Seeing a Jewish player in the National Football League these days is like seeing Urban Meyer in a blue suit with a yellow shirt. In fact, according to the Jerusalem Post, only eight Jewish players have ever won Super Bowl rings before.
“The list of Jews to win the big game is even smaller: including New England Patriots punter,Josh Miller (2005), Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Randy “The Rabbi” Grossman (who won a Jewish-record four times in 1975, ’76, ’77, ’78), San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Harris Barton (1989, ’90, ’95), 49ers tight end John Frank (1985, ’89), Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Alan “Shlomo” Veingrad (1993), Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Bobby Stein (1970), Miami Dolphins offensive guard Ed Newman (1973) and Los Angeles Raiders defensive end Lyle Alzado (1984).”
If the New England Patriots win Sunday’s game, Nate Ebner will be added to that short but esteemed list. That would make him the second Jewish Columbusite to make it to the Super Bowl. Nate has a home in Dublin and went to high school at Hilliard-Davidson. The other Columbus Jew, John Frank, has two Super Bowl rings and played tight end for the 49ers in both Super Bowl XX and XXIII. His Jewishness came up as a subject during a very short twitter exchange with Josh Platt, publisher of http://JewishSportsCollectibles.com, a Jewish sports memorabilia site. Though Ebner’s mother is not Jewish, in the twitter dialogue he publicly identified himself as Jewish.
Ebner didn’t take the traditional route to the NFL. In fact, he never ran one football route at Hilliard-Davidson high school. Instead he loved rugby, a sport his father, Jeff, taught him growing up in Springfield, Ohio.
Jeff, a former college rugby player, pushed his son to finish strong in whatever task he took on. His father was also a Sunday School principal at Springfield’s Temple Shalom and worked the family business in auto reclamation. In 2008 his father was tragically beaten to death during a robbery at his business. Nate was 20. His father’s killer was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
“It was real hard for me. I mean my dad and I were best friends,” Ebner told ESPN.
Ebner was a standout rugby union player on the US age group national team. Ebner was named MVP of the USA team at the IRB Junior World Championship in 2007 (Under 19) and 2008 (Under 20), and at age 17 was the youngest player ever to play in National.
Ebner attended Ohio State University, where he majored in Exercise Science. A preferred walk-on player for the Buckeyes, Ebner did not start playing football until 2009, but was considered their best special teams player
Ebner said he channeled his anger and reeling emotions of his father’s death into football.
In 2011 he was voted the team’s most inspirational player, receiving the Bo Rein Award, and the team’s best special teams player, earning the Ike Kelley Award. He was a three-time Big Ten Conference All-Academic honoree.
Ebner was drafted by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, 197th overall and was signed to a four-year contract. He had considered returning to rugby but had not been drafted.
“It’s pretty impressive to make it here,” captain and four-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins said of Ebner to ESPN. “He’s been a good addition to the team. Hard worker. Does everything the coaches and other players ask of him.”
Ebner told ESPN that kickoffs were his favorite to play.- “I don’t know why. I just enjoy running down as fast as you can. It’s just mayhem, it’s exciting, and it’s crazy. It’s such a rush. I don’t even know what to say about it,” he said. “It happens so fast. It’s just one big blur, and then it’s over. I just love it. It’s just amazing. Maybe I got a screw loose.”
Going into this Super Bowl game Ebner draws strength and perseverance from thoughts of his father.
“Obviously, it was devastating. Nobody wants to lose their father, especially how that happened. But the type of person he was, and our relationship, I can only draw strength from it,” Ebner said to ESPN. “I was never really one to pity myself. I don’t know how he would feel about feeling bad for myself because he was gone. He was one to say every day ‘If I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t be mad about the way I lived.’ So I don’t want to, as a son, be sad about it. I’m so lucky to have a person like that in my life, especially as a father figure, he was amazing.”
UPDATED: Orginal post did not mention the Twitter exchange between Josh Platt of JewishSportsCollectibles.com and Ebner.