Joe Klecko
refer to caption
Klecko, pictured next to Temple coach Wayne Hardin
No. 73
Position:Defensive tackle
Personal information
Born: (1953-10-15) October 15, 1953 (age 70)
Chester, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Height:6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight:263 lb (119 kg)
Career information
High school:St. James (Chester, Pennsylvania)
NFL draft:1977 / Round: 6 / Pick: 144
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Games played:155
Fumble recoveries:9
Player stats at PFR

Joseph Edward Klecko (born October 15, 1953) is an American former professional football defensive tackle in the National Football League (NFL), primarily with the New York Jets. He played college football for the Temple Owls and was a member of the Jets' famed "New York Sack Exchange".

Temple Owls

Before going to Temple, and playing under Hall of Fame college coach Wayne Hardin (the former Navy coach who coached two Heisman Trophy winners in Joe Bellino '60 and Roger Staubach '63), Klecko played semi-pro football for the Aston (Pennsylvania) Knights of the Seaboard Football League and kept his eligibility by playing under the assumed name "Jim Jones" from the fictional "Poland University."[1] He also won two NCAA club boxing titles in the heavyweight division. Klecko played high school football at St. James Catholic High School for Boys in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Klecko led the Temple Owls in tackles his last three seasons (1974–1976), twice making the All-East team and receiving All-American mention as a junior and senior. He was the ECAC's Rookie of the Week on October 27, 1973, after Temple's 31–8 victory over the University of Delaware Blue Hens, in which he had five sacks and 15 tackles. He was inducted into the Temple University Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.[2]

New York Jets

Klecko was drafted by the New York Jets in the sixth round (144th overall) of the 1977 NFL draft. Despite eight sacks by Klecko, his team went only 3–11 his first season. However, when he and Abdul Salaam were joined by Mark Gastineau and Marty Lyons on the Jets' defensive line, they formed one of the top defensive lines in the NFL, known as the "New York Sack Exchange." The four combined for 66 sacks in 1981, including a league-leading 20.5 by Klecko, to lead the Jets to their first playoff game since 1969. Klecko was honored with his first All-Pro selection. In November 1981, Klecko, Gastineau, Salaam and Lyons were invited to ring the ceremonial opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, which served as the inspiration for their nickname.[3]

Klecko playing for the Jets in 1981

Klecko appeared in only two regular season games for the Jets in 1982, rupturing the patella tendon in his right knee in the second game of the season against the New England Patriots. The Jets made the playoffs in 1982, losing the AFC Championship game to the Miami Dolphins. Klecko made 2 more appearances with the Jets during their playoff victories over the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders.

Klecko moved from defensive end to defensive tackle in 1983, and was named to the Pro Bowl at his new position in 1983 and 1984. The Jets switched to a 3–4 defensive alignment in 1985, forcing Klecko to learn a new position, nose tackle. He led the Jets with 96 tackles and five forced fumbles, and tied for second with 7.5 sacks to earn his second All-Pro selection, and become the second player, after Frank Gifford, in professional football history to be selected to the Pro Bowl at three different positions.[4] Klecko spent the 1986-87 offseason recovering from knee surgery. The knee hadn't fully healed by the start of the 1987 season, and he was limited to only seven games. After the season, the Jets released Klecko. He played one more season with the Indianapolis Colts, who went 9–7 in 1988, including a 34–16 loss to the Jets. Following the season, Klecko retired due to chronic knee problems.

Hall of Fame credentials

Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson, in describing Klecko as a "great defensive lineman", considered him one of the two best interior linemen he had ever faced.[5] Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Muñoz said about Klecko, "In my 13 seasons, Joe is right there at the top of the defensive ends I had to block, up there with Fred Dean, Lee Roy Selmon and Bruce Smith. Joe was the strongest guy I ever faced. He had perfect technique — hands in tight, great leverage. My second year, 1981, we went to Shea and beat the Jets, 31–30, but he was such an intense, smart player, I knew I was in a battle. He was the leader, the guy who kept that unit together."[6]

Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure added that, "You can't think of his ten year period without him. I had to block Joe Greene and Merlin Olsen when I was playing and, believe me, Joe Klecko was equal to those two guys. If Joe Klecko had played one position for ten years, he'd have been considered one of the top two or three players at that position, whichever one it was. There's not another player who went to the Pro Bowl at three different positions. You take a defensive end and put him at nose tackle and he's just as good there, that's a great player. We need to get Joe Klecko in the Hall of Fame."[6]

On December 26, 2004, during a halftime ceremony, the Jets honored Klecko by retiring his #73 jersey. Klecko became just the third New York Jet to have his number retired, joining Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath and Hall of Fame wide receiver Don Maynard.

On August 16, 2010, during halftime of the New York Giants–Jets preseason game at the New Meadowlands Stadium, Klecko was inducted as a member of the inaugural class into the Jets' Ring of Honor.

In 2016, the Professional Football Researchers Association named Klecko to the PFRA Hall of Very Good Class of 2016.[7]

On August 17, 2022, Klecko was announced as one of the three finalists nominated by the senior committee for induction in the 2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.[8] On February 9, 2023, Klecko was announced as a Class of 2023 inductee to the National Football League's Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Personal life

The young Klecko converted a '55 Chevy into a dragster and had a job driving dump trucks and oversized tractor-trailer rigs. Even during the NFL off-seasons Klecko was wrestling the 18-wheelers. "I once fought my way across the country carrying a propeller for a supertanker," he says. "The thing weighed 130,000 pounds and was 22 feet across, wide as most roadways."[9] His trucking job earned him cameo roles as trucker or strongman in four Burt Reynolds films: Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), Cannonball Run (1981), Heat (1986).

Klecko and his wife, Debbie, currently reside in Colts Neck, New Jersey, and have five children, one of whom, Dan, was an NFL defensive tackle for the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, and Philadelphia Eagles.

In 1993, Klecko was sentenced to three months in prison for perjury in an insurance fraud case.[10]

In 2005, Klecko was involved in a fatal car accident, in which he accidentally struck and killed a pedestrian on the Major Deegan Expressway in Bronx, New York. Klecko was not charged or ticketed and was uninjured in the accident.[11]

Klecko sells metal stairs in the Tri-State Area, and serves as a representative for various construction companies. He also appeared on EWTN Life On The Rock show. He is a member of Catholic Athletes for Christ and speaks on the subject of manhood and faith.[12] Klecko was a guest on Blessed2Play hosted by Ron Meyer where he talked about his Catholic faith and career in the NFL.

In September 2010, SportsNet New York announced that Klecko would be the newest analyst on the New York Jets' post-game show.[13]


  1. ^ "Joe Klecko". National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame. June 10, 1999. Archived from the original on December 9, 2010.
  2. ^ "Joe Klecko". Temple University Hall of Fame.
  3. ^ Cimini, Rich (September 6, 2008). "Jets defense looking to regain glory days of Sack Exchange". New York Daily News. New York. Archived from the original on December 14, 2010. Retrieved December 11, 2010.
  4. ^ Bassett (July 17, 2008). "TJB Hall of Fame: Joe Klecko". The Jets
  5. ^ "Dwight Stephenson Chat Transcript". October 20, 2000.
  6. ^ a b Anderson, Dave (November 7, 2008). "Time Has Come for Klecko to Go Into Hall of Fa". New York Times.
  7. ^ "PRFA Hall of Very Good Class of 2016". Archived from the original on April 13, 2019. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  8. ^ "Joe Klecko, Ken Riley, and Chuck Howley named as finalists for 2023 Hall of Fame induction".
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Jail Sentence for Klecko". The New York Times. April 10, 1993.
  11. ^ Kappstatter, Bob; Standora, Leo (September 13, 2005). "COPS: Jets' Klecko Kills Pedestrian". New York Daily News. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  12. ^ "Joe Klecko". Athlete
  13. ^ "SNY presents full slate of Jets coverage: Klecko joins SNY as NFL analyst". SNY.TV. September 10, 2010. Archived from the original on July 24, 2011.