Sack Exchange: The Definitive Oral History of the 1980s New York Jets


Comprised of all-new, exclusive interviews with Jets players, head coaches, and those closest to the organization, Sack Exchange is not only an eye-opening account of the Jets from this time, but also of the National Football League as a whole. The New York Sack Exchange was the nickname given to the New York Jets defensive line of the early 1980s, consisting of Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons, and Abdul Salaam. Examined are such topics as the beginning of the Jets-Dolphons rivalry, the controversial ...
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Comprised of all-new, exclusive interviews with Jets players, head coaches, and those closest to the organization, Sack Exchange is not only an eye-opening account of the Jets from this time, but also of the National Football League as a whole. The New York Sack Exchange was the nickname given to the New York Jets defensive line of the early 1980s, consisting of Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons, and Abdul Salaam. Examined are such topics as the beginning of the Jets-Dolphons rivalry, the controversial firing of head coach Walt Michaels and hiring of Joe Walton, the team’s relationships behind the scenes, the emergence of Joe Klecko, the rise and fall of Mark Gastineau, steroid use among the Jets and in the NFL, the legendary Shea Stadium as well as never-before-heard stories and insight into the legacy of Joe Namath.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
For the first half of the 1980s, the New York Jets were one of the National Football League's more frustrating franchises, complete with a dynamic defensive line christened the "New York Sack Exchange" and several explosive offensive weapons. But a series of puzzling personnel moves—notably the 1983 firing of beloved head coach Walt Michaels—and a propensity to collapse in big games kept those teams from reaching the Super Bowl. Reconstructing that franchise's era via interviews with coaches, players, and employees, Prato's effort lacks tension. Prato, a music journalist (The Eric Carr Story) and childhood admirer of these Jets teams, devotes separate chapters to developments that might have been incorporated into the narrative (e.g., team chemistry; playing at Shea Stadium, the Jets' home field until the mid '80s). In chronicling the team's not-quite-good-enough years, chapters read like yearbook profiles as Prato covers seasons of new players and occasionally uneventful travails. Jets fans, however, will surely find something to hold onto. Photos. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“(Grunge is Dead) is an accomplishment that will find fans as long as the music does. The book is remarkably comprehensive, nearly 500 pages long, and filled with rarely seen photographs, astute analyses of popular culture, insider gossip and interesting, funny and painful stories. Prato keeps the editorializing to a minimum, letting the players (Eddie Vedder, Slim Moon, Kim Thayil, Jerry Cantrell, Kathleen Hanna, Allison Wolfe, Blag Dahlia, Charles Petterson, Riki Rachtman, Chad Channing, et al) speak for themselves.”  —Washington Post Express on Grunge is Dead

"I have never read through a single book written about Nirvana or Kurt. Guess I just feel odd reading stuff I lived, heh. With that being said, there is a book that came out recently entitled Grunge Is Dead by Greg Prato, and it is actually a very interesting read, mostly due to the fact that it's pretty much filled with comments and stuff from just about everyone that was around during those years—more of the insider on things than the outsiders attempting to fill in the blanks! Anyway, I do recommend this book. It's a fun read!”  Chad Channing, drummer, Nirvana, on Grunge Is Dead

"While scoring an interview with Layne Staley’s mother gets an honorable mention, the most significant interviewee has to be Pearl Jam’s Vedder, whose band has become Seattle’s last great surviving grunge ambassadors. In a lengthy phone interview with Prato, the notoriously guarded Vedder, calling from Hawaii, opened up."  — on Grunge Is Dead

"[Sack Exchange] will appeal to readers in the New York–New Jersey area and all Jets fans." —Library Journal (August 15, 2011)

