- Canadian Football League (CFL) Hall of Famer Angelo Mosca has died at age 84 following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s.
- Mosca was elected to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1987 after a career with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Ottawa Roughriders and Montreal Alouettes during which he won five Grey Cup championships.
- Mosca also had a successful post football career in professional wrestling.
Angelo Mosca–a legit Canadian football legend, CFL Hall of Famer and multiple time Grey Cup champion–has died at the age of 84 following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s. It’s difficult to make a cross cultural comparison to a NFL version of Mosca. Maybe a CFL version of Dick Butkus, though Mosca played defensive line while Butkus played linebacker. That aside, there are plenty of similarities. Both are considered among the toughest players ever in their respective leagues. Both had Hall of Fame careers and enjoyed celebrity status that transcended the game. Both were revered in their respective professional ‘home towns’.
Mosca was born in Waltham, Massachusetts and attended college at Notre Dame. He made his way north to join the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1958 and forever endeared himself to Canadian football fans when he opted to stay in the CFL after being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1959 NFL Draft. Mosca would play two seasons with the Ottawa Roughriders and part of the 1962 season with the Montreal Alouettes but he will forever be associated with Hamilton. Mosca is one of only two Hamilton players to have his number retired in the 152 year history of the Ti-Cats franchise. The CFL blog 3DownNation paid tribute to Mosca in an article by Josh Smith and provided some context about what a big deal he was in his adopted home town:
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.
Smith said that explaining Mosca’s stature in Hamilton wasn’t easy to do as the connection went well beyond his Hall of Fame football career:
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.
He remained a fixture at Tiger-Cats games and practices becoming what Smith described as ‘the iconic face of an iconic franchise’ and ‘the player most associated’ with the team even today, 50 years after his career ended:
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.
CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie mentioned both his pro wrestling career and his iconic status in Hamilton in a statement:
“Angelo Mosca was a superstar. Tough as nails, he overcame a hardscrabble childhood and became a household name. A phenomenal football player, he played in nine Grey Cup games and won five, one with the Ottawa Rough Riders and four with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.”
“Savvy, smart and ahead of his time, he built his bad guy personae into a personal brand that was bigger than life. Unloved in some markets, where he was the villain, his stature was unmatched in Hamilton, where he was a hero, and when he traded his shoulder pads for wrestling tights, he enthralled Mosca fans in countries near and far.”
Mosca’s legendary reputation was secured long before, but he cemented ‘legendary’ status when he got into a fistfight with longtime rival Joe Kapp….in 2011 at a CFL Alumni luncheon. Mosca was 74 and Kapp was 73. Here’s how the scene went down:
In November 2011, the two old foes were guests at a CFL Alumni luncheon during Grey Cup week in Vancouver. The former players were called onstage before the crowd when the then 73-year-old Kapp attempted to give the 74-year-old Mosca flowers as an apparent peace offering but Mosca rejected the gesture with an expletive.
Kapp then shoved the flowers in Mosca’s face, prompting Mosca to attempt to push them away with his hands. Kapp then swatted Mosca with the flowers, and Mosca retaliated by swinging his cane and striking Kapp in the head. Kapp then landed a right hand to Mosca’s jaw, then a left that felled Mosca.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats released this statement after the announcement of Mosca’s passing:
“Angelo Mosca was a legend. He was one of the most legendary players in CFL history and certainly the most legendary to ever wear a Tiger-Cat uniform. His contributions to the game of Canadian football, to our organization, and to the Hamilton community will never be forgotten. We send our sincere condolences to Angelo’s entire family.”
Following his CFL career, Mosca would find new life–and a new audience–as a professional wrestler. He began wrestling during the CFL off season–pro football salaries weren’t always what they are now and pro wrestling became an off-season source of supplementary income for a number of his NFL counterparts. He would go on to have a long in-ring career which Bryan Rose outlined at the Wrestling Observer:
Mosca began wrestling in Montreal, wrestling during the football off-season, and would later wrestle across Toronto and all of North America, including Stampede Wrestling. In the World Wrestling Federation, he was known as a heel that would be one of the top challengers to Bob Backlund during Backlund’s first reign as WWF Champion, and also feuded with Pat Patterson. He would eventually become a commentator for the WWF, doing color commentary for tapings in Ontario in 1984 and 1985. He left the WWF and later retired from wrestling in 1986.
Here’s a video of Mosca wrestling in Australia in 1973–you can find plenty of his pro wrestling footage on YouTube:
Mosca was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2015. Mosca’s wife, Helen, announced his passing in a Facebook post:
“It is with great sadness that the family of Angelo Mosca announce his passing … after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s. Angelo was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather as well as friend to so many.”
Even fellow pro wrestler The Iron Sheik–who seldom has a kind word for anyone–had love for Mosca in a Tweet shared following the announcement of his death:
Despite Mosca’s ‘tough guy’ persona, his kindness and caring to friends, family, Ti-Cats players and just random people is a recurring theme. This is particularly true in the Hamilton area as well as in St. Catherines, Ontario where he lived for years. Mosca’s funeral arrangements will be shared at a later date.