Joe Klecko, unlike Tom Petty, has said the waiting hasn't been the hardest part. In Klecko's case it was waiting to hear from the Pro Football Hall of Fame that he was going to be enshrined in Canton.
"It really is kind of easy for me," Klecko, the Jets' construction-site-tough defensive line legend, said in August at Jets training camp. "Until the check's in the bank, I'm going to maintain my civility about this and live my normal life."
But word arrived that month that Klecko, as a Seniors candidate, had made it to the final round of the 2023 Hall of Fame voting. And that set the stage for Thursday night, when Klecko — and Jets Nation and the NFL universe — learned during the NFL Honors telecast that he has been named a member of the Class of '23 for induction into Canton this summer.
No more having his hopes raised, then dashed. No more waiting civilly one more year. Thirty-six years after his last game as a Jet, 35 years after he retired as a player, Joe Klecko is in the Hall of Fame.
"I don't think it's hit me yet, as far as total acceptance," he said shortly after the awards show ended. "After 30 years, you get the call and you're grateful. But it's still sinking in."
Jets CEO Robert Wood Johnson was among those who were pleased to hear that the big D-lineman's wait was now over.
"Congratulations, Joe, on being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Johnson said in a statement. "You were one of the greatest players to ever wear the Jets uniform. You played every position on the defensive line and took no prisoners. Your impact on the history of the New York Jets was huge and I'm so happy you've gotten this honor that you richly deserve."
The message of Klecko's ascendancy into football's pantheon was even delivered in person by Joe Namath, Hall of Famer, Class of 1985, from the stage of Phoenix's Symphony Hall. Shortly after the two Joes hugged, Klecko took his place with six other members of this year's nine-member class, which included, along with Revis, Ronde Barber, Joe Thomas, Zach Thomas, DeMarcus Ware, and Seniors candidate Chuck Howley. Two other Hall of Fame selectees, Senior Ken Riley and coach Don Coryell, were recognized posthumously.
Not only did Namath introduce Klecko on Thursday, but the iconic Jets QB went to Klecko's house with a Hall of Fame camera crew and was the first person to tell Klecko he made it to Canton
"Honestly, it was exhilarating," Klecko told newyorkjets.com's Eric Allen late Thursday night. "The best part of it was Joe, it really was. I give Joe every accolade. He's one of the greatest people for the NFL, he's just an icon. For him to come to my house — what a great feeling. It was a cheerful, glorious time when it happened."
But the ball actually began moving back in August, when Klecko first found out he would be one of three Seniors candidate finalists in this year's balloting.
"The announcement from the Hall, without a doubt, was one of the most exhilarating things," Klecko said of word that he was a finalist, which was not quite a guarantee yet was a very strong sign for any Seniors candidate that he would receive the 80 percent of the vote from the HOF Selection Committee and be inducted right before the Super Bowl. "I was very excited. It's been a whirlwind."
The next six months should be a blast as well as Klecko, as well as franchise mate Darrelle Revis, who was named to the Class of '23 as a Modern-Era Candidate, enjoys the time in the limelight from being named to the Hall to being officially inducted in Canton on Aug. 5 during Enshrinement Week.
As many fans of the Jets and the NFL know and Johnson and Namath alluded to, one of Klecko's claims to fame is that he is one of only three players to have been voted to the Pro Bowl at three different positions — defensive end for the '81 Pro Bowl, D-tackle for the '83 and '84 games, and nose in 1985. He was also named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1981 by the Pro Football Writers. These honors were built on a number of impressive achievements, including:
■ His sack total from 1982, when individual defensive sacks became official, through the 1987 season, his last as a Jet, is only 24. But including the sack research that has been done dating to 1960, Klecko's regular-season total unofficially blooms to 78, which is second-most in franchise history, behind only Mark Gastineau's 116.
■ He unofficially had at least one full sack in each of his final six games as a rookie in 1977, then opened the '78 campaign with four more games of at least one full sack. The streak of 10 consecutive games with a full sack is a franchise mark, and had sacks been official in the second half of the Seventies, it's believed he would've set an NFL mark that would have remained tied for the most in league history until the Chiefs' Chris Jones assembled an 11-game sack streak in 2018.
■ His philosophy of "I don't care what you do" regarding where his coaches played him extended to special teams, specifically the kick-block unit. He had five blocked kicks (one punt, two FGs, two XPs) over the years, equaling the franchise record for most blocks in a career established by Paul Crane in 1971, a few years before Klecko got started.
As rough and tough and friendly as Joe remains all these years later, he also is humbled by this elusive prize that is finally his. Asked about what he remembered most about his playing days, his first thought was the New York Sack Exchange — Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons, Abdul Salaam and him — that scared opposing QBs and offenses to the tune of a team-record 66 sacks in 1981. A second thought was how great Jets fans were and are.
And he reluctantly compared his style of play to two current NFL D-line stars in the Rams' Aaron Donald and the Steelers' Cameron Heyward.
"There's two guys I would say that play a lot like I did," he said. "Heyward, the way he plays with his strength, running people over a lot, and Donald, who plays with his quickness. I had both those things on my side. Once I got a guy worried about running over him and he'd hunker down and try to sit down on me, I'd go right around, I'd bang their hands and stuff like that. Those two guys, they remind me of what I did."
Among the many well-wishers for Klecko in Phoenix was another Pittsburgh player of note. Terry Bradshaw was sacked by Klecko in Game 3 of Joe's 10-game sack streak in '77 and again in '81, in between the two performing in the 1981 Burt Reynolds movie The Cannonball Run and before Bradshaw went on to fame and fortune as a Fox football talking head.
"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.
"Tell him I said congratulations, well-deserved."
We'll do that, Terry, but we won't be the only ones. After all, the wait is over for Joe and the dam of Jets fans' well wishes for No. 73 in green and white has broken.
See some of the best photos from the Jets Legend's Hall of Fame career.