‘I gotta play Klecko’: Boomer describes fear of NY Jets’ Hall of Famer7 min read
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By: Rivka Boord
New York Jets fans will crowd Klecko’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony
For younger New York Jets fans who never saw Joe Klecko play, it’s important to gain an understanding of who he was in his day.
For years, older fans would complain around Super Bowl Sunday that Klecko was once again snubbed from the Hall of Fame, while their younger counterparts would shrug and say, “Meh.”
To truly comprehend Klecko’s impact on the Jets, think of John Abraham in his heyday and Quinnen Williams‘s 2022 season all rolled into one, year in and year out.
That’s why, when Klecko joined The Boomer and Gio Show on WFAN radio, Boomer Esiason had nothing but rousing praise for the Canton-bound defensive lineman, calling him the “bell cow” of the Jets’ dominant line.
Maybe this story from Boomer will illustrate just who Klecko was.
“Dave Rimington [the Bengals’ center], one night, we’re in our hotel room the night before we’re playing the Jets, and it’s one in the morning, and I hear what I think is a mouse running across the floor or up inside the wall, and I hear this rubbing and scratching going on,” Boomer said.
“I finally turn on the light, and it’s Rimington rubbing his feet together at the end of the bed, he’s sleeping but he’s rubbing his feet.
“I had to wake him up, and I said to him, ‘What are you doing?’ He goes, ‘I gotta play Klecko tomorrow.’”
This is the kind of fear that Klecko inspired in opposing offensive linemen. It wasn’t just Rimington: Hall of Famer tackle Anthony Munoz and fellow Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson called Klecko the best and strongest defensive lineman they ever had to face.
Klecko shed some light on the Hall of Fame voting process. When a player is not a slam-dunk candidate, they often need a particular Hall of Fame voter to vouch for them and/or a group of dedicated advocates from the fan base. For a while, Klecko had that in AP voter Paul Zimmerman from Sports Illustrated.
However, when Zimmerman passed away, there was a long lull until New York sportswriter Gary Myers picked it up in 2018. Myers finally renewed the momentum.
Klecko described how the pandemic actually helped make his case. The Hall of Fame voting panel got together many of the players that played against Klecko on Zoom—a feat that would not have been possible in person but was conceived only because of Covid protocols.
On that panel, Klecko said, Dick Vermeil paid him a high compliment. Vermeil explained to the voters that the same way NFL teams of today gameplan for Aaron Donald, the coaches of yesteryear had to gameplan for Klecko.
That got the notice of the younger voters who had never seen No. 73 in action.
Boomer asked Klecko where he learned to move from side to side as a nose tackle, something that is done regularly in today’s NFL but was not common at the time. Klecko responded that he actually learned it from Steelers legend DT Mean Joe Greene upon the arrival of defensive coordinator Bud Carson from Pittsburgh. However, Greene did it in a 4-3 front, while Klecko did it in a 3-4.
This caused fits for offensive linemen, who would slide in Klecko’s direction presnap, only to see him jump to the other side and hit the gaping hole. The line’s need to react to Klecko gave countless opportunities for the other members of the line to pick up sacks and quick tackles.
On his ‘Knock at the Door’
One of the best-known rituals from the NFL Hall of Fame is the famous “knock at the door,” previously executed by president David Baker at the hotel prior to the NFL Honors ceremony.
The videos of these knocks have become increasingly ballyhooed in recent years, often eliciting screams from family members and emotional reactions from the newly minted Hall of Famers.
For the Hall of Fame Class of 2021, though, it was impossible to gather due to the pandemic. Therefore, the Hall of Fame put together a difficult but rewarding process of tracking down each awardee at home (or work) to surprise them with their induction.
The results were that much more amazing, as the players did not expect it.
That process continued into 2022 and then this year. However, with Baker having retired from the Hall of Fame, the mantle was passed to various Hall of Famers with connections to the newest inductees.
For Darrelle Revis, Hall of Fame cornerback Ty Law was his “knocker.”
