DT / NT / DE

Joe Klecko

Class of 2023


1981, 1985

NFL Defensive Player of the Year

1981 (UPI)

Pro Bowls




In the 1980s, few defensive lines caused as much havoc for opposing teams in the National Football League as the “New York Sack Exchange” of the New York Jets. Joe Klecko allowed the unit to show a three-man or four-man front, demonstrating the strength, quickness and versatility to play end, tackle and nose during a 12-year career in the NFL. 

Klecko is the only player in NFL history selected to the Pro Bowl at all three positions across the defensive line. 

Chosen in the sixth round of the 1977 NFL Draft after a dominant collegiate career at Temple University, Klecko made an immediate impact in the pros. He recorded eight sacks (according to the Jets and Pro Football Reference, as the stat was unofficial until 1982) – a team record for a rookie. 

When his time with the Jets ended 10 years later, Klecko also held team records for most games played on the defensive line (140) and most consecutive games with a full sack (10, in 1977-78.) 

Klecko’s best season statistically came in 1981. He totaled a league-high 20.5 sacks as the Sack Exchange dropped opposing quarterbacks 66 times. Klecko won the Defensive Player of the Year award from UPI and finished as runner-up to future Pro Football Hall of Famer LAWRENCE TAYLOR for that award from the Associated Press. The Jets’ defense ranked fifth in the NFL and helped the team win seven of its last eight games – holding each of those opponents to 15 points or fewer – to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1969. 

Klecko ruptured the patella tendon in his right knee in the second game of the 1982 season, but he returned for the playoffs, helping the Jets to a pair of victories before the team fell to the Dolphins 14-0 in the AFC Championship Game. 

After 11 seasons with the Jets, Klecko played one year with the Indianapolis Colts. He retired with 78 career sacks in 155 games. 

In 2004, Klecko became the third player in Jets franchise history to see his number (73) retired, following Pro Football Hall of Famers JOE NAMATH and DON MAYNARD. In 2010, he was chosen as an inaugural member of the Jets Ring of Honor. 

Year Team G No.
 1977 New York Jets 13 N/A
 1978 New York Jets 16 N/A
 1979 New York Jets 16 N/A
 1980 New York Jets 15 N/A
 1981 New York Jets 16 N/A
 1982 New York Jets 2 2.0
 1983 New York Jets 16 6.5
 1984 New York Jets 12 3.0
 1985 New York Jets 16 7.5
 1986 New York Jets 11 4.0
 1987 New York Jets 7 1.0
1988 Indianapolis Colts 15 0.0
 Career Total 155 24.0
* Sacks were an unofficial NFL statistic until 1982

1982 AFC – Miami Dolphins 14, New York Jets 0
  • Klecko did not start but played and recorded two solo tackles.

All-Pro: 1981 – DE (AP, PFWA, NEA, SN, PW)  • 1985 – DT (AP, PFWA, NEA)
All-Pro Second Team: 1983 – DT (AP)  

All-AFC: 1981 – DE (UPI, PW)  • 1983 – DT (PW)  • 1985 – DT (UPI)  

All-AFC Second Team: 1978 – DE (UPI) • 1979 – DT (UPI) • 1986 – DT(UPI) 
(DE = honors earned as defensive end; DT = honors earned as defensive tackle)

(4) – 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986

New York Jets records held by Klecko
(Records through the 1987 season, Klecko's final season with New York)
  • [1st] Most Games Played by Defensive Lineman – 140 (1977-1987) 
  • [1st] Most Consecutive Games with Full Sack – 10 (1977-1978) 
  • [1st] Most Sacks by a Rookie – 8 (1977) 
  • [2nd] Most Sacks, Career – 77.5 (1977-1987) 
  • [2nd] Most Sacks, Season – 20.5 (1981) 


Team statistical championships

Sack titles: 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1986 

Year Team W L T Divison Finish
1977 New York Jets 3 11 0 (5th)
1978 New York Jets 8 8 0 (3rd)
1979 New York Jets 8 8 0 (3rd)
1980 New York Jets 4 12 0 (5th)
1981 New York Jets 10 5 1 (2nd)
1982 New York Jets 6 3 0 (6th)*
1983 New York Jets 7 9 0 (5th)
1984 New York Jets 7 9 0 (3rd)
1985 New York Jets 11 5 0 (2nd)
1986 New York Jets 10 6 0 (2nd)
1987 New York Jets 6 9 0 (5th)
1988 Indianapolis Colts 9 7 0 (2nd)

* AFC regulard season finish in strike-shortened season. Qualified for postseason in bold.

