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Before and after games the Aston Knights stoked up on blackberry brandy. "We'd go on a trip, the bus would be loaded with it," Klecko says. "We'd get to a town where we were going to play, and first thing, five guys would be dispatched to buy a case. Those guys couldn't suit up without it. The brandy made them fierce and kept their guts warm on cold days. The one-thumbed quarterback sometimes played so drunk he'd lean against the center to keep from falling down. He'd bark out, 'Hut, hut, hut!' and everybody's eyes would water and guys would almost faint. The fumes hung over us like a mushroom cloud."
Still, it was playing for the Aston Knights that led Klecko to Temple University and, ultimately, the Jets. When Aston equipment manager John DiGregorio took the same job with Temple, he told Coach Wayne Hardin about Jim Jones-Klecko. "O.K., I'll look at the game films," Hardin said. "Game films?" said DiGregorio. "They can't afford 'em. And besides, they'd probably be X-rated. Just look at the kid."
Hardin did, and he came away so impressed that he agreed to a pact of sorts with Klecko: no prep school. Maybe a few remedial touches here and there. Just come to college. And Temple gained a 240-pound student, an angelic-looking truck driver with a 53-inch chest, a 38-inch waist, arms like beer kegs and an abiding hatred of Jane Eyre. He wasn't a typical freshman: in one of his first scrimmages Klecko turned Hardin's best running back upside down and dropped him on his head, thus sidelining him with a badly sprained neck.
By his senior season Klecko was second-string All-America, and in the 1977 NFL draft the Jets selected him in the sixth round. Draftee No. 144.
Klecko's face didn't show it—how could a sweet face like that reflect such a thing?—but the big cherub was plenty miffed about that sixth-round business. Michaels says that when Klecko showed up at camp, he walked through the wall instead of the door, which is hyperbole, and then sat down and ate 12 pork chops, which is pure truth. Before that camp opened, Klecko had trained maniacally, doing countless bench presses each day and running in his dangerously forward-toppling style while jabbing at the air with one-pound bolts clenched in each fist. Klecko had won 34 of 35 amateur boxing matches, and literally fought his way onto the Jets' roster. On one occasion, he thoughtfully removed a fellow rookie's helmet by the face mask before belting him in the nose. His teammates took to calling him Killer.
Klecko's intensity extends even unto the training table. "Now, then," he says, "are we going to eat—or are we going to mess around? Let me know what it's going to be." He puts down his tray and checks it for symmetry. On one side there is a huge fish filet, shadowed by a mountain of tartar sauce. On the other side are three sizable Swiss steaks under a rich onion-and-mushroom gravy. Off to one edge are three eclairs. Two 16-ounce paper cups contain Klecko's own brew: half iced tea, half lemonade.
He is being watched while he eats; timing, the kitchen staff knows, is everything. When the fish filet, is gone, the cook brings two more. "Just think, someday I'm going to have to come down off this weight," Klecko says. "Right now I'm burning it at, oh, maybe five, six pounds a game." He barely pauses, and the cook reappears. He puts down a new plate. It contains three more Swiss steaks with gravy.
Now it remains for Klecko to make All-Pro away from the dinner table, a designation he dearly wants to attain a few times in the five or so years left in his huge body. He figures pure Polish blood can boil only so long, and he already has everything else he wants. Klecko, his wife Debbie and their 3-year-old son Michael live graciously in an expensive new home in West Chester, which is where folks from Chester move when they've got it locked. After football, he expects to become a trucking executive for Robbins and a sales executive for Davidson Supply Co. Inc. of Brooklyn, which he also represents in the off-season. The two go together. "You sell a customer a mess of cast-steel pipe," Klecko says, "and then, in effect, you say to the customer, 'Listen, you want someone to haul that pipe to you?' Business relationships are delicate. In business you have to solve a problem. In football you can beat it up."
Off the field, Klecko's behavior is unfailingly appropriate to his cherubic face. He holds Michael in his big hands with surprising gentleness while he explains what Daddy does for a living. "I play a man in front of me," Klecko says. "All right. The man is obstructing me from getting to my destination, which is the ballcarrier. Now, I must physically abuse this man if he continues to obstruct me. I then proceed on my path to the ballcarrier and I lay the hardest hit on him that I can. And the play is over when he's on the ground or out of play."
In the background, Debbie is humming something. An old tune, perhaps. Can it be...? But no, she's too young for that. Still, there was a moment there when you could have sworn that she was intoning, "Have you heard I married an angel...."