What in the world is a NY Giants blogger doing, writing about a NY Jets Defensive Lineman? It all started yesterday, when Troy Aikman went off the deep end with his man crush on Aaron Donald.
“I played against Reggie White, I played against Lawrence Taylor…and I gotta tell you, this Aaron Donald is the best defensive player that I’ve ever seen. He’s really remarkable – he should be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and I think he should be getting some votes for MVP of the entire league…he’s that good.” – Hall of Fame QB Troy Aikman.
If you want to stir up a hornet’s nest, tell Giants fans that there is a better defensive player than Lawrence Taylor. Giants fans glow about their 4 hallowed Super Bowl victories. But they pray at the altar of their deliverer, Lawrence Taylor. You mess with Taylor, you mess with all of us. It is about respect. And truth. We know the truth about Taylor. He was the best defensive player we saw and we do not like it when anyone touches that.
When this happened, I reached out to the UltimateNYG Draft Analyst, Wonder, for his thoughts on where Aaron Donald ranked in terms of all-time Defensive players. We started out by simply listing the great Interior Defensive Linemen.
Putting a guy like Aaron Donald in perspective with the greats of all time is part of appreciating the players that came before Donald. There will be players that come after Donald too. Decades from now, people will want to defend his play, just like Giants fans want to defend Taylor’s today.
Look back at that list of Defensive Tackles, and tell me the one player that just does not make any sense. It is Joe Klecko. Here we are talking about the greatest Defensive Linemen to ever play the game, guys like Mean Joe Greene, Bob Lilly and Randy White (who tormented my Giants teams when I was growing up). And Joe Klecko is one of Wonder’s greats of all time.
Yet Klecko is not in the Hall of Fame.
I’ve heard this one before. So I started digging. And what I found was startling.
Everybody knows about Wide Receivers, Running backs, and Quarterbacks. Why? Because we watch the ball and that’s where the ball goes. Some of us watch Defensive Ends and Left Tackles because those elite players can change the outcome of a game. But Guards, Centers, and Interior Defensive Linemen literally and figuratively get lost in the wash. How do we truly know who are the great ones? Add an interior Defensive Lineman on someone else’s team, and it is mostly an empty shrug. The first person we turned to was Wonder.
“First of all, before we get to Klecko, let’s make one thing clear about Taylor. He was the best defensive player in the history of the game, and it is not even close. He changed the game. For Aikman to say what he said is incorrect. Perhaps that comment reflects that Aikman missed the first 8 years of Superman’s career. Taylor changed the way that offenses had to prepare for defenses. Offenses are concerned about Aaron Donald, as he is a terrific player (on my short list of Interior DLmen). He is a disruptor. But no one has ever put the fear of God into a QB like Lawrence Taylor. He terrorized opposing QBs. And they knew it. This also affected their play, adding even further impact to what he did on the field, ” said Wonder, UltimateNYG’s Draft analyst.
Wonder returns to his inclusion of Klecko on the shortlist of Interior DLmen: “Let’s talk about Klecko. Joe Klecko was a beast. He was great from Day 1. When Gastineau came along and collected a ton of sacks, it was because opposing Defenses had to double Klecko. Not many people know this, but Klecko was a Pro Bowler at NOT ONE, NOT TWO, BUT THREE different positions. Defensive End, Defensive Tackle, and Nose Tackle. People will marvel at how the elite Defensive Linemen like JJ Watt and Aaron Donald can line up almost anywhere. Well, Klecko lined up everywhere, and he killed it everywhere.”
The next place to go is to find out what the elite players of his era that played with & against Klecko said about him. This was when I knew I had to write a piece on this guy. It is nuts.
Let’s set the table. Who is Wonder’s best Guard of All-Time? It is John Hannah, and it is not even close. Now remember, Wonder is a diehard Jets fan, so for him to call a Patriot the best of all time is RESPECT. Hannah played Guard for New England from 1973 to 1985. Klecko played on the other side of the line of scrimmage from 1977 to 1988. They overlapped for 9 years. And since they were in the same division, that meant Hannah saw Klecko probably as much as anyone in the NFL.
“He was there, every play, all day long. Strong as anything, if he ever got under you, he was going to plow you right back into the Quarterback. And he was just off the ball quick. The combination of speed and quickness.. and having that strength…to go along with it, was just something you really had to contend with. The two guys in my mind that were the best all around that I ever played in front of were Howie Long and Joe Klecko. Not having Joe in the Hall of Fame is really kind of a slur against the Hall of Fame.” – Hall of Fame G John Hannah.
In a radio clip below (skip to minute 8:30 to find the question), Hannah is asked if he could put up one player into the Hall of Fame, no questions asked. ‘The Best Guard Ever’ did not flinch. It is a fun interview to get the veteran’s views on Alabama, Training Camp, the NFL today, and other areas of football. This interview took place in 2016 well before the 100th Anniversary HOF push of 2019, so there was no agenda for Hannah. It makes his words even more earnest, if that is possible.
How about another peer from the same era who had to face Klecko twice a year, every year, year after? How about the words of Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure. DeLamielleure played Guard for the Buffalo Bills from 1973 to 1985, the same period as Hannah, and also faced Klecko in his division for 9 years.
“I had Joe Greene and Merlin Olsen. I put Joe (Klecko) right in there with them. He was a great player. The difference between Joe and all the players you played against, he never took a play off. Ever. It was all-out.