For Klecko, it was Broadway Joe himself, Joe Namath.
Klecko explained how the knock came to be. The Hall of Fame had called him the week before and informed him that if he were to be selected, they would need to be in touch about where to go. They then asked for the contact information of the people who live with him, which are his wife and daughter, in case they couldn’t get a hold of him.
The Hall of Fame people then called his daughter and told her to make sure that Klecko would be home at a specific time.
She responded, “My mom can make my dad do anything. We’ll have him here.”
Furthermore, Klecko said that he had ordered lunch at the time of the knock and thought he was answering the door for the delivery. When he saw Namath in his gold jacket and 14 people there with cameras, he knew what they were there for.
This resulted in the epic line from Klecko: “Hey, honey, Joe Namath came to lunch!”
“Hey, honey. @RealJoeNamath came to lunch!”– Joe Klecko
Hall of Fame Knocks: Welcome to Canton➡️Saturday at 8:00 PM (EST) on @nflnetwork. pic.twitter.com/zECPwEAtTD
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) February 12, 2023
Klecko said that it was a true honor for him to have Namath come from Florida to his home to inform him of his induction.
The interview contained some other nuggets of Klecko’s sense of humor and experiences.
He said that when he was told in August that he had been named a Hall of Fame finalist but would have to wait until February to find out if he’d make it, he didn’t lend it much brain space.
Klecko explained, “I’m in the construction business; until I cash the check, I really don’t know.”
Another thing Klecko said was that his induction might not have sunk in right away. Like going to a new team, a friend told him, “You have to convince yourself you belong.”
However, going out to the NFL Honors ceremony and the Super Bowl and standing among all the other Hall of Famers, who gave him a warm welcome, made him feel that sense of belonging and rightness.
Klecko said that Marty Lyons, his Sack Exchange linemate and current radio color commentator for the Jets on 98.7 ESPN New York, will introduce him at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Gio asked if Klecko was going to write his speech or “shoot from the hip.” Klecko answered, “I’m usually a shoot from the hip kind of guy. I don’t accept too many speeches since I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
He explained that he’ll have to write more here, though, since he has not only his career but the 30 years since to cram into a 10-minute speech.
Klecko said that Howie Long told him, “Joe, you’ve got to become a speed reader real quick.”
Boomer asked Klecko if he’s going to get emotional at the ceremony. Klecko responded, “Tears mostly are for other people to count. When they’re tears for yourself, I’m not such a big proponent of that.” He said he doesn’t know if he will be emotional since it’s a joyful time.
When asked which coaches got the most out of him, Klecko responded that it was Walt Michaels, his first head coach with the Jets (1977-83). Although Michaels wasn’t the warm and fuzzy type, Klecko was fine with it and satisfied because Michaels never yelled at him—meaning that he was doing his job.
Klecko also cited Dan Sekanovich, his defensive line coach with the Jets. He said that he asked how he was ever going to get to the Pro Bowl with L.C. Greenwood of the Steelers in front of him. Sekanovich responded, “You’re not going to need to worry about the Pro Bowl; you’re going to need to worry about the Hall of Fame.” How prescient those words proved to be.
When discussing the techniques used by some defensive linemen to avoid being grabbed by opponents, Klecko stated that no one ever got their hands in on him because he was always in first. Boomer stated that his big forearms helped.
Klecko responded, “Well, it helped to throw people out of the way, Boomer.” Boomer noted wryly that he was on the other end of some of those throwaways.
Klecko explained that one time, while Boomer was on the air, he sent Boomer a picture of himself sacking Boomer as a reminder.
Overall, it was a great interview from Boomer and Gio that gives insight into Klecko the man as well as Klecko the football player. Watch the full segment here:
Joe Klecko joined @WFANMornings and talked about finally becoming a Hall of Famer:@7BOOMERESIASON @GioWFAN pic.twitter.com/NcsdA769m0
— WFAN Sports Radio (@WFAN660) February 23, 2023
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Originally posted on Jets X-Factor