From when Mike D'Amato was a high school senior at Brooklyn Tech to when he was a two-time Middle Conference All-Star safety and kick- and punt-returner, as well as a second-team All-American lacrosse attackman at Hofstra in 1968, life happened.
"When I graduated from high school, I went to work down on Wall Street for a commercial bank," D'Amato said. "And after about three or four years there, I realized that the only way I was going to get any place was to get a college education. And then what happened, we had Vietnam. So I got into the Air Force Reserve and spent some time in the service.
"I didn't start college until I was 23 or 24, and it was the best thing I ever did. It had to be done. But I didn't go to college thinking I was going to play professional football; I went there to get a degree."
D'Amato would have the opportunity to do both, when 31 days shy of his 25th birthday, he was chosen by the Jets in the 10th round of the 1968 NFL-AFL Draft.
"I was ecstatic," D'Amato said. "I'm a New York guy, it's a New York team, what could be better? And as a matter of fact, I had calls from other teams. Some of them said, 'We're going to get you in the third round' or 'We're going to get you in the fifth round.' But I was pleasantly surprised when I was drafted by the Jets."
With training camp being held at Hofstra, the rookie was certainly familiar with the surroundings, but wasn't sure how advantageous it was for him.
"Certainly, it had to have an effect on me because I was right at home," D'Amato said. "But you still had to put up with the other stuff. You're trying to make the team, so there's a lot of pressure on you. And I don't know whether that made a difference being at Hofstra for that."
Whether it made a difference or not, training camp would prove to be memorable for D'Amato. Not only because he played well enough to impress Head Coach Weeb Ewbank and his staff, but also because…
"My first son was born when I was in training camp," D'Amato said. "I guess my wife or the hospital or one of my relatives called the Jets to get in touch with me. Weeb came over and told me that I had a son, and he thought he was like the godfather. He'd always say, 'How is Michael? How's he doing?' He was really funny."
After being on the taxi squad for the season opener at Kansas City, D'Amato was placed on the active roster and helped the Jets post an 11-3 record, win the AFL Championship over the Oakland Raiders, and upset the NFL Champion Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Other than the final score, 16-7, what's something that D'Amato will always remember from the Super Bowl experience in Miami?
"I was with Joe (Namath), there was a couple of us, and we were out for dinner," he said. "And a sportswriter came in and said to Joe, 'So who do you think is going to win?' That's when Joe said, 'We're going to win. I guarantee it.'
"And the three of us who were with him, we all kind of cringed, 'Oh, Weeb is going to kill us tomorrow.' Because he said exactly that. 'Don't throw any wood on the fire all week while we're down there. Make sure that we don't give them anything to pick them up.' And the next day, sure as hell, Weeb said to Joe, 'I told you not to say that!'"
Another memory D'Amato has from New York's win over Baltimore occurred on the Orange Bowl field.
"When (Colts quarterback) Johnny Unitas came in (for Earl Morrall), he gave them a little lift," he said. "They came down and scored their only touchdown and it looked like they were picking up momentum. And I remember, I made a tackle on a punt and it kind of broke their momentum because they thought they were going to go from there, I guess. (The victory) just legitimized the whole merger. It gave the whole merger credibility, and our league credibility."
D'Amato played one season for his hometown Jets, and by winning the Super Bowl, it couldn't have been a better one. But that doesn't mean he was done with football. D'Amato spent the following campaign north of the border.
"In '69, I get down to the last cut and Weeb called me and said, 'We're going to cut you, but Boston, they're really interested in you. Do you want me to call them?'" D'Amato said. "I was older and I said, 'You know, Weeb, nah. I've got an offer from Montreal in the Canadian League that's guaranteed. And it's for even more money than (I made with) the Jets. I'm going to finish up there and then I'm going to start getting my life where it was supposed to be going, in business.'"
Returning to New York after his season with the Alouettes, D'Amato went to work for companies parented by the Transleisure Company.
"I was president of a long-term automobile and equipment leasing company for a lot of years. It was one of the major independent companies in that line," D'Amato said. "And New York Helicopter was one of our companies. We had the 34th Street Helicopter in Manhattan. And we had a couple of jet charter planes, so I was president of that company for a while.
"And then after 27 years, I went back to Hofstra University as the Assistant to the President and Vice President for Development, which was probably the best job I ever had. I couldn't wait to get up in the morning and go to work. I was in the right position because everybody knew me because I played with the Jets. I was in charge of fundraising and alumni relations. So it was a perfect job."
Now enjoying retirement, D'Amato and his wife, Rita, make their home on the first fairway of a golf course in Bonita Springs, Florida. They have three children: Susan, Michael, and Gregg; and four grandchildren.