Joe Klecko’s Hall of Fame Election Recalls Bygone Jets Era

In 1985, they lost the wild-card game to New England after quarterback Ken O’Brien, the league’s top-rated passer that season, suffered a concussion and missed the second half. The Jets committed four turnovers.

And in 1986, the Jets had a divisional playoff victory seemingly sewn up. Leading by 20-10 with four minutes remaining, they had the Browns at second-and-24. Cleveland quarterback Bernie Kosar threw an incomplete pass. But Gastineau hit him late, resulting in first down by penalty, and Cleveland went on to win in double-overtime.

Meanwhile, Klecko benefited from Donald Trump’s largess. Trump had taken over the Generals of the United States Football League, which was started as a low-cost off-season diversion for N.F.L. fans. But once Trump got his hands on the team, he wanted the best players available, and he wooed Klecko.

The Jets, to keep Klecko, made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league at $830,000.

But the injuries had piled up. And after the 1987 season, the Jets’ team orthopedist, the noted Dr. James A. Nicholas — a pioneer in sports medicine — advised Klecko to quit.

Despite having undergone serious knee surgery, and shoulder surgery, and suffering from assorted problems, Klecko demurred. He felt his salary had something to do with the Jets not wanting him to play any longer.

He signed with the Indianapolis Colts and ended his career after the 1988 season.

But for Jets fans and those who knew him, he was the gritty, grind-it-out, selfless animator of the defense all those years. He made those around him better. Indeed, as he said, “I always felt that the team needed me, no matter what.”

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