Forty-eight years before Patriots receiver Chris Hogan made the jump from the lacrosse field to the Super Bowl, there was Mike D’Amato.
“I was the first,” D’Amato told Newsday on Tuesday from his home in Naples, Florida.
And for a long time he was the only one to be both an All-American in college men’s lacrosse and a Super Bowl winner. He played both football and lacrosse at Hofstra — D’Amato was a 2011 inductee into the Hofstra Athletics Hall of Fame — and spent one year in pro football, helping the Jets win Super Bowl III in 1969. That accomplishment was matched when Chas Gessner, a football and lacrosse player at Brown, was part of the Patriots team that won Super Bowl XXXVIII. So far, they’re the only two.
“It doesn’t happen too often, but it’s nice to see,” D’Amato said of the two sports getting attention at the same time, because of the same person. “It’s good for lacrosse. There are a lot of people in this country who don’t even know what it is.”
D’Amato, 73, was once one of them. He graduated from Brooklyn Tech High School, spent six years working on Wall Street and on active duty in the Air National Guard, and was a 23-year-old playing sandlot football with friends in Levittown when some Hofstra coaches happened to be watching. They offered him a scholarship, and itching to go back to school anyway, D’Amato accepted.
“Howdy Myers was the football and lacrosse coach, and he said to me: ‘You have to come and play lacrosse for me in the spring,’ ” D’Amato said. “Lacrosse? I didn’t even know what it was. He said: ‘I’ll teach you everything you need to know. The game was made for you and you’re going to love it.’ ”
He took to the new sport, but football always held the top spot in his heart. He starred as an attackman in lacrosse while playing football. D’Amato was a second-team All-American as a senior in 1968 after leading Hofstra with 34 goals and 15 assists. He wound up being a 10th-round pick of the Jets in 1968 and made the team as a safety that year.
“I was there at the right time,” he said of winning a championship in his only season. “We had a terrific team. I was very fortunate.”
He was also in the room for one of the biggest moments in sports history, when Joe Namath guaranteed victory to a Miami banquet hall that the Jets would beat the Colts in Super Bowl III.
“We all cringed,” D’Amato said. “We knew Weeb [Ewbank, coach of the Jets] would go crazy.”
D’Amato said there is much more carryover between lacrosse and basketball with all the cutting and screening than there is between lacrosse and football. There may not be many strategical similarities, but the speed and physicality of both sports tend to draw certain types of aggressive athletes. And there have been plenty who have excelled at both.
Manhasset’s Jim Brown is one of the greatest to play either of them, but he retired from pro football before the Super Bowl era. Bill Belichick wasn’t a professional football player, but he was on the lacrosse team at Wesleyan and he’s won four NFL championship rings. Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka, a Super Bowl winner three years ago, was a lacrosse midfielder and football player at Division III Middlebury College before focusing on kicking at North Carolina State. Rich Mauti, from East Meadow, was an All-America lacrosse player at Penn State before his eight-year career in the NFL, but he never made it to the Super Bowl.
Hogan is the latest. His story is a bit different, having abandoned football for several years while playing lacrosse at Penn State before graduating, playing football for one season at Monmouth University, and working his way onto an NFL roster. His nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s AFC title win over the Steelers certainly validated that decision.
But Hogan was not an All-American in college — he was at Ramapo High School in New Jersey — so he won’t be able to join the exclusive club with D’Amato and Gessner if the Patriots beat the Falcons on Feb. 5.
D’Amato played just the one year for the Jets and was cut in training camp in 1969. That was it for football. He played several years of lacrosse after that, though, and won a few national championships with the Long Island Lacrosse Club.
“Howdy Myers was right,” he said. “I did love it.”