Jim Sweeney, one of the most durable offensive linemen ever to line up for the New York Jets, died Saturday at the age of 60.
Stretching from Dec. 9, 1984, to Christmas Eve 10 years later, Sweeney started 158 consecutive games for the Green & White.
"I wanted to play in as many games as possible and I understood that there aren't a whole bunch of opportunities," he told Jim Gehman in a story that appeared on newyorkjets.com in 2018. "I just loved to play the game. It was what I was meant to do. So, if it was what I was meant to do, I didn't want to waste a little bit of God's talent because I don't want to show up at the pearly gates and have him say to me, 'Hey, you wasted my talents.' I wanted to make sure I utilized every gift he gave me. I figured play as long as you can, play as hard as you can, and play as often as you can."
"Jim was a typical Pittsburgh guy. He was tough," said Marty Lyons, the Jets' radio analyst who was Sweeney's teammate from 1984-89. "He was tough to practice against every day. You could count on him every single Sunday. He had a different personality as soon as he crossed over the lines, though. Hard-nosed, tough-football player, a loving caring friend off the field."
Frank Ramos, the Jets' longtime public relations director, had similar thoughts and emotions.
"Jim has to be one of the toughest players in Jets history," Ramos said. "He was really a good technical player, so tough, and he was a great leader. And he was a fun guy to be around, so well-liked by his teammates."
Sweeney, drafted in the second round (No. 37 overall) out of Pitt by the Jets in 1984, started two games as a rookie before taking over at left guard and starting 16 games, and then moving outside to left tackle in 1986-87. The versatile pro became the team's full-time center from 1988 to 1994.
"That was my natural position," he said of center. "All through grade school, high school and most of college, I was a center. I was just able to play other positions. I have to give a lot of credit to my father who said, 'The more you can do, the longer you'll stick around. When I was at Pitt, I played different positions. I had a pretty good coach, Joe Moore, who wanted players to play more than one position. He would rotate me in at guard, so that's where I first got my playing experience.
"We really didn't have a set position. It was always, what can you do? What could you do for the team? I learned that early, about team concept, that you're not just a positional player. You're an offensive lineman."
Sweeney played 16 years in the NFL, moving to Seattle in 1995 before finishing his career with a four-year run with the Steelers (1996-99). The heady lineman, who played all five OL positions and tight end on the college level with his hometown Pitt Panthers, coached collegiately at Duquesne (2000-02) and Albany (2014-21, assistant head coach in 2020-21). In addition, he coached at two high schools in the Pittsburgh suburbs — Peters Township (2003-06) and South Fayette (2007-10)..
"I had a lot of great coaches and each one had a little different personality on how they wanted you to understand what they were talking about. And humor was a big part of that," Sweeney said. "I loved them all, they all taught me lessons. I don't necessarily coach like they did. I take little bits and pieces of what they did, put them together and then put my own spin on it. I mean, you're not going to reinvent the game, but there are ways to get your point across differently.
"I want (my players) to love the game because it's a hard enough sport when you love it to do it because it is a tough sport. The physicality is a big factor and there are no dumb guys playing football. I coach them like they're in the NFL. I make sure they know more than one position. They know mentally and physically how to do different positions, and that's a lot for young men."
Sweeney died only hours before the Jets and the Steelers, the team he entered the NFL with and the team he concluded his remarkable career with, were to square off in his hometown. He is survived by his wife, Julie, and their five children: Shannon, Liam, Aislinn, Kilian and Teagan.
Lyons, in Pittsburgh for the Jets-Steelers game, noted the difficulty of hearing about the passing of not only Sweeney but Jets Pro Bowl tackle Marvin Powell within 15 minutes of each other Saturday night.
"It's shocking," Lyons said. "It's just sad to lose two teammates, two people who were quality individuals. It makes you realize how fragile life is. One day you're here and the next day you're gone."
But Sweeney left his mark on the Jets, the New York and Pittsburgh areas, and the NFL with his too-short stay.
"Guys like Marty Lyons and Joe Klecko took Sweeney under their wing," said Wesley Walker, the great Jets wideout and, like Lyons, a Ring of Honor member. "Quiet guy, just did his job. Always respectful, always nice. Lunchpail player, durable, followed directions. Did his job."