It always was about being a tag team, if not an entire team, for the Jets during their glorious New York Sack Exchange era. On the right side of the defensive front, it was Joe Klecko and Marty Lyons, on the left Mark Gastineau and Abdul Salaam. But when a shoe company wanted to sign up Klecko and Lyons for an endorsement deal, Joe said no go.
"If you want the Sack Exchange," Lyons recalled Klecko saying, "it's all four of us."
That hinted at the loyalty and excellence that Klecko inspired. To that end, a good portion of Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium was turned into a Sack Exchange reunion as Joe's team and teammates and family all traveled to Canton, OH for his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this afternoon.
"I had a great career, a wonderful ride," Klecko said in his sometimes emotional, sometimes lighthearted enshrinement speech. "I pray that I treated everyone with respect. I wanted to be remembered as a player who gave it his all to win every down, every battle."
"You didn't realize how good Joe was on a particular Sunday until you watched the films on Monday," said Lyons, Joe's longtime next-door neighbor on the Jets D-line and his presenter in Canton. "Joe's anticipation of the snap count and his anticipation of what the offensive lineman was going to do was unbelievable. ... Joe had incredible strength. I've never seen anybody that had stronger fingers. If he got his hands on you, you were done.
"From the day he retired, I said, 'Joe, one day I'll see you in Canton.' Now he's where he belongs."
In keeping with the dynamic duo theme, after Lyons' recorded presentation, the old friends hugged on the massive HOF stage, then, relying on their teamwork and subtle signs for nine Jets seasons, looked at each other and lifted the gold shroud in tandem to reveal Klecko's bust as ESPN/NFL Network host Rich Eisen watched admiringly.
"There's a Mark Hamill look to the Klecko bust right there," said Eisen.
Star Wars, indeed.
Klecko may have been the star of the Sack Exchange's quite-bright, too-short bull-market run in the early to mid-Eighties, but while he admitted, "Since 1993, I've been awaiting to give this speech," he quickly segued to all of his partners in this enterprise that finally landed him in the Hall as a Senior candidate 30 years after he first became eligible.
He thanked Lyons, Gastineau and Salaam, of course, and the host city of Canton, OH. His friends and family. The six other members of his Class of 2023: "I'm honored to stand here with you guys." Former Temple HC Wayne Harden and the Owls that Klecko finally played for in college came up next.
Joe continued with a list of teammates that was a who's-who of Jets in that decade: HC Walt Michaels, DL coach Dan Sekanovich, DC Bud Carson, even a bittersweet shoutout to Jets center/guard Jim Sweeney, who died last October at 60. Jets ownership from Leon Hess to Robert Wood Johnson and brother Christopher were also singled out.
But perhaps the best Klecko double-team story of the day was the ones he told about his family and in particular his wife and behind-the-scenes supporter, Debbie. The anecdote started with Joe, after receiving no college scholarship offers, waffling about getting a chance to try out with the Aston Knights, a Pennsylvania semipro team.
"My wife drove me to practice, but when we showed up, I got cold feet," Klecko recalled. "So she grabbed my keys out of the ignition and threw them out the window. 'What'd you do that for?' I said and got out to try to find the keys. That's when the coach recognized me and said, 'Joe, come on over.'
"Who knew when you threw the keys out the window on the practice field 50 years ago, it would end up here?" he told Debbie.
See images of the Jets Legends giving their Hall of Fame speeches in Canton, Ohio.
Klecko also lauded his parents, Joe, the "great athlete" from Chester, PA, and Josephine, who "never hesitated to set us straight" and also made killer pierogies. His message to his family growing up: "I love you all." And to his children: "My greatest privilege has been being your dad. I hope I've been a Hall of Fame dad."
And he meant it, even for son Dan, who earned three Super Bowl rings (two from New England, one from Indianapolis) in his shorter NFL career in the early 2000s. Joe, needless to say, never got one ring.
"He had a wonderful career ... and he never lets me forget," Joe said, then pointing behind him to his HOF bust, adding, "Hey, Dan, let's see when you get one of them."
All in good fun for Joe Klecko and his nuclear and extended families, which on this day in Canton included, among many wearers of his iconic No. 73, "Fireman Ed" Anzalone, who led the fans in one of many renditions of "J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!" before he left the stage, a Hall of Famer at last.