CANTON, Ohio – Revis Island has a new home in “Football Heaven.”
After Joe Klecko and Fireman Ed got the green-clad crowd roaring “J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!” four-time All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis took his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“It’s an honor to be here, to stand among the greats,” the soft-spoken Revis said.
A first-ballot inductee, Revis was so dominant that opposing quarterbacks stopped throwing the ball his way.
He won a Super Bowl in his only season with the New England Patriots before returning home to New York and finished his career with seven Pro Bowl selections.
“To the Jets fans, for all the boos and cheers when I was drafted 14th overall to burning my jersey when I signed with the Patriots to now being here in Canton, I guess it’s safe to say we’ve been through a lot together,” Revis said. “You expected great things out of me every single game and I accepted the challenge. Thank you for believing in me and supporting me every step of the way. You will always have a place to stay on Revis Island.”
Klecko, a fan favorite in New York, also was among nine members of the Class of 2023 that included local hero Joe Thomas who were enshrined during a four-hour ceremony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Klecko went from working at a trucking company and making a semipro team as an unpaid player with a fake name to earning a scholarship to play at Temple.
Drafted in the sixth round in 1977, the hard-nosed, tough guy from a gritty town in Pennsylvania is the only player in NFL history to be selected to the Pro Bowl at three positions on the defensive line: end, tackle and nose tackle.
Klecko was the heart of the dominant “New York Sack Exchange” defensive line in the 1980s along with Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam.
“I pray that I treated everybody with respect,” Klecko said. “I want to be remembered as a player who gave it his all. I wanted to win every down, every battle. I always felt that if you’re not mad at yourself if you lose one battle, you don’t belong on the field.”
An underwhelming crowd filled with mostly Jets and Browns fans came to see Revis, Klecko and Thomas during a week of festivities that included Cleveland’s 21-16 victory over New York in the NFL preseason opener on Thursday.
Thomas got the biggest ovation from hometown fans wearing orange-and-brown No. 73 jerseys. His speech had the “Dawg Pound” barking a few times.
The six-time All-Pro left tackle played a record 10,363 consecutive snaps before torn triceps ended the streak and his career in 2017.
“That number 10,363 is special to me, and not just because it’s an NFL record, but because it shows that I was there for my brothers 10,363 times in a row,” Thomas said. “Loyalty, consistency, something bigger than yourself, showing up for someone else.”
Ronde Barber, a three-time All-Pro who spent all 16 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was the third cornerback inducted in this class.
“I wasn’t Darrelle Revis. I wasn’t that guy,” Barber said. “Not all of us are anointed or can’t-miss prospects, proclaimed to be future Hall of Famers on day one of our careers. ... After today, there will be 23 corners in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And I’m not like any of them because I couldn’t be. I’m here because I refused to be just a guy. Ordinary was not an option.”
Zach Thomas, the five-time All-Pro linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, kicked off the speeches.
The 5-foot-11 Thomas, only the third linebacker under 6 feet to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, thanked everyone from Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson and former teammates Dan Marino and Jason Taylor to Bills, Jets and Patriots fans who “screamed” and “threw things” at him. He choked up when he mentioned fellow Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012.
“When I was 2 years old, I was run over by a pickup truck,” Thomas said. “And you know what saved me that day? Dirt. If it was concrete or pavement, I wouldn’t be here right now.
"My life has taken a lot of dirt roads to get here.”
Thomas was presented by Johnson, who drafted the undersized linebacker in the fifth round in 1996.
“I’ve drafted, recruited and coached 17 Hall of Fame players,” Johnson said. “Of all those players, Zach was the hardest working.”
DeMarcus Ware, the four-time All-Pro outside linebacker, talked about growing up in a tough environment in Alabama and once having a gun held to his head when he was in college at Troy. He thanked his mother for providing for her family as a single parent and forgave his dad for not being there.
“I was blinded by my environment as a child, domestic violence, drugs, and gangs but those surroundings taught me to be relentless, limitless and resilient,” Ware said. “The reality is you are a product of your own thinking, your own mind, and you must to learn how to persevere.”
A first-round pick in 2005, Ware set a franchise record with 117 sacks in nine years with the Cowboys. He got another 21 1/2 sacks in three seasons with the Broncos.
After frustrating playoff failures in Dallas, Ware got a call from Peyton Manning to go to Denver in 2014. He played an instrumental role in helping the Broncos beat Carolina in the Super Bowl a year later.
“My teammates were unstoppable, and I’m proud to be a part of that legacy,” said Ware, who had two sacks in a 24-10 win over the Panthers.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones presented Ware, who was selected in his second year of eligibility.
“He’s a rare combination of physical gifts and high, high, high moral character,” Jones said.
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Ken Riley was inducted three years after his death. Riley, a dual-threat quarterback at Florida A&M, was moved to defense by coach Paul Brown after he was drafted in the sixth round in 1969 and finished with 65 interceptions in 15 seasons, all with the Bengals.
“Even though he never played defense until they drafted him, he ended his career as the No. 4 all-time interception leader. Today, 40 years later, he’s No. 5,” said Riley’s son, Ken Riley II. “He was a true professional from start to finish.”
Chuck Howley, the only Super Bowl MVP from a losing team, was inducted 50 years after he played his last game. The 87-year-old Howley, a five-time All-Pro linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, couldn’t attend the ceremony.
Dan Coryell, the longtime Chargers coach and architect of the dynamic “Air Coryell” passing offense, was inducted posthumously.
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