Sometimes, the players who mean the most to the team are the ones who are often overlooked by outsiders – even sometimes by themselves. In 1975 on an April evening at Widener University, Woodbury New Jersey native Joe Fields was readying for a road trip with some of his friends when the phone rang. The caller identified themselves as a member of the New York Jets front office and they wanted to speak with Joe Fields. Joe answered and was told he’d be talking with Jets coach Charley Winner in a moment. Fields waited patiently and Winner came on the line, congratulating Fields, telling him he was the newest member of the Jets.
I am pretty sure one of two things happened. Either that road trip was totally awesome or it never actually happened.
Fields, was the Jets 14th round draft pick from the 1975 NFL Draft went on to play for 13 years with the Jets, was voted the team’s co-captain eight times, was a two time All-Pro selection, was a Pro Bowler, was honored by New Jersey Sports Writer as Athlete of the Year, was an Ed Block Courage Award winner and was the very first center named John Madden’s First All-Pro team in 1984.
While Joe didn’t start as a rookie in ’75, he took over snapping the ball in 1976 and started every single regular season game from then on as a Jet, an amazing accomplishment for one of the most punishing positions in football. Fields was the anchor of the offensive line in the 80s when the team regained relevance nationally. As a veteran by that point, Fields was the constant through his final year with the team in 1987.
Hard-nosed and smart, Joe Fields was essential in establishing the line of scrimmage in the Jets favor and had a nickname to match. Fields was nicknamed “The General” and some argue that Fields might have gotten more recognition nationally, if only the Jets were a relevant team earlier in his career, but since the team didn’t have a resurgence until 1981, Fields’ didn’t get the accolades he might have truly deserved.
Longtime TJB commenter SackDance99 gave his thoughts about Fields play for the Jets during the 70s and 80s.
He was the foundation for a OL that led the league in rushing, was part of a high scoring offense and, until Freeman and O’Brien came along, did it with substandard QB and RB play. Name 3 of the top 5 centers in NFL history and people will say Langer, Webster and Stephenson, who blocked for Griese, Bradshaw and Marino. There was only one center during their stranglehold on the All-Pro team in the 70s and 80s that snuck in to the top spot: Joe Fields. He was great at every part of being a center and did it without snapping to a Hall of Fame quarterback or blocking for a Hall of Fame running back. [….] That’s what I remember about Fields. As a kid I’d argue that he was as good as the other 3, but he rarely got the same notoriety.
But that’s likely fine with Fields. Beyond his humble introduction to the league, Fields was no stranger to service, frequently volunteering his time in the community as this 1982 article from the Evening Independent indicates, Fields learned about service growing up in his own home. Fields’ brother Robert has Down’s Syndrome and he realized that giving of himself was an easy choice. On visiting his brother’s group home, Fields told the paper that “it’s nothing for me to come here, it’s just a little bit of time and we all have time. It’s great, anything we can do to brighten up their day.”
More recently, in 2010 Joe Fields was honored at being included in a special celebration associated with the 75th NFL Draft. As part of the anniversary, Fields was included as one of 319 pre-selected players chosen by a panel of NFL experts to be voted on by fans as one of the Most Valuable Draft Picks of All Time. While Fields didn’t make the cut, he was humbled to be selected from a pool of 20,000 players chosen for this distinguished honor.
“Just to be included in this group amazes me” Fields told the Gloucester County Times back in 2010.
Fields was an incredible find for the Jets and helped lead them back to prominence. For being a man who was steadfast in his performance both on and away from the field, it’s my honor to recognize Joe Fields as part of our Hall of Fame.
Share your own thoughts and memories of Joe Fields in the comments section.