Full name: Joseph Edward Klecko

Birthdate: Oct. 15, 1953

Birthplace: Chester, Pennsylvania

High school: St. James (Chester, Pennsylvania)

Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: Jan. 17, 2023

Other members of the Class of 2023: Rondé Barber, Don Coryell, Chuck Howley, Darrelle Revis, Ken Riley, Joe Thomas, Zach Thomas, DeMarcus Ware.

Pro career: 12 seasons, 155 games.

Drafted: Sixth round (144th overall) in 1977 by New York Jets

Uniform number: 73

JOE KLECKO: Thank you. Well, I have two bets. Joe DeLamielleure and Howie Long both bet me $100 I'll cry. We're going to find out here real quick. 

Been in my drawer since 1993, 30 years, okay, I've been waiting to give this speech. Marty, thanks for the gracious words, my friend, for that introduction.

And to Jim Porter, the Hall of Fame team and the City of Canton, and all of you that are making my friends and family feel welcome, thank you very much.


Congratulations to my fellow inductees. I'm honored to stand here as the Class of 2023 with you guys.  

Also, I thank all the Hall of Famers who spoke up on my behalf during the voting process.  Without your input, I wouldn't be here today.

From the moment the greatest Jet of all time, Joe Namath, knocked on my door. I've been reflecting on my football life and the people who helped me. My career started at St. James High School in Chester, Pennsylvania, under my Coach Joe Logue. 
After high school, no one offered me a scholarship to play football. As a result, I went to work for a trucking company, and who would've ever figured out that trucking made me more money later.  

Eventually I was invited to try out for the semi-pro team the Aston Knights. My girlfriend and now wife drove me to the field in Ridley Township, Pennsylvania. When we pulled up, I got cold feet, made a few excuses to Debbie about not trying, and when she suddenly grabbed my keys out of the ignition and threw them out the window, I said, what the heck did you do that for?  

So, when I went out to try and get the keys, the guy seen me and said, Joe, come on over. I tried out for the team, and I made it. But if it wasn't for Debbie making me get out of my car, I wouldn't be sitting here today wearing this gold jacket.  


The equipment manager from Temple University, John DiGregorio saw me playing with the Knights and recommended me to the Head Coach Wayne Hardin of Temple University. Coach Hardin offered me a scholarship to play football after watching me play one quarter.  

I also want to recognize my teammates, the Temple Owls that are here today. Go Owls. My success at Temple led me to become a sixth-round draft choice for the New York Jets in 1977.  It was the highlight of my life up to that point.

The Jets were only eight years removed from their Super Bowl win and I thought they were due for another very soon. Okay, I was wrong. We never made it to the Big Game, but the friendships I made are more valuable than a championship ring.

My head coach was the great Walt Michaels who previously was the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles. He told me that he saw a lot of my games when I was at Temple because I played at the old Vet Stadium where Philly played.  

He said that was one of the reasons he drafted me. And the other, we were both Pollocks, so it fit real well.  

Once I asked my defensive line coach, Dan Sekanovich, a guy I really looked up to, about making the Pro Bowl. He said to me, “Joe, you're not going to have to worry about making a Pro Bowl. You're going to have to worry about someday being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”


Believe me, from that day on I played a lot harder. In 1985 defensive genius Bud Carson entered our fold and switched me to a three-man line. I played it in a cocked position like Mean Joe Greene used to play. I had so much fun and caused so much havoc, I confused offensive linemen because they never knew which way I was coming from.

The Jets owner Mr. Leon Hess, a true fan of the game, we were all his boys. He treated our football team like family. In 1981, one of the greatest names in football was born, the New York Sack Exchange.  


We led the NFL in sacks in '81 and reached the AFC Championship game the following year.  Marty Lyons was a first-round draft pick out of Alabama. Abdul Salaam was a soldier of peace, but he battled with us every Sunday and left it all on the field. And one of the biggest personalities in NFL history, my teammate, Mark Gastineau. Mark, I know that through our competitive nature we made each other better.

I want to quickly acknowledge a teammate of mine who passed last August. Jim Sweeney. He died suddenly and I just want to mention his name.

