(EDITOR’S NOTE: To listen to the John Turney interview, click on the following link: (Ep 119: Senior Class Finalists Announced; John Turney Joins The Show (spreaker.com)
Among the three senior candidates announced this week for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2023, there was one upset… and, no, it wasn’t Chuck Howley or Ken Riley.
Joe Klecko, come on down.
A four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, the New York Jets’ defensive lineman was one of 12 finalists under consideration. But he had never been a Hall finalist, including one for the Centennial Class of 2020. Of course, neither had Howley and Riley.
So where’s the upset? Check out the competition.
There were more decorated defensive players among the eight defensive finalists, including linebackers Maxie Baughan (nine Pro Bowls, seven All-Pro nominations) and Randy Gradishar (1978 Defensive Player of the Year, seven Pro Bowls, five All-Pro nominations), as well as safety Eddie Meador (six-time Pro Bowler, five All-Pro nominations and member of the 1960s’ all-decade team).
Nevertheless, NFL historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal didn’t blink when Klecko’s name was announced. He explained why on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast.
“The reason I thought it wasn’t surprising.” Turney said, “is that he was very close last year, according to media reports. A lot of times momentum is carried year to year. Not every time, but I think a lot of times there is … just like (what happened with) Ken Riley. He was nearly the nominee a couple years ago (he was the runner-up to senior nominee Drew Pearson in 2021).
“But with Klecko, he’s kind of akin to Howie Long and Dan Hampton in that he played multiple positions well. It’s true that he went to the Pro Bowl at three different positions. He was a defensive end in ’81, a defensive tackle in ’83-’84 and a nose tackle in ’85. He was the NEA Defensive Player of the Year in 1981 when he had 20-1/s sacks. So those are impressive things. But I think it was the testimonials that took him over the top.”
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In advance of this week’s vote, Klecko was praised by Hall-of-Famers Anthony Munoz, John Hannah and Dwight Stephenson as Hall-of-Fame worthy. Turney believes that helped push his candidacy to the top.
“They were all effusive about Joe Klecko,” Turney said. “So it seems he got in on testimonials.”
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While Turney expressed no surprise with the choice of Klecko, he confessed dismay with the failure of Gradishar to be included. The Denver linebacker was Turney’s top choice among the 12 senior finalists for the Class of 2023, with Howley second and Miami guard Bob Kuechenberg third.
“(Gradishar) is somebody who was so consistent,” Turney said, “that maybe he just gets overlooked in that category: Second-team all-AFC in 1976, and then he went to the Pro Bowl every year until the end of his career. So in eight of his 10 years, he had postseason honors.
“(Plus), he was the first 3-4 inside linebacker to ever make an All-Pro team. Usually, it was a 4-3 middle linebacker in that era. And he was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1978 and third in the voting in 1977 … and that – to me – is even more important than an All-Pro selection. Because voters are saying, ‘This is the top defender in the NFL; not just the top linebacker.’ So I understand why (Denver fans) are upset.”
Among the top finishers in this week’s voting, Gradishar nevertheless was left at Canton’s door for the second time in three years. He was one of 20 finalists for the Centennial Class of 2020 but failed to make the cut to 10.
“It’s very difficult, very discouraging and very difficult to accept,” he said then. “But tomorrow’s coming, and I believe my day to join the Hall of Fame is coming.”
One word of caution: While Riley, Howley and Klecko are on the fast track to Canton, there is no guarantee that all three will be elected in 2023. That decision is up to the Hall’s board of 49 selectors, and it rebuffed nominees before, though not in the past 10 years.
The last candidate to be denied was senior finalist Dick Stanfel in 2012. He was elected four years later.
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Can’t imagine Howley doesn’t definitely make it. Should have been in 40 years ago!