Library Journal
The post-Joe Namath New York Jets from 1976 to 1988 were an interesting team, whose pass rushing defensive line earned the nickname "the New York Sack Exchange." However, these Jets never won anything and, aside from perhaps sack artists Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko, are largely forgotten today. Prato's (Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music) oral history features the voices of not only many Jets players and coaches of the time but also some of their prominent Miami Dolphin rivals. Several behind-the-scenes anecdotes illustrate such circumstances as the intense quarterback competition between Richard Todd and Matt Robinson, the 1982 championship game loss to Miami, and the mysterious firing of head coach Walt Michaels. Only if this book is greatly cleaned up from galley to finished copy will it be a smooth read; otherwise, it will remain incoherent at times. Despite the editing concerns, this book will appeal to readers in the New York-New Jersey area and all Jets fans.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781770410039
  • Publisher: ECW Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2011
  • Series: No Series Information Required Series
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 438
  • Sales rank: 447,543
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Greg Prato is a writer who contributes regularly to All Music Guide,, Classic Rock magazine, and He is the author of A Devil on One Shoulder, Grunge Is Dead, and Touched by Magic. He lives in Wantagh, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Beginning in the 1920s, the New York Giants reigned as the premier NFL team for “the city that never sleeps.” However, by 1960, the AFL gave football fans another New York team to root for, the Titans. By 1962, the team is re–christened the New York Jets.

Frank Ramos: There were five original owners of the Jets. They bought the team for $1 million. The Titans had been bankrupt. Leon Hess, Sonny Werblin, and Townsend Martin all owned equal shares of the team, and Donald Lillis and Philip Iselin owned lesser percentages of the team. So those five men were there from the beginning. I began the first year of the Jets [1963]. I had been in the service at the United States Military Academy at West Point, in the U.S. Army. I was assigned to the Sports Information Office at the academy, and I worked with Joe Cahill, who was the longtime sports information director there. Joe had started at West Point in ’43 — in the famous years of Doc Blanchard, Glenn Davis, and Red Blaik. Joe was there throughout that whole time. The day I got out of the service was the day of the Cuban Missile Crisis showdown — when Khrushchev backed down — and that was the day I got my discharge. Then I stayed on as a civilian, and worked there with Joe. At one time Joe had worked with Pete Rozelle, who was the PR person for the 1960 Olympic Games, and Joe had worked in Squaw Valley when the U.S. hockey team was coached by the army coach, Jack Riley. Joe had worked there with the hockey team and with Rozelle.

When Rozelle became the commissioner, he did talk to Joe about the possibility of joining him in the NFL. But Joe had young kids and was still at West Point, so he declined, and I know that Pete hired Jim Kensil — he was also up for that job. But a few years later, Sonny Werblin talked to Joe about going to New York to be an assistant to him, and be in charge of PR. There was no such thing as marketing at the time in pro football, but he would be overall in charge of all those types of things. Joe was thinking, did he really want to leave West Point after twenty years? I said to Joe I thought the AFL definitely had a chance. There was room for two teams in New York, especially. And I thought pro football was really catching on — New York was one area where there weren’t any real pro football teams. Army got as much coverage as any team — more so than Rutgers, Columbia, or any team in the New York area. It’s still not a hotbed for college football. I said, “Since you’ve been here, all your people — like Red Blaik, Davis, and Blanchard — are no longer there.” He says, “You know, if I go to New York, I’m going to take you with me.”

I was hoping for that — he did take the job and he did hire me. Joe went down in April to take the job, and I stayed at West Point as the acting sports information director. And then I joined him after I completed all the brochures and everything that Army needed, and joined the Jets in June of ’63. I’m originally from Long Island, but my family moved during my sophomore year of high school to Miami. I finished high school in Miami and went to school at Florida State.

Joe Fields: I was born in Gloucester, New Jersey, and grew up in Deptford, New Jersey. First of all, I played football in grammar school — in a touch football league. All of the kids who were too heavy to make the weight on the Pop Warner teams played in this touch league. I went to Gloucester Catholic High School — to tell you the truth, I wasn’t very good. I started my senior year, and didn’t really think about playing in college football. I did get recruited at a couple of schools — one being PMC [Pennsylvania Military College], which later changed its name to Widener [University]. One of my old coaches took me and a couple of the other guys to PMC, and it was just a little bit out of reach financially, and there was no help. But around July, Bill Manlove — who was head coach at PMC at the time — called and said he could give me a $1,500 loan if that would help.

