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Raiders’ Ken Norton Jr. reminisces about his famous father

NAPA, Calif. — Ken Norton Jr. called his siblings Wednesday and greeted them with a deep and raspy voice.

Norton’s family understood why he was using a fake voice. It was their father’s birthday.

Ken Norton Sr., the man who broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw, would have turned 74. The former heavyweight champion of the world died four years ago in Henderson at age 70.

“We talk like him, ‘Hey, how y’all doing,’” said Norton Jr., imitating his father’s voice after Wednesday’s Raiders practice. Norton is the defensive coordinator for the Raiders.

“Our father had a lot of sayings, so what we do on days like today, we just call each other and text each other all the things he used to say. We like to do things that remind us of him.”

It’s a special week for the Norton family. Along with the birthday celebration, Norton Sr. will be inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame on Saturday at Caesars Palace.

“That is really a special honor for his career,” Norton Jr. said. “For all his kids and his whole family, he really made us all proud. For as good as a boxer he was, he was an even better father. So we really relish and take pride in all his accomplishments.”

Norton Sr., who spent his final years in Southern Nevada, will go into the Hall of Fame in the Nevada resident category. He’ll be joined by Leon Spinks and Richie Sandoval. Thomas Hearns, Erik Morales, Michael Carbajal, Michael Spinks, Lucia Rijker and Salvador Sanchez will be enshrined as non-Nevada residents.

The younger Norton won’t be able to attend the induction ceremony. He’ll be in Glendale, Arizona, with the Raiders as they open the preseason against the Cardinals.

Norton Jr., 50, said he flew to Las Vegas often to visit his father while he was a coach for the Seattle Seahawks.

“He would also come to Seattle for games, and we would hang out on game weekends,” Norton Jr. said. “He enjoyed living in Las Vegas. He had a lot of great memories there from his big fights. He knows a lot of people. He was really popular there.”

Norton Jr., who won a total of three Super Bowls with the Cowboys and 49ers, honored his father during his playing days by ending his defensive touchdown celebrations with an uppercut combo aimed at the goal post.

The former standout linebacker said he doesn’t need to rewatch his dad’s fights. He remembers them vividly.

“I lived through this,” Norton Jr. said. “The more he won fights, the more I ate, and when he didn’t win fights, we didn’t eat, it was more like life to me. It wasn’t fights. It was more like dad was working.

“We kind of lived, ate, moved up and moved back down according to his success. It was a real special time for us.”

Norton Sr. is best remembered for his trilogy against Ali. He broke Ali’s jaw to win the first bout and had controversial losses in their other two fights.

“We were quite surprised when he beat Ali,” said Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame founder Rich Marotta, who watched many of Norton’s fights in Southern California. “I attended their second fight at the Forum and felt Ken should’ve received the decision. Actually, many would make a case that Norton really won all three.”

Norton, who was Joe Frazier’s sparring partner, fought in one of the greatest heavyweight bouts ever when he went back and forth against Larry Holmes in 1978 at Caesars Palace. Holmes won by split decision.

Norton fought in Las Vegas seven times and starred in multiple movies. He had movie star features with a perfect physique.

“While he was impressive, most of the conversation surrounded his godlike body,” Marotta said. “It seemed like everybody was just waiting for him to take off that robe and see that cast-iron body.”

Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GManzano24 on Twitter.

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