The years since their NFL careers ended have taken a toll on Jets greats Mark Gastineau and Wesley Walker. Gastineau bears the psychic scars of a former star reduced to more humble circumstances and Walker struggles most days with the physical ailments of an injury-ravaged body.
But at halftime of Monday night's game against Houston, the Jets celebrated the glory Gastineau and Walker knew in their youth by inducting them into the franchise Ring of Honor at MetLife Stadium.
Gastineau finished his 10-year career as the Jets' all-time sacks leader (107 1/2) and Walker caught 438 passes for 8,306 yards and 71 touchdowns in his 12 seasons.
"I promise you I will cry," Gastineau said last week in a conference call with media covering the Jets. "It's a big honor, and it's an honor I will cherish."
Gastineau was a member of the 1981 pass rush known as the "New York Sack Exchange" along with Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam and gained singular notoriety as the inventor of the "Sack Dance." He wasn't always popular with his teammates, and they let him know by pelting his car with eggs when he became the first player to cross the picket line during the 1987 player strike.
But a quarter-century later, Gastineau is humble enough to admit, "My pension has been a blessing from the Lord. Looking back now, I see what the players were saying because I'm getting the benefits from what they did."
Gastineau described himself as a "prideful, arrogant person" when he was in the NFL, but now he leads a modest life with his wife and their two dogs at home near Exit 7A off the New Jersey Turnpike. He still makes appearances with his fellow Sack Exchange members, but Gastineau said his religion and his work with a charitable organization that provides for starving children are what give meaning to his life.
Walker also is involved with children, but in a more direct way as a physical education teacher at Park View Elementary School in the Kings Park school district on Long Island. When Jets owner Woody Johnson called to inform him of the honor, Walker said, "I was overwhelmed because I never expected it."
Equally wonderful, Walker said, was the way his school celebrated his Ring of Honor induction. "The whole school was decorated, the kids are wearing Jets shirts and the [parents'] organization got a big football cake.
"I wanted them to know I adore their children. I have a lot of injuries I'm dealing with right now, but when I come in here every day, they make me feel good."
Since his career ended, Walker has had major neck surgery to install 14 screws and a metal plate, knee surgery and shoulder surgery. He also has spinal stenosis and pinched nerves for which he takes painkilling injections about three times a year.
"But with the Ring of Honor and what they've done for me at Park View Elementary," Walker said, "I'm in no pain whatsoever."