Mike D'Amato, left, played for the Jets' Super Bowl winning...

Mike D'Amato, left, played for the Jets' Super Bowl winning team in 1968-69 and made a strong impression on the team, including quarterback Joe Namath. Credit: Courtesy Richard D’Amato

Mike D’Amato played one season for the New York Jets, and he certainly picked the right one.

D’Amato was a safety on the 1968-69 Jets team that upset the Baltimore Colts, 16-7,  in Super Bowl III, the team's only championship.

In that one season, he managed to make a strong impression on his teammates, including Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath.

“He was a righteous, humble dude, man,” Namath said last week. “He was just a great guy. I don’t know anybody on the team that didn’t get along with Mike.”

D’Amato, who played football and lacrosse at Hofstra University, died from cardiac arrest in Bonita Springs, Florida, on Nov. 22, his family said. He was 82.

D'Amato was drafted by the Jets in the 10th round of the 1968 draft and became the first Super Bowl champion to have also earned All-American honors in men’s lacrosse.

“I didn’t realize he was that good of an athlete,” Namath said. “Back then, I didn’t get his background other than that he played football at Hofstra, and we used to train out at Hofstra, so I was thrilled when we got him. He was such a nice guy."

Richard D'Amato, Mike's brother, said Mike was sitting at Namath's table when the quarterback famously guaranteed the Jets would beat the heavily favored Colts.

Namath said he remembered D'Amato making a big tackle on special teams late in the Jets' 27-23  victory over the Oakland Raiders in the  American Football League  championship game.

“Big Mike was the last one [in punt coverage], and he was able to bring [the returner] down," Namath said. "Calling that a key play is an understatement.”

Born in Brooklyn on March 3, 1941, Michael  D’Amato attended Brooklyn Tech High School before working on Wall Street for a commercial bank, then joined the Air National Guard.

He attended Hofstra on a football scholarship when he was 23 under football and lacrosse coach Howard “Howdy” Myers.

Richard D'Amato, who lives in Huntington, said Myers told Mike that if he wanted to play football, he had to play lacrosse, too.

“Mike said, ‘Well, I don’t even know the game of lacrosse. I’ve never played it, I don’t know the rules, I don’t know anything,’ and Howdy Myers said, 'Well, you’re going to play for me, and I’m going to teach you the game,’ ” Richard D'Amato said. “To make a long story short, he became an All-American in lacrosse. It was amazing how he could grasp concepts.”

D’Amato scored 34 goals and had 15 assists on Hofstra’s attack to earn second-team All-American status his senior year in 1968. He also led the team in goals (32) and had 18 assists his junior year.

D’Amato captained the football team for two seasons. He had three interceptions and averaged 23.3 yards per kick return his senior year.

“He was certainly reliable, a guy you could count on. He was the leader of the team,” said former Hofstra teammate and longtime friend John Paci Jr. of Huntington. “I would go as far as to say our best player.”

Hofstra teammate and longtime friend Don Gault, from Vero Beach, Florida, said the football team reached a new level thanks to D'Amato's leadership.

"We became a much better team," Gault said.

D’Amato graduated summa cum laude in 1968 with a degree in business administration. Hofstra inducted him into its Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011.

After his season with the Jets, D’Amato played for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League before moving to Long Island and working as an executive at Oyster Bay-based Transleisure Corp. for 27 years.

“I was always impressed by his intellect,” Richard D'Amato said. “He was a very bright guy.”

Mike D’Amato returned to Hofstra in 1998 and served as executive assistant to the president. D’Amato was also involved in the Marty Lyons Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, among other charities.

D’Amato lived in East Northport with his wife, Rita, and their family for more than 40 years before moving to Florida.

In addition to his brother and wife, D’Amato is survived by his sons, Michael, of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Gregg, of Reno, Nevada, and his daughter, Susan, of Vermont, their spouses and four grandchildren. Richard D'Amato said the family is  planning a memorial service.

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