NFL Legends: The New York Sack Exchange
The New York Jets are a team that has suffered bitter disappointment throughout the last four decades. While the New York Giants have won three Super Bowls, and have had 27 people, who had, at least, a small part of their career there, go into the Hall of Fame, the New York Jets have only six with two spending minor portions of their career there.
A team that has been around 49 years has only six Hall of Famers? They may have had only one Super Bowl victory, but I find it hard to believe that the New York Jets have not been successful at all for a few decades.
So, I checked into it. I found they have a very underrated, rarely talked about, running back named Curtis Martin, who will undoubtedly; go into the Hall of Fame. However, he is more recent from 1998 to 2006 for them.
He'll go into the Hall of Fame around 2012 or 2013 then. The waiting period is very dull, but required.
So this team has only Weeb Ewbank (the head coach), Don Maynard, Joe Namath, and John Riggins (played with them long enough to be considered a primary member) as primary members in the Hall of Fame.
If you look hard enough, you'll find a player that has been passed over, missed, snubbed, or just plain ignored by the Hall of Fame selection committee.
I found one, arguably two, who have been forgotten.
Well I, James Williamson, feel that if they cannot be honored by the Hall of Fame, I will induct them into the NFL Legends along with their other two teammates.
So, sit back, get a drink, and prepare for a nice history lesson about the New York Sack Exchange.
Wow! What a name; the New York Sack Exchange. The only thing these guys have in common with the New York Stock Exchange is that they deal in green. Green dollars to green jerseys.
The great thing about these guys was the fact that none of their names are ordinary. They have the perfect kind of name where it's not too common, but not too hard to pronounce. Those kinds of names are easily remembered.
They were: Abdul Salaam, Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, and Marty Lyons. All of them were unique in their own special way aside from the fact they were professional football players.
Abdul Salaam was the only one of African-American descent. He was born Larry Faulk out of Cinncinatti, OH and was one of the tackles out of Kent State as a seventh-round draft pick in 1976.
Mark Gastineau was the only one born in the southern part of the United States, Ardmore, OK to be exact. He was gifted in football, but apparently did not have enough skill to make it to a big university, so he settled for East Central Oklahoma State.
However, he flourished on the football field, making 27 sacks as a defensive lineman. He managed to build himself up to a second round pick in 1979.
Joe Klecko was born in Chester, PA. Next door to Philadelphia, and he wanted to play for the birds, but they passed him over, and the Jets got him in the sixth round of the 1977 draft. He also went to a non-football (not really known for football success) university known as Temple.
Marty Lyons was, to be accurate, a regular player with high expectations really. He was arguably the weakest on the line, and he was supposed to be the best. Lyons was born in Takoma Park, MA, and he was the Jets first-round pick in 1979 before Gastineau.
He went to SEC's Alabama and the Crimson Tide, where he helped win a national championship, but he was not the same star in the NFL.
Combine these four guys together, and you get a defensive line that, I think, was better than the Steel Curtain's line. They were great together, and something to be very proud of if you are a New York Jets fan or even an NFL fan.
Abdul Salaam described it best as, ''What was created here was this system of defeating opponents by the sack. That is how we functioned. We would stop the run, put them in a second-and-long, third-and-long, and that would change the attitude of the offense.''
Klecko, from my perspective, was the leader of the group. He was the best player; he was a guy who was feared as well as respected.
Marty Lyons recalled a time where Klecko gave him an order, “Early in the season, I was walking through the…uh… weight room and Joe said to me uh...“Where you going?” I said, “I’m leaving.” He says, “Aren’t you going to lift today?” Well I said, “I already lifted Joe, you guys were getting treatment, I’m going home.” He says, “Listen to me; I don’t have a choice in this matter.”
He goes, “I’m going to have to play alongside with you as long as you’re here.” And he says, “You need to get stronger, so from now on, you don’t leave the complex until I leave the complex.””
Klecko and Gastineau were the ends, but Klecko did it all. He went to the Pro Bowl as a defensive tackle, nose tackle, and defensive end, a feat no one else has accomplished.