“His significance to the Jets is he made them a better team. He made the players around him better. Joe got 20 sacks in one season. 20.5 sacks! You gotta be kidding me. Somebody will say, well what position did he play? He DOMINATED at three. If you played baseball and you played first base, second base, and short stop, and he was All-Pro at all of them, would he not be in the Hall of Fame? If he played Power Forward, Point Guard and Center in basketball, would he not be in the Hall of Fame? We got to right this wrong. It’s going to be one of my happiest days when he gets in the Hall of Fame.” – Hall of Fame G Joe DeLamielleure.
Let’s stay in the AFC East and hear the words of a third Hall of Famer from Miami who saw him twice a year every year, completely overlapping careers with Klecko….
“You watched him and were amazed by the way he played the game. He was a dominating and devastating lineman. He really was. No one played the game better than him. Joe Klecko hands down needs to be in the Hall of Fame.” – Hall of Fame C Dwight Stephenson.
John Hannah mentioned Klecko along side of Howie Long, another Hall of Famer from the Defensive Line. This time we get the perspective of a football player who played on the same side of the ball, who deeply understood what his peer faced and what he was able to accomplish.
“It was an incredible accomplishment to be dominant at one position in the NFL in your career. But to be dominant at 3 positions?! 20.5 sacks in 1981 (before sacks were recognized as a statistic), they are probably throwing the ball, I am not sure about the percentages, but they are throwing the ball a lot more now, we are throwing the ball at every level of football more. So that number is even more impressive in 1981 than it would be now. His just pure raw strength. His quickness off the ball. It was not about finesse. It was not about being slick. For Joe it was simple. You know what I am going to do. I know what you are going to do. And stop me if you can. There have been a number of players who have been dominant in their era, who in my mind warranted consideration and induction into the Hall of Fame. And I think it is time for Joe Klecko to get that nod. I really believe that.” – Hall of Fame DT Howie Long.
“I played against Joe Klecko several times. To me, in my humble opinion, he is one of the best and should be in. The Hall of Fame would be in a lot better standing with a guy like Joe in it.” – Hall of Fame LT Anthony Muñoz.
In a video clip below, Klecko is noted as a team player who did not grab the spotlight. He is tossing QBs around like rag dolls, just like Taylor used to do.
What is interesting about Klecko’s statistics are that he only played Defensive End for 3 seasons. In a 12 year career, that meant he was only on the edge collecting sacks in a significant capacity for 25% of his career. In the years he played Defensive End, 1978, 1980 and 1981, the NFL was passing on 47% of plays. Today (the 2019 season’s final stats), the NFL is passing 57% of the time. This works out to be 18% more passing today. Klecko had 74.5 sacks, the first 50.5 of which were uncounted in his first 5 seasons. When you consider when and where he played, it trues up some of the discrepancy in his numbers.
Klecko himself was asked why he is not in the Hall of Fame. He reminded us of some of the lenses that work for (and sometimes against) voters.
“Super Bowl rings and championship success is a big deal in our league. We had a lot of teams that were right there, but for whatever reason, it didn’t work out. Back in my days of playing, the media now is nothing like it was back then. For example, I was playing against a team, I won’t mention teams or names, that had Pro Bowlers on it and they told me, Joe, you’re better than those guys. But the problem is we were 3-13. Back in those days, you get zero news coverage if your team is bad. When we finally made the playoffs, that’s when I made the Pro Bowl. When you play on a good team or in the playoffs you get recognition. Those things matter. If you’re on a bad team in the league today it doesn’t matter because if you’re good enough people will still recognize you. Back when I started that wasn’t the case.” – Defensive Lineman Joe Klecko.
It is really hard for younger people to understand a world without the internet, let alone a world without more than a few television stations. In the 1970s the Jets were terrible, ESPN did not even exist, and that meant a guy named Klecko was invisible. Then they start collecting sack stats right AFTER he switches from End to Tackle. So Klecko goes from invisible team to invisible stats to invisible position. He missed out on the Pro Bowl in his first 4 years. All of a sudden year 5, bamm, he is not only Pro Bowl but All-Pro too? It tells you he was quietly excelling without recognition from 1977-1980 when the Jets won 3, 8, 8 and 4 games. In his rookie year (in the video above), there was already frustration from a veteran Offensive Lineman in not being able to block him. Klecko was invisible to enough HOF voters, but he wasn’t invisible to Hannah, DeLamielleure, Stephenson, or Munoz. When one of your fiercest rivals yearns for your recognition, that is the purest compliment you can receive. Usually it is fellow teammates taking up the mantle for one of their own making it to Canton. What does it say that DeLamielleure, your RIVAL ON A COMPETITING TEAM, demands that Klecko get in?! Respect.
Some Giants fans may be offended that I could put together such a glowing tribute to a New York Jet. For me, this is about truth and objectivity. If you want to defend Lawrence Taylor as the best Defensive Player in history, you also need to speak up when there is any football player who is not being recognized properly. We want the proper respect for Taylor. We want the proper respect for Donald. How good was it when Harry Carson finally got the nod to the Hall? We need to get Joe Klecko into the Hall of Fame so that we can honor truth. Bill Parcells would always bring the media and fans down a level when some new ‘flash in the pan’ would get “great” accolades. “Don’t put him in Canton yet,” said the HOF Coach. It is well past time that Joe Klecko is put in Canton. Respect.