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Joe Klecko recognition long overdue

As a former Jets beat writer and NFL columnist (1982-91), it was especially pleasing to see Joe Klecko's inclusion in the inaugural group for the Jets' Ring of Honor at New Meadowlands Stadium. I must insert a disclaimer that I authored the book "Nose to Nose" with Klecko and former Jets center Joe Fields back in 1989, but my relationship with Klecko since then has consisted of little more than a hello whenever our paths cross.

Considering the fact that Klecko was the first player to make the Pro Bowl at defensive end, defensive tackle on a four-man line and at nose tackle on a three-man line, I've always wondered why he never has been nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I imagine the Jets' lack of Super Bowl success combined with Klecko's unfortunate history of injuries have been the major factors denying him recognition.

But for most of his 12 seasons (1977-88), Klecko was one of the two or three most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL. Just ask anyone who ever lined up across from him. My favorite quote was from Seattle center Blair Bush, who once said that when Klecko hits you, "it's like you're going backwards on rollerskates."

It's no secret that the Jets returned to respectability in the early '80's when Klecko was in his prime. He had 20 sacks in the 1981 playoff season but tore a patella tendon in the second game of the 1982 season just before the player strike. It was a miracle that he was able to return and play in the AFC title game in Miami at the end of that season, but the injury robbed him of his outside speed.

Klecko then moved inside and made the Pro Bowl at defensive tackle in 1984, and when Bud Carson took over as defensive coordinator in 1985, he shifted again to nose tackle, where he was an awesome, explosive, run-stopping force. The knee injury that ended Klecko's 1986 season after 11 games when the Jets were 10-1 coincided with their subsequent season-ending five-game losing streak. Klecko returned the following season but was caught in a move by coach Joe Walton to rid the team of several longtime veteran leaders and played just one more season for Indianapolis.

Maybe the day will come when Klecko is tabbed for the Hall of Fame by veteran players in similar fashion to former defensive back Dick LeBeau this year. In the meantime, Klecko took his deserved place on the Jets' Ring of Honor alongside Super Bowl III veterans Weeb Ewbank, Joe Namath, Don Maynard and Winston Hill and all-time rushing leader Curtis Martin. The recognition was long overdue and might serve as a prod to those with Hall of Fame votes.

While I'm focusing on this Jets history lesson, I'll make another suggestion. The next player the Jets should consider inducting to their Ring of Honor is wide receiver Al Toon. Except for Maynard, they've never had a better one.

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