The name originated when the magazine, The Jets Report, held a contest to name the front four. A police officer, Dan O'Connor, of Brooklyn entered the name he came up with and he won the contest.
O'Connor said, "I thought, 'What goes good with New York?' New York Stock Exchange; New York Sack Exchange. It was perfect."
It was the perfect nickname for sure, but the nickname almost didn't apply to the entire front four.
Lyons and Salaam functioned mainly as run stoppers, so they were not nearly as talented as Klecko or Gastineau. Therefore, the writers and reporters wanted the nickname to apply to Klecko and Gastineau only.
Klecko, however, would not allow that. In an interview he stated, “They originally wanted two of us, and I just put an axe on that, I said, “Listen, if it’s going to be a sack exchange, there’s going to be four of us, because without Abdul and Marty, Mark and I are nothing.””
According to Gerald Eskenazi, author of Gang Green, “Klecko was never a bragger. Klecko had great pride in what he did, but he always wanted to share it with the other guys. He never ever took credit alone for anything.”
Gastineau loved the pass rush, simply loved it. If you looked at this guy, you'd be amazed at his body. This green beast was 6'6", around 280 lbs, but ran a 4.5 40-yard dash! No one that size can run that fast! At least, they shouldn't be able to.
He was so effective as a pass rusher, because he would do anything he could do to get the sack. He said, “I would read the quarterback’s lips; I would be over trying to get the count. See me on one; see me on two, trying to get every little extra thing that you could possibly get. That is the key to getting off the ball.”
Like most football players, he had a passion for the game, except his passion went overboard. He had this “Sack Dance” that he would do after every sack. Now while players do a celebration after a sack, they are done very quickly. Mark Gastineau, however, would continue celebrating to the point of annoyance to opposing players.
Gastineau finally did his dance against the wrong guy. He managed to beat Jackie Slater (Hall of Fame tackle) and get the quarterback Vince Ferragamo. Gastineau gets up and starts shaking all around, doing his dance, and Jackie Slater, who does not want to be embarrassed, gives Gastineau a big shove, and then the entire Jets defense goes onto Slater followed by the Rams offense.
That scuffle led to the NFL banning Gastineau’s Sack Dance and a black mark on Gastineau’s record. He was seen by most as an arrogant punk with extraordinary talent. His dancing also had effect in the locker room, but the team overcame that.
Joe Klecko recalled, ''There were times with Mark's sack dance; it didn't sit comfortable with us in the locker room. But I think the best part of it all was that, when we came on the field to play on Sunday, I don't care what was between any of us. As a football team, we played.''
The main reason this unit did not have a chance to flourish is because they never managed to stay together. After the 1982 season, Abdul Salaam was traded to the San Diego Chargers.
In that same 1982 season, an NFL strike happened that shortened the season to nine games, and despite recording only six sacks in nine games in the 1982 season, Mark Gastineau was voted the Defensive Player of the Year by the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA).
However, in 1981, the year before the strike, the Sack Exchange was unstoppable. They recorded 53.5 sacks, 20.5 by Klecko, 20 by Gastineau, seven by Salaam, and six by Lyons. Klecko was named Defensive Player of the Year by the NEA.
The Jets made playoffs with a 10-5-1 record after posting a 4-12 record the year before. Klecko and Gastineau made the Pro Bowl, and Klecko was voted All-Pro.
Many things happened to change the remaining team members. In 1983, Klecko was moved from end to tackle and still was a playmaker, making 6.5 sacks and voted to the Pro Bowl. Gastineau became the main sacker and recorded 19 sacks making the Pro Bowl and All-Pro.
1984 was a great year as well for Klecko and Gastineau. Klecko made the Pro Bowl despite playing in only 12 games and recording three sacks. Gastineau was on fire, setting an NFL record 22.0 sacks in one season which stood till 2001.
Gastineau was named again to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro roster where he was named the Pro Bowl MVP for getting four sacks in the game.
1985 was a bittersweet year for both players. Klecko changed positions again and moved to nose tackle of a 3-4 defense. Gastineau was moved inside and broke his hand, but still was able to overcome his handicap and make 13.5 sacks.
