A giant, a legend, an icon: remembering Angelo Mosca

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Despite his CFL career ending nearly a decade before I was born, I felt like I always knew who Angelo Mosca was.

Part of that may have been my love affair with pro wrestling, in which Mosca competed very successfully, that I found at a very young age. But even if I had never watched a single wrestling match, growing up in Hamilton meant you knew the name Angelo Mosca.

The news of his passing on Saturday after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s hit like a punch to the gut.

Mosca was a larger-than-life personality, not just for Hamilton, but the CFL, too. His fight with Joe Kapp in the lead up to the 99th Grey Cup in Vancouver in 2011 is legendary, but it only means so much because it added to the legend that was Angelo Mosca.

A playing career that spanned three teams, five championship victories, a record nine Grey Cup appearances and ended with his enshrinement in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1987 speaks for itself, but his accomplishments do not tell the whole story. They do not even begin to encapsulate what this giant meant to the city that adopted him and he adopted right back.

After finishing his collegiate career at the famed University of Notre Dame, Mosca travelled north to play for the Tiger-Cats. After two seasons he was dealt to the Ottawa Rough Riders, where he won his first championship in 1960. After spending time with the Alouettes, he made his way back to Hamilton in 1962 where he would spend the remainder of his career. He ended his career in the way most would love, by winning the Grey Cup one final time, and he got to do it at home in front the city who adored him and fans he adored just as much.

Following his playing career, Mosca dove deep into the world of professional wrestling, adopting the name King Kong Mosca and had many prominent matches with the like of then-WWF champion Bob Backlund and wrestling hall of famer Pat Patterson. Mosca was also the first person to enter the ring to congratulate the legendary Ric Flair after the “Nature Boy” defeated Harley Race to win the N.W.A. world heavyweight championship at the first Starrcade event in 1983. For as big as Mosca was in his football days, his years in the ring only made his star shine even brighter.

An athletic career that began in 1960 ended in 1986 when Mosca officially retired from the squared circle, but that wasn’t the end of Mosca in the spotlight. Over the years he was a fixture at Tiger-Cats games and practices, and in the process cemented himself further as the iconic face of an iconic franchise.

Mosca stayed in and around the Hamilton area, calling the city and the region home until his final day. A tough-as-nails competitor found his place in a tough-as-nails city that loved him as much as any person who has ever called Hamilton home. He may not have been a native Hamiltonian by birth, but he was a Hamiltonian by choice and that is almost better.

His stature in the city only grew with time, and it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see a plethora of “MOSCA 68” jerseys littered throughout both Ivor Wynne Stadium and the venue that replaced it, Tim Hortons Field. Most of the time those jerseys were worn by people my age or younger, men and women who only ever saw Mosca through highlights or learned of his exploits from their parents and grandparents.

Nearly every Tiger-Cat fan has an Angelo Mosca story and I was able to get mine on the night the team was making his No. 68 just the second number in team history to be retired. Our meeting was brief, but the respect he commanded and the awe that I felt being in his presence is something I will never forget.

Few players ever ascend to the heights of Angelo Mosca, but when they do they transcend eras and become something more than just a former player. They become a legend, an icon, someone whose life and career are spoken of for generations.

The story of the Tiger-Cats and the CFL, even the story of the city of Hamilton, cannot be written without an extensive chapter on Angelo Mosca.

Angelo Mosca was the epitome of what it meant to be a Hamilton Tiger-Cat. He is still to this day the player most associated with the team, despite leaving the game nearly 50 years ago. His passing is a gigantic loss for the Tiger-Cats family and the CFL community as a whole.

There will never be another Angelo Mosca.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.