boston College and I didn’t play until the end of the game,” he said. “Hardin came up to me at the end of the game and said, ‘Hey, Joe. What do you think of that, huh?’ I turned and said, ‘That sucked.’”

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