Klecko dominated at nose tackle, getting 7.5 sacks and both he and Gastineau went to the Pro Bowl, and Klecko was voted All-Pro.
That would be the last Pro Bowl season for both of them. They suffered from what we all will suffer eventually which is age. Both over 30, both had multiple injuries, and Gastineau had a lot of off-the-field issues such as an affair with actress Brigitte Nelson just led to an eventual slump in performance.
While these two men were opposite in personality, they were comrades on the field, and I think both should at least be considered for the Hall of Fame.
Klecko does not have the best statistics since he was moved to different positions, but for him to make the Pro Bowl in three different positions is, to me, equivalent of an MVP title. Klecko also never wanted to shine by himself. He was a true team player who hated grandstanding.
Klecko was very revealing about his character when he said, “Humility is a thing that is lost in this game today that I would love to see come back. Like I said, I don’t think there is too many guys that can spell it, let alone act it.
"I told my son Danny, and I said to him, “If you ever decide to celebrate over something on the field, hurry up and turn around, because the first person you’re gonna see is going to be me, and I’m going to be kicking your butt.””
His son “Danny” is Dan Klecko, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles now and has three Super Bowl rings.
Klecko also was a warrior to the end. Marty Lyons remembered a time where Klecko gave him a piece of his mind, “We got in a fight with some team over in Shea Stadium, I pulled him out of the pile, we get back to the huddle, he looks at me and he says, “Hey! You ever do that again,” He goes, “I’m going to kick your @$$ in front of everybody.” I say, “Joe, what do you mean?” He goes, “You either fight with me or leave me alone.”
But Klecko also has a strike against him in the minds of some voters. In 1992, he was involved in an insurance fraud case, and he perjured himself to the grand jury, causing him to be sentenced to three months in a federal penitentiary followed by three months in a halfway house of sorts, a fine, and community service.
I stand firm though on the opinion that Joe Klecko should be in the Hall of Fame. We have plenty of men in the Hall of Fame that are far from sainthood: Lawrence Taylor, Bobby Layne, Paul Hornung, Joe Namath, John Elway, even Deacon Jones.
His No. 73 was retired by the Jets in 2004. The only other two guys from the Jets whose numbers are retired are Joe Namath and Don Maynard. Where are they? Canton, OH.
This man was one of the most dominant players at not one, but three positions, so I’ll tell you what to do. You go to a sculptor and ask him if he can make a bust of Joe Klecko.
In Mark Gastineau’s case, I doubt the Hall of Fame electors will seriously look at him. Gastineau was a pure pass rusher, and if you don’t play the run, some writers are going to hold that against you.
Also, he just ran out of gas. For a six-year period, he was a star, but according to a lot of analysts, he let off-the-field antics and celebrations affect his progress and that is a huge strike against him. He flagrantly had a public affair with Brigitte Nelson, and it was viewed much more strongly since he didn’t even bother to hide it.
Gastineau also has had trouble with the law. He hit his second wife, Patricia Schorr, and had drug problems. This lead to him being put in an anger-management program and probation. He didn’t complete the treatment, which led to a sentence of 18 months in jail.
However, he only served 11 months. It evidently turned him around because he hasn’t been back. He is trying to put his past behind him. He has a youth foundation in Shreveport, LA and I hope he has been successful.
Gastineau said, ''If a football player is 16, 17 years old and he sees a tall blonde coming through the door, just don't give it up. Don't give up football. If you leave the team, you will regret it, and I do. I really feel bad, but at the time it was something that I did. There are consequences for everything you do in life.''
When the Hall of Fame was brought up between him and his comrades, he just said sadly, ''The Hall of Fame is something that I will probably never be in.”
However, Abdul Salaam said to his old friend, ''Don't worry, Mark, I think you belong in the Hall of Fame, too.''
For a man that has spent most of his life down the wrong path to find himself and repent, I think those voters should raise their hands when his name comes up.
I know I would. What about you?
Sources for this article come from various NFL videos, the New York Times, and Wikipedia.
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