(Photos courtesy of the New York Jets)
Talk of Fame Network
You’re Hall-of-Fame defensive lineman Howie Long, and you have an opportunity to make a difference in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For one year and one year only, imagine you can vote into Canton any player or coach of your choice.
So who’s the lucky winner?
“In some shape, form or fashion, Joe Klecko,” Long said on last weekend’s Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I think Joe was a dominant player at … I think he made the Pro Bowl at three different positions – nose guard, defensive tackle and defensive end, (and) he had 21 sacks one year.”
He is correct on the positions – with Klecko the only player in NFL history to reach the Pro Bowl at three different spots. And he’s close on the sacks. Klecko had 20.5 in 1981 – or one year before the NFL recognized sacks as an official statistic. Which means …
Which means you won’t find Klecko or his total in the record books.
That doesn’t faze Long. He saw enough of Klecko to know how talented he was. And it wasn’t just the pass rush that impressed him about the former New York Jets’ defensive lineman. It was his entire game, something Long studied as he developed into an All-Pro with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders.
“I took a little bit of everybody,” said Long. “I looked at Randy White.. I looked at Klecko. I looked at Gino Marchetti. I looked at a lot of players. Bob Lilly. There are players I looked at over the years when I was a young player and tried to steal a little bit from their game and fit it into my game. And Joe Klecko was someone I thought was a bear to deal with.”
He was. Until, that is, chronic knee injuries slowed him down and, eventually, drove him from the game after the 1988 season. But that doesn’t mean he’s been forgotten. He hasn’t … at least not by persons outside the Hall of Fame’s board of selectors.
But there's the catch. Those outside the room don't determine who goes in. The Hall's 46 selectors do.
So, though Hall-of-Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure considered Klecko the equals of Hall of Famers Joe Greene and Merlin Olsen, and though Hall-of-Fame tackle Anthony Munoz put him a league with Bruce Smith, Leroy Selmon and Fred Dean – all Hall of Famers -- he has never been discussed as a Hall-of-Fame finalist.
Maybe it was because his career was cut short by injuries. Maybe it was because he played on a defensive line where the flamboyant Mark Gastineau gained more notoriety. Or maybe it’s that voters simply lost track of Klecko before moving him to the back of the line. The bottom line is this: He’s been lost in the parade of players who succeeded him … and Long, for one, would like to see that changed.
“At that (time),” he said, “the medical things were so difficult (with the knees). I remember the ACL (torn knee ligaments) used be a career-ending injury. Then it was as two-year injury. Then it was a year-and-a-half. Then it was a year. Then it was seven months. Adrian Peterson just blows that out of the water.
“If the technology existed then that we have now I think Joe Klecko would be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. And I think, at the very least, he should be a senior committee Hall of Famer.”