NFL Nation: Joe Klecko
How many defining moments can a franchise have when it has won a single championship, and that was 42 years ago?
The New York Jets won Super Bowl III after quarterback Joe Namath made his famous guarantee. That moment didn't make my short list because the Super Bowl didn't necessarily change the Jets' fortunes; it was the Jets' fortune.
The pivotal development to get the Jets to their lone championship was Namath eschewing the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals and taking a chance on the upstart AFL. Broadway Joe became the face of the league and remains a transcendent New York icon. In four decades, no other Jets player has come close to matching the impact Namath made.
Highlights have been minimal in the years since, but the New York Sack Exchange of Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam provided the franchise milepost of the 1980s.
The Jets made a splash when they hired Bill Parcells as general manager and head coach in 1997. His arrival sparked a Jets-Patriots rivalry that has grown into one of the NFL's best, featuring Curtis Martin's jump to the Jets out of loyalty to the coach.
Although he has been with the Jets only two seasons, I don't think it's premature to include head coach Rex Ryan's arrival as an option for the defining moment. The culture under Ryan is a stark contrast to the organization under predecessor Eric Mangini. The Jets have gone to back-to-back AFC Championship Games and are considered a hot destination because free agents want to play for Ryan.
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Buffalo Bills: Steve Tasker, special teams.
Claim to fame: Tasker perhaps is the greatest special-teams ace in NFL history. He was a notable weapon on Buffalo's four consecutive AFC championship teams in the 1990s.
Case for enshrinement: Tasker was so dominant in his role, the NFL changed its Pro Bowl rules to include special-teamers on rosters. He went to seven Pro Bowls, putting him in select company, and was named the MVP in 1993. He has been a semifinalist on the Hall of Fame ballot four times. The NFL Network named him the ninth-best player -- of any position -- not in the Hall of Fame.
Tasker blocked seven punts and made 204 special-teams tackles. He forced seven fumbles and recovered six. He returned kickoffs, punts and held on extra points and field goals. As a receiver, he caught 51 passes for 779 yards and nine touchdowns.
Case against enshrinement: Special-teamers just don't get enshrined. Kicker Jan Stenerud is the only pure special-teamer with a bust. Legendary punter Ray Guy isn't in. No return specialist has been honored, either.
The common retort to that is one of the silliest sayings in football: Special teams are one-third of the game. Sorry, but that's not true. If each team plays a perfect defensive game and forces the opponent to go three-and-out on every possession, then special teams are needed once every four plays. And if football people truly believed special teams were that integral to the game, they would draft special teamers rather than fill out those units with offensive and defensive reserves.
Parting shot: I'd like to see more special-teamers recognized in Canton. But unless there's a substantial change in selection philosophies, Tasker won't make it into the Hall of Fame.
Miami Dolphins: Jake Scott, safety.
Case for enshrinement: Scott is one of the most overlooked players in NFL history. His career was relatively short, but it burned brightly. For five years in a row, starting with his second season, Scott went to the Pro Bowl and was named first- or second-team All-Pro.
Despite playing only nine NFL seasons, Scott recorded 49 interceptions, a total that ranked 18th all time when he retired. Hall of Fame safety Ken Houston played 14 seasons and finished with the same total. Scott still holds the Dolphins record with 35 interceptions. He added 14 more in three seasons with the Washington Redskins. Scott recovered 13 fumbles in his career.
He also was a slick punt returner. He holds Miami career records in returns and yardage and ranks third in average.
Case against enshrinement: There's a stigma that comes with playing on the No-Name Defense. Only one player from that great unit, linebacker Nick Buoniconti, is in the Hall of Fame, and his cause certainly was helped by previous work with the Boston Patriots and by remaining in public view as a broadcaster.
Scott, meanwhile, became a recluse. He moved to Hawaii and for a time avoided attention at all costs. He reportedly declined the chance to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame because he wouldn't commit to attending the ceremony.
Also working against Scott, who never has made the cut to 15 modern-day finalists, is the dearth of safeties enshrined in Canton. Only seven have been inducted.
Parting shot: Scott didn't play long enough to get traditional consideration. His best hope would be through the senior committee.
New England Patriots: Adam Vinatieri, kicker.
Claim to fame: If Vinatieri is not the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history, then he's in a short conversation. He won the Patriots' first two Super Bowls with field goals in the final seconds.
