Many New York Jets are worthy of recognition for the effort and dedication they showed to the franchise throughout their careers. Six men are being inducted into the Jets' Ring of Honor and Joe Klecko, who sacrificed so much physically, is fully aware of the distinction of being placed among the very top players to ever wear a Jets uniform.
"It's really an honor," Klecko said. "Take a look at all the people that have come through the Jets organization. So to me it's a very extreme privilege even to be picked for it. I'm ecstatic about being involved with it."
Klecko played for the Jets from 1977-87, becoming one of the members of the vaunted "New York Sack Exchange" that featured him along with Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam. Klecko was a major factor in a run of four playoff berths in that span but he knows he didn't do it all alone.
"To me it's a team sport," Klecko said, "and there's not a damn thing you can do on that field by yourself. There's 10 other guys around you. I always felt with me being on the field we always had a real shot. Whether I was right or wrong, I don't know, but the one thing about it is that I was never going to let my teammates down."
If there's one thing the Chester, Pa., native was known for, it was never backing down from an opponent or an injury and always being there for his team. After a career at Temple University, Klecko was selected in the sixth round of the 1977 NFL draft. Four seasons later, Klecko accumulated 20.5 sacks, which unofficially led the NFL (sacks didn't become an official statistic until the next season), all while battling a dangerous injury.
"In 1981, I was the Defensive Player of the Year and that year I hardly practiced at all," Klecko said. "For 11 weeks I never practiced at all during the week because I had an injured foot. I would come out of the cast for the weekend and just play the games. It was probably my best year ever as a pro. It's pretty memorable when you can do that."
The Sack Exchange combined for 66 sacks in that magical season, even while Klecko summoned the amazing will power to play on an injured leg for a vast majority of the season, having to shake the rust off every Sunday.
It was all part of the job for Klecko, who seemed to have the ability to absorb punishment that others couldn't.
"I don't know whether it was the physical will," Klecko joked, "or the intelligence that I lacked."
Despite the beating his body took, he played in the Pro Bowl four times and in 1985 became the first player to be selected to the NFL's all-star game at three different positions (end, defensive tackle, nose tackle). In his career he totaled 77.5 sacks, second-most in team history behind his teammate Gastineau.
For the current Colts Neck, N.J., resident, the Jets always were his priority and he put himself second. In 2004 they made sure to repay the favor by retiring his number 73 jersey. And on Monday night they will induct him into the Ring of Honor for his body of work and Jets attitude.
"The team always came first," Klecko said. "No matter what it took, I had to be in there and probably to my detriment at times because there were times that I played with some pretty bad injuries and I probably shouldn't have."
The physical toll of football hasn't slowed him down. Klecko is now a representative for construction businesses, including American Stair, JDC Power Systems, JG Roselle Lighting and Trinity Solar — all companies in the tristate area.