Johnny Hector was a bruising back with a knack for scoring
When the New York Jets were in need of a touchdown in the 1980's, number 34 was the best number to call. Running back Johnny Hector secured New York stardom by pounding the ball inside and often times through defenders. Jets fans idolized Hector for the blue-collar approach he maintained for ten consecutive seasons in a Green and White uniform.
"He has the uncanny ability to make people miss and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield," said former head coach Joe Walton of Hector. "He has good leadership qualities and the team responds to him. Johnny runs with power and has developed into an excellent short yardage and goal line runner."
Hector was picked up by the Jets in the second round of the 1983 draft after a successful career at Texas A&M. Aside from his twenty career touchdowns and 2,587 rush yards, the superb college athlete once placed second to Olympic great Carl Lewis in the long jump event at a SWC Track & Field meet.
During the strike-shortened 1982 NFL season, Freeman McNeil rushed for 786 yards and became the first Jet to lead the NFL in rushing. While Hector was the ultimate bruising back to compliment the flashy McNeil, the former Aggie also brought with him a terrific pair of hands out of the backfield. Ironically, the rookie running back's first career touchdown came through the air.
In 1986, McNeil – the starting pro bowl running back – suffered a separated elbow in week two. Hector stepped up and filled in nicely for the Jets. It was obvious that his role as a backup was just a title.
"When Freeman was injured, Johnny responded with outstanding performances," Walton said. "Johnny has established himself as one of the outstanding running backs in the NFL."
In New York's week five win over Buffalo in the 1986 season, the 5'11", 200-pound Hector became the first Jets player to top the century mark in both rushing and receiving in the same game. On 18 carries, he ran for 117 yards along with 100 yards on nine catches en route to a 14-13 Jets' win over their in-state rivals. Hector was a one-man show that day, and although he showed no signs of pain, he was marred with injuries.
"I still didn't feel like I was 100 percent," he said following the win over the Bills. "I was sort of sluggish. I had a few cramps here and there. My foot kept bothering me from time to time."
Just one week later, Hector found another spot in the Jets record books as his 40 rushing attempts at New England established a club record for rushes in game. Starting only because of an injury to McNeil, Hector's 143 yards and three touchdowns (all one-yard runs) led the Jets to a 31-24 victory at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, MA.
"We beat them up," said Hector following the win over the Patriots. "We tried to wear them down up the middle. The line just came off the ball and did their job."
A season later, Hector picked his game up to the national level. In just 111 rushing attempts, Hector found the end zone 11 times – the most by anyone in the AFC. That mark also tied Emerson Boozer's 15-year old record of most rushing touchdowns by a Jets player in a season. That record would fall two decades later when Curtis Martin ran for 12 touchdowns in 2004.
Although Hector ran for just five touchdowns over his final 49 games, the Lafayette, LA native ranks third all-time for most rushing touchdowns in a Jets uniform with 41 behind Boozer's 52 and Martin's 53. Walton, who coached Hector from 1983-1989, put it best in 1988, when speaking of the young rusher's knack for scoring.
"He can smell the end zone."