Case for enshrinement: Vinatieri has kicked for six Super Bowl teams, played in five Super Bowls and won four rings -- three with the Patriots and one with the Indianapolis Colts. He directly delivered a pair of Lombardi Trophies for the Patriots. He kicked a 48-yarder as time expired to win Super Bowl XXXVI and a 41-yarder with four seconds left to win Super Bowl XXXVIII.
In blizzard conditions at the end of the infamous Tuck Rule game, Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal with 1:39 left in regulation to force overtime and then won it with a 23-yard field goal.
Vinatieri has been an All-Pro twice. He has kicked a record-tying five field goals in a postseason game twice and owns multiple playoff and Super Bowl records. He has scored the most points for a kicker (34) in Super Bowl history and converted the most field goals (seven) and extra points (13). His 177 postseason points rank first.
Case against enshrinement: Stenerud is the only true kicker in the Hall of Fame. Morten Andersen and Gary Anderson will have to get in first, and the idea of quadrupling the number of kickers (if you consider Vinatieri the next one inducted after Andersen and Anderson) won't be an easy sell to the voters.
Vinatieri has led the NFL in scoring and field goals once and probably won't finish with attractive enough career stats. At 37 years old and showing signs of slowing down -- he played six games for the Colts last season because of hip and knee surgeries -- and he ranks 15th in scoring and 13th in field goals made. Players such as John Carney, Matt Stover and John Kasay have more. Vinatieri has kicked almost 100 fewer field goals than Jason Elam. Nobody envisions Canton when they think of those guys.
Parting shot: Vinatieri provided two of the most indelible memories in Patriots history. As his career stands now, however, two big kicks won't overcome the circumstances of his position.
New York Jets: Joe Klecko, defensive lineman.
Case for enshrinement: Klecko was the first player to make the Pro Bowl at three positions. He went as a defensive end in 1981, a defensive tackle in '83 and '84 and a nose tackle in '85. To illustrate his importance, the Jets made his No. 73 the third number retired in club history after Joe Namath and Don Maynard.
Unlike the Fearsome Foursome or Purple People Eaters, the Sack Exchange doesn't have a single Hall of Fame representative. While Mark Gastineau's histrionics garnered the most attention, Klecko was the most complete player of the four. He was a dangerous pass-rusher and nasty against the run.
Klecko unofficially recorded 20.5 sacks in 1981 and notched at least one sack in 10 straight games, a franchise record.
Case against enshrinement: What hurts Klecko is that he somehow remained relatively anonymous in New York. He was overlooked because he played thankless positions and was trumped by Gastineau's sack dances.
Klecko also played on some lousy teams. The Jets went to the playoffs only four times during his tenure (1977 through 1987). Once was in the strike-shortened 1982 season and he was hurt for the 1986 postseason.
Parting shot: Klecko never has made the cut of 15 modern-era finalists. He might need to rely on the senior committee.
Perhaps it stands for Did Not Advance.
The Jets have maneuvered into the unlikely position of controlling their own destiny Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals at the Meadowlands.
It's essentially a postseason play-in game for the Jets. If they win, then they're in. If they don't, their season is over.
Jets fans are predisposed to heartbreak. The Jets have done little since Joe Namath wagged his index finger as he trotted off the Orange Bowl field after winning Super Bowl III.
In a feature story that ran this week, ESPN.com senior writer Greg Garber ventured to explain the miserable existence Jets fans have endured over the past four decades.
"Realistically, the glass is half full," legendary Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko said of Sunday night's game. "But I can understand the [fans'] fatalism with all the bad cards they were dealt through this thing."
But I have some encouraging news for Jets fans.
When it comes to do-or-die games, they actually have won more than they've lost.
ESPN Stats & Information researchers Mark Simon and Mark Kelly compiled the list of finales the Jets had to win to get into the playoffs. The Jets have gone 5-3.
Dec. 20, 1981: Jets 28, Packers 3
Not only did the Jets put themselves into the playoffs by routing the Packers in the season's final game (the defense sacked Packers quarterback Lynn Dickey nine times), but they also helped the Giants clinch a playoff berth by eliminating the Packers.
The final game of the season was do or die for a wild-card spot. The Dolphins took the lead late in the fourth quarter on a fourth-down touchdown pass from Dan Marino to Ferrell Edmunds, but the Jets tied the game on a Raul Allegre 44-yard field goal as regulation time expired. The Jets won in sudden death. Allegre, in his first game with the Jets, made a 30-yard field goal.
