By ANDY ALTMAN-OHR, Managing Editor J-Weekly
All the coverage of the Super Bowl this week has failed to examine my favorite angle, the Jewish angle. That’s where this column comes in. In the following paragraphs, I drop back and throw a spiral of news and notes way, way downfield. Just don’t call it a “Hail Mary” (at least not in this newspaper).
Any Jewish conversation about the San Francisco 49ers has to start with four-time All-Pro offensive lineman Harris Barton, who won three Super Bowls with the 49ers, including their last one in 1995. To me, it seems as if Barton retired eons ago, so it blows my mind to think the 49ers haven’t won a Super Bowl since he was playing.
andy altman-ohrIn his 10-year career, Barton was a big part of the team, literally and figuratively. A 6-foot-4, 290-pounder, he anchored a series of stellar offensive lines that played in front of Joe Montana and Steve Young. Now 48, he runs Palo Alto-based H. Barton Asset Management.
Another Jewish 49er was tight end John Frank, who played only one year as a starter before giving up a lucrative NFL career to go to medical school. He is now Dr. John Frank, 50, a hair restoration surgeon with offices in New York and Ohio.
Frank’s five-year career included two Super Bowls trips, although he was injured in 1985 and didn’t play. But he did play in the 1989 game and caught a key pass from Montana on the 49ers’ memorable late drive that sent them past the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-16.
That game was a Jewish bonanza, as both Barton and Frank were in the starting lineup. “We just laughed at the whole thing more than anything else,” Frank told j. in 2002 when asked what it was like to have two Jews on the same NFL team. “It was really a meritocracy; we just happened to be decent football players and Jewish at the same time.”
Barton and Frank are both in the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Northern California, elected in 2006 and 2008, respectively. In 2011, Barton did the S.F.-based Jewish Federation a solid, speaking at a packed Business Leadership Council breakfast and recalling how some of the community’s leaders took him under their wings when he was a rookie in 1987.
Who is the most recent 49ers’ Jewish player? Well, safety Taylor Mays, of black and Jewish descent, was drafted by the team out of USC in 2010 and played in all 16 games that season, six as a starter. However, he was traded to Cincinnati in 2011. On a technicality, perhaps, 23-year-old linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis is the most recent Jewish 49er, though he never played in a game. The team signed him to the practice squad on Dec. 4, but, alas, released him on Dec. 25.
That doesn’t sound kosher, does it? Speaking of kosher, the Super Bowl this year is going to feature kosher food for only the second time in 48 years, according to Jon Katz of Englewood, N.J.
Katz is the CEO of Kosher Sports and Entertainment, which operates kosher grill carts at ballparks and arenas (none in the Bay Area, unfortunately, despite the dogged efforts of Berkeley Rabbi Simcha Green) and will be selling hot dogs, sausages, pretzels, beer and other beverages inside the Superdome on Sunday. He also worked the 2010 game in Miami.
OK, how about a Jewish Baltimore Ravens angle? Well, according to JTA, a group of 30 diehard Jewish Ravens fans gathers every week to watch the games on TV. They don purple pants and face paint, and even Ravens tzitzit (fringes). Three weeks ago when the Ravens had a playoff game on a Saturday, they wore team jerseys underneath their suits in synagogue.
Another Jewish-Ravens tie is late owner Art Modell, who, in 1996, moved the team from its 50-year-home in Cleveland to Baltimore. An arch villain in Cleveland, he died five months ago at age 87; Ravens players dedicated this season to him and wore “Art” patches on their jerseys.
My last nugget takes us to Israel, where 14 JCC of San Francisco staff were on a trip to the Holy Land when the 49ers met the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game on Jan. 20. Kudos to those in the group who went to a sports bar in Tel Aviv to watch the game, which kicked off at 10 p.m. there.
And what was their take-away? Don’t order nachos from a kosher meat kitchen. Nachos with no cheese is just tortilla chips.
(Editor’s note: Andy Altman-Ohr is the managing editor of J-Weekly, Northern California’s only Jewish weekly. This article is reprinted through courtesy of J-Weekly.)