Raised in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East Flatbush, Mike Stromberg was a Jets and Giants fan. "And now I can't stand the Giants, but that's only natural," he laughed.
Attending Temple with the primary goal to earn a degree, football was secondary. But Stromberg would help the Owls win the 1967 Middle Atlantic Conference championship, the school's first-ever league title, with a 7-2 record.
Stromberg was the only player from the team chosen in that year's NFL Draft when he was picked by the Jets in the 14th round.
"Temple wasn't big time football at all. And plus, I was an art student, a graphic designer. So consequently, I was surprised that they even knew who I was. I thought it was a gag, actually," Stromberg said.
"But my mom was watching the news and she saw a blackboard with my name on it. It was Buffalo or the Jets or the Giants. That's how I found that. I still couldn't believe it, but it was pretty cool."
One of 18 players drafted by the Jets in 1967, Stromberg knew earning a roster spot on the team wouldn't be easy. Or as he'd discover, even anticipated by them.
"I think they expected me not to make the team, to be honest with you," Stromberg said. "As I remember, Topps (trading cards sent a photographer) to camp and was taking pictures. I was wearing No. 70 or something like that, and I don't know who said this but, 'It's not the right number for a linebacker or defensive end. But it probably won't matter anyway.'"
Not so fast. Stromberg showed that he could play well enough during training camp that the Jets wanted to keep him around. And so they placed him on their practice squad and also loaned him out to the Waterbury Orbits of the Atlantic Coast Football League.
"Coming from Shea Stadium with the saunas and the green carpeting, and even in those days it was luxurious, to a locker room in Waterbury, Connecticut that was worse than my high school… But I was really lucky about the whole thing, to be honest with you. I never expected to play pro ball," Stromberg said.
"So it was a hoot just being there. Every day we had to practice with the Jets and then on Wednesday evening, ride up to Waterbury and practice, and then play with the Orbits on Saturday. It was a wild ride, I'll tell ya. There was a few of us that went up there and it was no fun, but we knew it wasn't going to last."
Indeed. Stromberg didn't have to hitch a ride to Connecticut from quarterback Jim "King" Corcoran the following year. He made the team and was the Jets' starting middle linebacker for the season-opener in Kansas City. New York's defense held Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson to 98 passing yards, and their leading rusher, Bert Coan, to 45 yards on 11 carries, and won, 20-19.
"I remember throwing up with quite a bit," Stromberg laughed. "Again, playing at Temple, I was a defensive and offensive end, but was too light to be a defensive end in the pros. So they made me a linebacker, and no less a middle linebacker. And it was hard. That year was my first year really playing big time football. But I was pretty good. In fact, I made the Defensive Player of the Week and was on the Kyle Rote Show. And because I was on the show, I got a double-breasted black jacket from Barneys. Pretty good, huh?
"But what I remember most was not even playing, it was being in the locker room right before the game. They were announcing the defense and I still can hear it. I still get goosebumps remembering, 'Starting at middle linebacker, Mike Stromberg.'
"I think I had enough foresight or intuition, whatever you want to call it, that this is not going to last long. I was always getting hurt for one thing. So I said to myself, 'Remember this moment.' And I did. To this day, I remember being in that tunnel right before the game. The game is a blur, to be honest with you. But we won the first two games that I started, so I can say safely, I never lost as a New York Jet."
That's because during the second game of the 1968 season, a 47-31 victory over the Patriots, Stromberg suffered what would be a career-ending knee injury.
"I was fortunate enough to start the first two games of the Super Bowl season at middle linebacker and I think fortunate. I mean, I was pretty good, but it was an opportunity. Al Atkinson got hurt, and it was me. That was it," Stromberg said.
"I did what I was told to do. I followed my keys. I don't know why the hell I was doing it though. I didn't see the big picture. I mean, why did the tackle pull if I'm coming left? I really didn't have a chance to learn them."
Stromberg wasn't able to play in Super Bowl III, but still contributed to the Jets' upset victory over the Baltimore Colts.
On the sideline during the game, he was in communication with defensive coordinator Walt Michaels, who was calling plays from the booth, and relayed his instructions to the captains and Head Coach Weeb Ewbank.
Following football, Stromberg put his Temple degree to work and became a graphic designer in New York.
"I always wanted to do that. I wanted to be an artist of some sort. I didn't know quite what," Stromberg said. "I was with New American Library, Dell Books. I did book covers. But after a year or so I decided to go out on my own (and become the founder of Great American Art) and freelanced for all the New York publishers.
"I did that my whole life. I'm still doing it. I design for a book magazine called boatsforsale.com. I don't do any of the boat ads. Marinas all put in ads for the magazine, marine supplies and stuff like that. I do that. Basically, I'm retired at this point. That's my only account and I love it because it kind of keeps my head in it."
Stromberg and Carolyn, his wife of 52 years, make their home on Shelter Island, NY. They have a son, Matthew, who is also a graphic designer, and recently became first-time grandparents.