Joe Fortunato to be honored by Mississippi State, inducted into “Ring of Honor”

Published 12:31 am Friday, October 13, 2017

Soon, when Mississippi State University fans look to the west side of Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, they will see the name of one of Natchez’s great athletes.

Joe Fortunato will be inducted into the school’s football “Ring of Honor” during a ceremony prior to the Bulldogs’ game against BYU at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Fortunato will become the seventh MSU legend to receive the honor.

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“A lot of people were telling me that this was long overdue. I’m just so proud they are doing this for him,” Fortunato’s wife Catherine said. “It really is a nice honor, and he is so deserving.”

Fortunato lettered at Mississippi State as a linebacker and fullback from 1950-52, becoming a first-team All-American and member of the first-team All-Southeastern Conference in 1951 as a junior, among other accolades.

Catherine said while Fortunato has done a lot to give back to MSU — including setting up a scholarship fund at the school, it was the school that possibly did more for him.

“He has always said that Mississippi State saved his life,” she said. “He said the opportunity to get a degree and play football was everything. He has always been proud of the fact he received his degree from Mississippi State. I’m excited for Joe because I know he did so much.”

After college, the Chicago Bears drafted Fortunato in 1952, and he played in 155 games from 1955-66. He started for 12 straight seasons and was a catalyst for the Bears’ 1963 NFL championship.

Fortunato was a three-time first-team All-Pro selection, and he played in five NFL Pro Bowls. To this date, no player in MSU history has played in more Pro Bowls than Fortunato.

Following retirement, Fortunato remained with the Bears for two seasons as an assistant coach. He was selected to the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade Team, and in the early 2000s, was voted one of the NFL’s 300 greatest players.

Fortunato, who resides in Natchez with Catherine, was inducted into the Mississippi State M-Club Hall of Fame in 1990 and then selected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1978.

“This is excellent, and I’m happy for him that his name will be there for a long time,” Catherine said. “He is just a good man with an excellent reputation.”