By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Sept. 17, 2020) — It’s been more than 30 years since sportswriter Greg Logan’s ambitious book on New York Jets teammates Joe Klecko and Joe Fields was published.
It’s a unique, original concept, detailing the careers of two players from opposite sides of the ball.
For his 1989 tome “Nose to Nose: Survival in the Trenches of the NFL,” Logan focused on the gritty work of defensive lineman Klecko and offensive lineman Fields, giving readers an inside look at the line of scrimmage and how position battles impact the game and how players cope with injuries.
Logan wrote the book during his days as the Jets beat reporter for Newsday, a New York newspaper. Nowadays, he still writes for Newsday, with the current focus on covering the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.
In a recent interview, Logan looked back on “Nose to Nose” and offered some insights and perspective on how he tackled the project and what it means to him decades later.
Looking back on “Nose to Nose” 31 years after it was published, what did it accomplish?
I think the foremost thing was the insight it provided into the Jets during the era when they were coached by Joe Walton from 1983-89. Klecko and Fields provided a tremendous amount of detailed information about what it was like to play for Walton and especially how they felt when they eliminated two of the most accomplished veterans from the team because he felt they weren’t supportive of him.
Has “Nose to Nose” gained greater significance in the years since it was written?
No. I feel bad about that. But I have to be honest. The rollout of the book was a tremendous failure. Klecko and Fields started a book tour, but then, Klecko had a chance to do some Miller Lite beer commercials that paid a significant amount of money. He abandoned the book tour to do the TV ads to his benefit. When he and Fields stopped the book tour, the publisher stopped trying to push the book. So, I went to local bookstores and found a Paul Zimmerman book on Tony Dorsett’s final days with the Broncos after a great Cowboys career was featured far over my local New York book. It was a disaster. Ray Didinger, a columnist from the old Philadelphia Bulletin told me he was in Nome, Alaska on a cruise and went into a bookstore there and found my book and loved it. But it was more available in Nome than it was in New York. In short, the marketing was off the charts horrible. The publisher did such an awful job that it made you wonder if they only cared about making two or three books best-sellers and didn’t care about ignoring the rest of the inventory. It was completely stupid.
Did I approach Klecko and Fields together or separately about doing the book?
OK, here’s how it went down. A book agent contacted me with an idea about doing a book about Klecko and Fields. At the time, sports books were hot. The agent thought it was a good idea to do something about two best friends who faced each other every day in practice. He wanted to get into the nitty-gritty of offense vs. defense, and he especially wanted realistic language from these guys talking about their jobs in a graphic way. So, he contacted me first. Then I approached Klecko and Fields together. I honestly don’t remember the first conversation, but I think I suggested we meet after a practice and then, I went to the apartment they shared and made the proposal. They loved it from the outset.
Did one conversation lead to another?
No, Klecko and Fields loved the idea of a book right away. We reached an immediate agreement.
Did either player suggest the book?
No. The publishing agent approached me with the idea. I loved it, and I approached Klecko and Fields. They loved it, and we went from there.
6. Explain how relations with Klecko and Fields on both sides of the ball made it succeed: Well, I started covering the Jets in 1982, and the book agent approached me in 1988. So, I had a relationship with Klecko and Fields because they were key players on both sides of the ball. When the book agent approached me with his idea, I knew it would be an easy sell to the players, not only because of their relationship with each other, but also because they both were proud of how much they meant to the Jets.
How similar were Klecko and Fields on the field?
They were carbon copies of each other. They played on different sides of the ball, but they came from similar backgrounds, they were surrounded by black players who made them uncomfortable, but they were confident in their abilities. It was as if they recognized each other as something akin to brothers. So, they became close friends and actually business partners in gyms. I wrote a whole chapter on their business partnership, thinking it was solid. But after the book came out, they broke up as business partners and Fields pulled out because he felt Klecko was cheating him. I honestly don’t know where their relationship stands these days. But I regret the chapter of my book that says they always will be partners because of their business ventures together, which did not last.
Was describing character as important as capturing voices, context and scene?
I focused primarily on voices, context and scene and didn’t really care about character. I was trying to produce a book that reflected reality in the locker room and beyond.
What did Jets coach Joe Walton think of this project?
He had no idea I was working on this book.
Did I let Walton know? I did not. The Jets coach was the least of my considerations. I had his public statements about Klecko and Fields. I didn’t need anything in private that would be self-serving.
When were the interviews done?
The publishing agent called me early in the 1987 season. I approached Klecko and Fields and both agreed to do the book. We had several sit-down interviews during that season at the apartment they shared. After the season ended, I visited Klecko at his home in Pennsylvania and interviewed him and his wife. I also visited Fields at his home in southern New Jersey and interviewed him and his wife. Those interviews probably took place in January 1988.
Did you interview Klecko and Fields together?
Yes, I interviewed them together several times during the 1987 Jets season. I have many hours of tapes from those interviews that I transcribed and eventually used to produce the book.
Did you cobble together interviews with Klecko and Fields and then supplement them with quotes from other interviews?
No. Everything came from original interviews with Klecko and Fields that specifically were for the book as we all three understood at the time.
If you had Klecko and Fields together, did you pose questions in such a way as to provoke a response from the other player?
Not really. I might have provoked that kind of response at times. But I really was just trying to elicit as much real information as I could about their experience with the Joe Walton Jets.
Can you give an example?
I have no example. That was not my aim. I simply wanted to get as much information as possible regarding their experience under Walton.
Did you check other football biographies before writing this book?
Simple answer. No.
What are the most encouraging things people have said about your book?
One comment stands out above all. Will McDonough, who was the NFL reporter for the Boston Globe at the time and who later became a television reporter on the NFL, saw me at an NFL meeting in Cleveland when the NFL owners eventually picked Paul Tagliabue to succeed Pete Rozelle as commissioner. We were at the hotel bar, and McDonough told me how much he was enjoying my book. He said he had two chapters left to go and added, “Don’t tell me the end. Well, I know the end, but don’t tell me.” That was so funny because he knew Joe Walton had been fired by that time, but what he was saying is that he didn’t know the details and wanted to finish the final two chapters of my book to learn what led up to Walton’s firing. I simply could not have received a better compliment.
Did players influence content?
Obviously, Klecko and Fields totally gave me everything they knew about their experience with the Jets and Joe Walton, then Klecko’s Colts experience and Fields’ Giants experience.
Did the two featured players request cuts from the book’s material?
No. I think Fields might have requested that I cut some minor detail about his family. But neither player requested a cut regarding anything relating to their NFL careers. So, everything contained in the book reflects exactly how they felt about their careers.
Were the players pleased with the book?
The answer is yes for both. Neither complained about a thing.
I understand there is little interest in a modestly contending Jets team from the early to mid-1980s. I have no problem with that. I know this book barely created a ripple, especially because the marketing totally was mangled. But I remain very proud of this book because I know what went into the reporting, I know I reflected what both players felt about their careers, the Jets and Joe Walton. I’m sorry about the chapter that said they would remain close because of their business ties. That did not happen. Their relationship fell apart because of business disagreements. But I know their feeling about the Joe Walton Jets remains the same and reflected their experience perfectly. So, I still am very proud of my book “Nose to Nose” with the exception of the chapter on how they would remain faithful business partners, which did not happen.
Follow Greg Logan on Twitter and read his sports coverage in Newsday.