I also want to reflect on some of my teammates, the defensive line. Kenny Neil, Barry Bennett, Ben Rudolph, Tom Baldwin. Our linebackers were John Woodring, Kyle Clifton, Lance Mehl, Greg Buttle and Stan Blinka. And our defensive backs, who were sometimes the best part of our offense, Bobby Jackson, Jerry Holmes, Darrol Ray and Kenny Schroy. Quarterbacks were the tenacious Richard Todd and Kenny O'Brien. Kenny had, in my opinion, one of the greatest games ever by an NFL quarterback throwing for almost 500 yards and four touchdowns when we beat Dan Marino and the Dolphins in 1986.


Wesley Walker was among the wideouts who had four touchdowns that day and in my opinion is one of the greatest receivers I've ever watched. To the current Jets owners Woody and Chris Johnson and the entire Jets staff, thank you for all the help pushing me for the Hall of Fame election. Thanks, guys.  


Honestly, I wish I could play today. Not so much for the competition, but for the money.  


In 1986, I was the highest paid defensive lineman in the league. I made $700,000. Today Aaron Donald is the highest paid defensive lineman. He makes $31.7 million. My entire salary was his .7 – exactly. I asked him to send me some but that didn't work either.  

To me the best sport writers are in New York. The late Paul Zimmerman was my biggest champion for the Hall of Fame. And Gary Myers, if it wasn't for you and your strong support, I wouldn't be standing up here today.


I want to thank a few good friends of mine who helped me through many chapters of my post-football life, which is 30 years. To Billy and Tommy Pollock, I'm so thankful for you guys always being in my corner. And Billy, I appreciate you traveling with me to all Danny and Michael's games. You're the only friend I had that was big enough to stop me from going after referees.
And to my good friends Richard and Jeff Kurtz, thank you for helping me jump start the second phase of my life. To Al Weiler a good friend, and I just want you to know how much of a friend and what you meant to me.  

There are too many other friends I have to name. Please know how much you mean to me, and I am in support of you.

My dad, also Joe Klecko, was a great athlete in the neighborhood of Chester, Pennsylvania. He always held us to a high standard.

My mom, Josephine, never hesitated to set us straight. She was an excellent cook and was always known for her great pierogis. So, it’s easy to see where my athletic ability, discipline and appetite come from.  

But above everything else, mom and dad made sure we were in church every Sunday. Through everything I've done, my sisters, Joanne and Janet, have been my biggest supporters. My brother Jimmy, the family historian, has clipped every article ever written about me. To all my nieces and nephews, I love you all.


To my children, Michael, Danny, Gabby, Josh, Katie, the greatest honor has been the privilege of being your dad, and I hope I've been a Hall of Fame dad for those reasons.  


Hold on, hold on. And Katie, you're my favorite. There, I said it. The whole world knows it.  Stay sweet, honey.  

I don't know if you people know this, but my son Dan has three Super Bowl rings. He had a wonderful career; he never lets me forget it. Hey, Dan, let's see when you get one of them.  (Smiling.) 


I've tackled Earl Campbell, Walter Peyton, Franco Harris and Marcus Allen, but nothing prepared me for going head-to-head with my grandchildren. Nathan, Christian, Thomas, Riley and Wyatt, you bring me a lot of joy and your grandpop loves you very much. You're all great athletes and I know you have a great future.


To my wife Debbie, none of this would be possible without you. Who would've thought when you threw the keys out the window on the Knight's practice field exactly 50 years ago, we would end up here. Your unconditional love and support led me down this path and made me the man I am. We've added another chapter to the book, honey, and I love you. 

And I know you hate the spotlight, but you can't hide from it today.  

I had a great career and a wonderful ride. I pray that I treated everyone with respect. I wanted to be remembered as a player who gave it his all. I wanted to win every down and every battle. I always felt that if you're not mad at yourself if you lost one battle, you didn't belong on the football field. If you did lose one, what were you going to do to never lose that battle again?  

I always said that's how you play the game. I'm in a lot of Hall of Fames. I am in the Jersey Hall of Fame, Pennsylvania Hall of Fame, Delco Hall of Fame, Temple Hall of Fame, and hell, I'm even in a Polish Hall of Fame.

But there is only one Hall of Fame I have left, and that's His. (Pointing up.) I know God knows how much my family and I love Him, and every blessing in our lives is because of Him.  

Now, I can't leave without acknowledging my faithful Jets fans.  


Fireman Ed, where are you? Ed, where are you? All right, I'm going to handle it. You guys ready? There he is back there.  


Thank you.