I just wanted to update this thread for anyone that might find it searching:
I resolved the issue. I was saving up for a trip to the tranny shop, but talking to a friend today, I was more convinced than ever that I got some degreaser into the inspection hole and "glued" the plate to the flywheel.
On the way home, I purchased a couple cans of brake cleaner but ended up not needing it. I put the Jeep in gear, engaged the parking brake, engaged the clutch and attempted to start the Jeep. It crouched down and started dragging the Jeep about a foot before what sounded like a gunshot at which time the drivetrain relaxed. I started the Jeep and went for a drive.
A welcome resolution! Thanks to everyone that offered their thoughts in the thread.
I wanted to say, today this happened to me too (on my TJ) .
It was a rainy day, I left for work and on my way there was an huge puddle of water that was begging to be driven through... did so. no issues getting to work. When i get off work, I start my jeep like normal, but when i go to put it in 1st, it wont go in. second, no. third, no... not even reverse.
So i turn it off and i find i can shift into all gears as long as the jeep is off.
- I checked fluid - ok.
- checked for leaks - ok.
- Took slave piston off and pushed it in and pressed clutch while the jeep was off. Seemed to operate normal. Turned it on, and had a friend push it while i applied resistance to see if it was just weak... It was strong. So I put the slave piston back in.
I tested shifting with the jeep on again... Nothing. It would not take gear while on. I called a tow truck and while i was waiting thinking about how expensive towing is, I decided to try one more thing... Starting in gear.
I put it in gear, and turned the ignition with the clutch pedal down anticipating it to just launch forward... It fired up, but it didnt launch forward. And as I let off the clutch, it started to grab and pull forward... as if nothing ever had happened. As if nothing was ever wrong.
1,2,3,4 and 5 shifted ok. Reverse too .
It left me puzzled.
Im glad to read someone else had a similar experience with this and the method of overcoming it was equal. I am still wondering what caused it and im hoping it does not repeat.
It seems water is a common factor.