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ST. JOHN | When John Jurkovich first saw Rod Salata, he didn't know what to make of him.

"There was this tall, skinny guy punting a football all by himself on our (T.F. North) field," Jurkovich said. "I asked one of my coaches who he was, and he told me his story ... about how he's trying to get back in the league."

Soon, Jurkovich was fielding the punts.

"I was only 15 years old at the time, and I wasn't used to catching footballs with such hang times," Jurkovich said.

Salata, a 1974 North graduate, played for the Meteors ... but not quite as prominently as Jurkovich.

"My body matured late in life," Salata said. "They let me hang with the team as a third-string punter."

Later, Salata attained enough leg strength to punt distinguishably for Thorton Community College (now South Suburban College) before transferring to Illinois State University. In 1982, Salata tried out for the would-be Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins, then the following year for the New York Jets.

"I thought I did well ... better than some of the guys they kept," said Salata, who was released from Redskins and Jets shortly before the preseason began. "I didn't have the background."

As for Jurkovich, he went on to play 10 years in the NFL, most notably as a fan-favorite nose guard and defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers from 1991 to 1995.

Now, Jurkovich and Salata are making comebacks -- as ice hockey players amid Midwest Training and Ice Center's Over-30 No-Checking League. Jurkovich is a defenseman and Salata is a center for the "Carlsons." (Team names come from characters from the movie Slap Shot.)

"With my knees, I can't play softball or anything with running involved," Jurkovich said. "But when you skate, you glide ... I can do that. And with it being a no-checking league, I'm less likely to get injured."

Or injure someone else.

Salata played hockey in his youth, often on a frozen Little Calumet River.

"You guys must have been crazy," Jurkovich said to Salata. "Didn't you know the water moves under the ice?"

In contrast to their football careers, hockey is where Jukovich is the late-bloomer.

"I just started two years ago, shortly after my sons (Miko and Jake) started playing," Jurkovich said. "They teach me more than I teach them."

Salata, who is 53, believes that "once you're an athlete, you're always an athlete."

"And if you have a dream, like playing in the NFL, you should pursue it to the fullest," Salata said. "For some people, it might come true."

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