Actually, my mom talked me into it. She said, “You love football, you really like to play. Why don’t you play now that you’ve got the loan?” So I ended up going to Widener. And what happened was back then you had to make the traveling squad as a freshman. I made the traveling squad as a freshman, and then my junior year, we had a guy playing for us, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, and he was my teammate. Some scouts started to come around and see him. At the time, I was like 6' 2', 220 or 230 pounds, and Carroll Huntress — who was a scout for the New York Jets — pulled me aside one day when he was looking at films of Billy. I was at an awards dinner. And he called me out of it down to the clubhouse at Widener, and said, “Hey Joe, every time I watch films of Billy, I see you! I really think you can play professional football if you would gain some weight.” He goes his way, and I go my way. I start thinking about it, what the heck is twenty pounds? So twenty or thirty pounds later, I came into training camp at Widener at 250.

Again, towards the end of the season, Carroll Huntress shows up, and he says, “Your size is good,” and timed me in the forty [yard dash], and did all the nonsense things they do. He says, “I think you can play … but I’ve never seen you long–snap.” So I happened to be, again, at another banquet. I went into the field house, and in shoes and a suit and tie, I long–snapped for him. After that, he told my coach, “There are three centers in the country — Jack Baiorunos at Penn State, Dennis Franks at Michigan, and Joe Fields. And I think Joe is the best.”

Carroll sat me down and said, “If you don’t get drafted, we’d really like to sign you as a free agent.” So I thought about it, and I got some letters from other teams. I thought to myself, “I gained the weight, I went this far — I’m going to try it for a year or two and see if I don’t get drafted.” Then what happened was on draft day, I got drafted in the fourteenth round by the New York Jets, which was interesting because I had never even been in an airplane — I didn’t even know where the airport was! A friend of mine, Ken O ’Brien — who was our quarterback at Widener — took me down to the airport, so I could fly up and get a physical with the Jets. When I was flying up in the airplane, there was a guy they drafted in second round from the University of Miami, Joe Wysocki, and he was, like, 6' 3' and 290 — he was a guard. And when he walked in the airport, I just said, “If all the guys are like this, there’s no way that I belong.” He had, like, twenty–three–inch arms — the guy was huge. Anyway, Joe didn’t end up playing — he hurt his knee — and I ended up playing fourteen years. So I guess first impressions are a little bit off.

Richard Todd: I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. My father was a schoolteacher, and moved all over the place — lived in Arkadelphia, Arkansas; Bristol, Virginia — he got his doctorate degree at the University of Alabama, so I lived in Tuscaloosa. We settled down when I was in the eighth grade in Mobile, Alabama. I remember playing Pee Wee football when I was young — the coach got mad at me and I got mad at him, and I threw my helmet down, and it banged against his shins. He was jumping up and down, and I walked back home — about a mile away in Arkansas [laughs]. I guess football started in the ninth grade. I stuttered — and I still stutter quite a bit, but not as bad as I used to. I always wanted to be a wide receiver — I never thought about being a quarterback because I was pretty fast back then, and I liked to run and catch the ball. And then the quarterback — who was going to be the quarterback in the ninth grade — his father got transferred out of town, and the family moved. So they lined everybody up to see who could throw the best, and I could throw the best. So I was the quarterback on the freshman team. We had a couple of really good receivers, and I could throw it deep, so we threw the ball quite a bit. My coach, Richmond Brown, he was always a real positive influence. And I guess that’s when I really started.

I played at Davidson High School — we didn’t have really good teams, but we had a lot of fun. Our coach, Glen Yancey, he actually coached three quarterbacks that played in Division I — myself, Scott Hunter, and I can’t remember the other one, but Scott Hunter played professional football, also. I committed to Auburn because that was when they had Pat Sullivan, Terry Beasley, and all these guys — Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy that year [1971]. But I ended up going to Alabama — I went because of Coach Bryant. That was really the only reason. They ran “the wishbone,” and I was just a big old slow fullback. But we had great teams in Alabama — we split the National Championship my sophomore year with Notre Dame. We were the UPI champions; they were the AP. They beat us — that was before the Bowls, they used to come out with the National Championship before the Bowls came out. I think that was the last year they did it — 1973. We were number one and they were number two, and they beat us by one point at Tulane Stadium. That was my sophomore year, and my senior year. I had a pretty good year — I was the Most Valuable Player in the Sugar Bowl [in 1976]. We actually played Penn State, and Greg Buttle was on that team. We became good friends.

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