Jan. 2, 1993: Oilers 24, Jets 0
The Jets were 8-5 but lost their last three games of the season, including an embarrassing defeat against the Oilers in the regular-season finale. A win in this Sunday night game (best known for Buddy Ryan punching Kevin Gilbride) would've put the Jets in the playoffs, but the loss knocked them out. This was Bruce Coslet's last game as Jets head coach.
Dec. 21, 1997: Lions 13, Jets 10
Jets fans remember this game well for a gamble by Bill Parcells, who asked Leon Johnson to throw a halfback option. Johnson's pass was intercepted in the end zone by Bryant Westbrook midway through the fourth quarter. The Lions held on for the win, keeping the Jets from a playoff spot. Barry Sanders cleared 2,000 yards rushing for the season earlier in a victory that clinched a playoff spot for the Lions.
Dec. 24, 2000: Ravens 34, Jets 20
The Jets were 9-4 and needed one victory to make the playoffs, but they lost three straight, including a deplorable loss to the Lions in Week 15. The Jets blew an early 14-0 lead to the eventual Super Bowl champs in the season finale and lost 34-20. Jermaine Lewis, returning after the tragic death of his son, led the way with two punt returns for touchdowns. Chris McAlister returned a Vinny Testaverde interception 98 yards for a score to put the Ravens ahead for good. Al Groh left the Jets after one season.
Jan. 6, 2002: Jets 24, Raiders 22
One week after John Hall missed a kick to cost the Jets a game, he nailed a 53-yard field goal with 59 seconds remaining to win at Oakland and put the Jets into the postseason. A loss would've eliminated them. The Raiders would beat the Jets in the playoffs a week later.
Dec. 29, 2002: Jets 42, Packers 17
The Jets needed some help in the 1 p.m. games and got it when the Patriots rallied late to beat the Dolphins in overtime. That put the Jets in a win-and-in scenario at 4 p.m. The game was a Jets romp. Chad Pennington threw four touchdown passes, and the defense shut down Packers quarterback Brett Favre. The win made the Jets AFC East champs.
Dec. 31, 2006: Jets 23, Raiders 3
To make the playoffs, the Jets had to win at Miami in Week 16, then beat the Raiders in the season finale. The Jets managed both under rookie head coach Eric Mangini. With the loss, the Raiders clinched the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Pennington was 22 for 30 for 157 yards and a touchdown in the win.
Joe DeLamielleure is considered a football student of the highest order.
He estimates he has visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame a dozen times before he was inducted in 2003. Conversations with him are sprinkled with obscure trivia questions and name dropping that demonstrates a humbling knowledge.
He also is a vocal advocate for retired players in need of financial assistance, waging war against NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw.
DeLamielleure has passionate opinions and backs them up.
So people ought to listen when the sensational pulling guard for the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns declares Andre Tippett was a better outside linebacker than Lawrence Taylor.
Tippett, who recorded 100 sacks for the New England Patriots, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday.
"I thought he was better all around," DeLamielleure told ESPN.com by phone from Canton. "A lot of guys thought he was better.
"He played the run better than Lawrence Taylor. They never asked Lawrence Taylor to put his hand down on the ground. Lawrence Taylor was just a standup rusher.
"I always said if Tippett would have put his hand down on the ground every down, he probably would have been one of the top rushing defensive ends to ever play."
DeLamielleure was a member of the Electric Company, the gang who blocked for O.J. Simpson. Their coach was Jim Ringo, another Hall of Famer.
DeLamielleure said Ringo, a position coach for four Hall of Fame linemen, shared his belief Tippett was the best.
"Think of how many sacks Tippett had, and he always had a tight end on his side," DeLamielleure said. "He played the strong side. Lawrence Taylor was a weak-side linebacker."
Not surprisingly, DeLamielleure had a couple other names to push for induction. The first was his football role model, former Miami Dolphins guard Bob Kuechenberg, a finalist each of the past five years.
"John Hannah and I both looked at him when we were younger and said 'That's the guy we want to be like,' and we're in the Hall of Fame and he isn't," DeLamielleure said. "Strange."
Another oversight in DeLamielleure's mind is former New York Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko.
"He made the Pro Bowl as a nose guard, as a defensive tackle and as a defensive end," DeLamielleure said.
"Think about that."
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